I was just thinking back upon my arrival into Peru last month and I can recall the 1st time I extended my hand out to someone as we met. As I extended my hand to them for a handshake, they instead leaned forward, placed one of their hands on my shoulder, leaned toward my cheek and simply gestured a kissing motion on both sides.
DOAH, I had already knew that this is their (and many other countries) cultural way of greeting people, but I was fresh off the plane and had totally forgotten!! I felt so awkward as I slowly retracted my right hand back to my side and proceeded to mirror their gesture. In Peru this was done pretty much EVERYTIME you saw that person as well as any new introductions.
Well after doing this every day for a month with my students and the people I met in Peru, it started to be second nature for me. THAT IS UNTIL I arrived here in the Dominican Republic.
During my 1st weekend here, I was invited to a birthday party of one of the neighbors. I went with my homestay hostess who had made some VERY GOOD appetizers for the party. Anyway, it was a surprise birthday party and I was really excited to go. The party was for a woman who had just turned 70 or 75 (I think), but I promise that she looked at least 55 (amazing) and she had a bounce in her step...you can tell she LOVES LIFE. Well, some of her family members & friends were arriving to the party. They all greeted each other with a gesture of a small kiss on one side of the cheek. However, as they approached me for a greeting, Unbeknownst to me, I was STILL greeting them in the "Latin American" way (the 2 sided/cheek kiss.). After I had greeted one of the ladies that way...she had looked at me for a brief moment...smiled and then tilted her head a bit. She proceeded to greet others. But at that very moment, I still didn't realize what I had done. Now looking back on hindsight, the look she had given me said "hmm...is she Dominicano or Latina". It wasn't a bad look...it was just a look of confusion, I suppose.
I 100% blend- in with the rest of the Dominicans, UNTIL I open my mouth and speak! Domincanos come in primarily ALL shades of Browns, Blacks and Mulatto due to the vast mixture of the Taino Indians, Latinos and Africans on the island. However, ONCE they hear that you're speaking FLUENT EUNOUNCIATED English words (with a North American accent), it's a dead give away that I'm from the United States.
So since I had only been in the DR less than one week, I didn't feel comfortable striking up any open conversations in Spanish, so I quietly sat at the party and smiled trying to hear and listen for the words and phrases I knew in Spanish...but MAN, Dominicanos SPEAK REALLY REALLY FAST. Faster than ANY Spanish speaking culture I've EVER heard. I now LOVE my Tejano Spanish speakers more THAN EVER now...their Spanish dialect is superbly enunciated (to me) compared to Dominican Spanish...LOL!!!! None-the-less, I was able to hear \ understand bits and pieces of some of the many conversations that was taking place.
At one point, I noticed that the lady who had previously given me a sideways look was staring at me. I just smiled at her as I continued to glance around the room to catch bits and pieces of other conversations. Shortly thereafter, I heard her ask the hostess of that party a question, but I didn't catch what the question was. I only heard the hostess' respond outloud (in Spanish) "WHY DO YOU THINK SHE HAS TO BE ONE OF MY RELITIVES...JUST BECAUSE SHE CHOCOLATE LIKE ME? I busted out laughing... everyone in the room started laughing because obviously the lady was trying to quietly ask her that question and she put her on blast. The hostess has a milk chocolate skin complexion like me. But everyone else at the party had a peanut butter skin-tone complexion which is why the hostess made a joke about it and put her on blast...It was soo funny. In the DR, if you're skin is chocolate, you're Moreno\a...same in Peru.
The hostess, told her (in Spanish) "NOOOO, just because she's chocolate like me doesn't mean we're related. She's Americano". That's when the room got silent a bit and I finally spoke and said " "Hola, Yes, I'm from America and my name is Sonya." Monica (my homestay hostess) proceeded to tell them that I'm living with her while I'm attending school. Then everyone re-greeted me and we continued to have a nice time. Come to find out...the lady in question spoke English (fairly well), but simply couldn't figure out WHAT I WAS (culture-wise)...because of the way I had originally greeted her. Additionally no one at the party hadn't heard my voice yet to determine WHAT I WAS either. With that being said, I still find myself greeting Dominicanos in the Latin American way and NOW I must re-adjust to the ONE cheek kiss so that I DO NOT confuse anyone again....LOL!!!
Another thing that I have to get use to here is the Touchy-Feely greetings. I don't find it a problem...it's just one of those things I now have to be mindful of. In America, we ONLY touch someone during a greeting (and kiss their cheek) if we REALLY are close to the person or KNOW them quite well (like a family member and\or best friend). Even then, it's a ONE ARM hug where both of you are semi side-by-side (no full frontal). But I've noticed here that most people I've come in contact with will not only lightly touch you when greeting you, but will slightly touch your shoulder or back as they're saying "Adios". Well that's what catches me off guard big time - no matter where I'm at. I don't know why it does, but when you touch my back or shoulder AND I'm not expecting it, I JUMP which in turns makes it look as if I didn't want you near me...and that's not the message I was trying to send.
What are your thoughts on shaking other peoples hands and\or touching cheeks during a greeting? I Am truly a big fan of giving Dap and I wish more people would do so, but every culture is different. In the African American culture it is pretty much done all the time...it's only when we get around other races that we decide to extend out our hand (or if we're in a professional environment...). I think dap should be viewed as the NEW professional American handshake!!! LOL!!! WHAT DO YOU THINK?