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To Hug or Not to Hug

Culture Matters - Tony Ruesga

POSTED April 20, 2017 11:34 a.m.

One cultural issue that is ever-so-present between Mexicans and Americans is the issue of personal relationships.  This is a cultural difference that is very apparent to members of each respective culture when interacting with people of the other culture.  A few things I have noticed are the differences in personal space, physical contact, intensity with which people are greeted, and the expectations that exist when entering and exiting a situation.
Mexicans greet each other in very different ways than Americans.  Mexican women kiss everyone on the cheek when greeting them.  A Mexican man, on the other hand, will kiss a woman on the cheek and shake the hand of another man.  This handshake usually involves a pat on the shoulder, bicep area or another hand placed on top of the hand being shaken.
The bottom line is that Mexicans are a lot more physical when greeting each other.  Whether it’s a quick “beso” (kiss), a firm handshake that lingers, or all of the above plus a hug, they greet each other physically as opposed to the quick “hey” that we Americans tend to throw out or the handshake to those we want to show an extended respect.
Mexicans also greet each other with much more intensity than Americans.  A big smile, the kiss, handshake, hug, combination depending on who is greeting whom, and a passionate “como estas? Que bueno verte!” [How are you? It’s so good to see you!]
Mexicans greet each other like Americans would if they hadn’t seen each other in a few weeks or months, as a standard greeting.  A simple “hey, how are you doing?” devoid of emotion is considered rude in Mexican culture.  In America, we tend to tailor our greeting to the circumstance a lot more.  For example, if I just saw you 10 minutes ago, and I will see you again in two hours, there may not even be a greeting.
In Mexico, the formal, excited, intense, drawn out greeting is there every single time.  Whether I’m just going to the store for milk or am going off to war, it’s basically the same goodbye. This may be a slight exaggeration; however, it isn’t as far-fetched as you might think if you don’t understand Mexican culture.
As I’ve stated, there are certain expectations that exist in Mexican culture when you are greeting and or leaving a person or group of people.  Basically, anytime you enter, leave, or return, you are expected to not only greet the people, but greet everyone individually with the kiss, hug, handshake, or combo style. Mexican families will greet each other formally every single time they come home from work, or from any other place.  They will “despedirse” (say good-bye) almost every morning while escorting each other to the door as they head out for work or where ever else they are going.  This is just part of the culture.  The hello and goodbye moments are very important to the Mexican people.  It’s almost a sign of respect to acknowledge and greet individually everyone in the room always regardless of who they are or how comfortable you are with them; parents, spouses, children, etc.
Due to these points, Mexicans often perceive Americans as cold, indifferent, and ultimately almost rude for the way we greet and interact with each other.  To them, it’s ridiculous that we don’t hug and kiss our parents more, go on-and-on about how much we love them, or call them on the phone every day (or even once a week).  The stereo type that family is incredibly important for Mexicans holds true, however it’s more of the way they express the importance.
While their language may be easier to learn than some, the true Mexican language consists of not only Spanish, but the way they use it to interact with each other.  The true language of Mexico is a combination of Spanish and their diverse and special culture.

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