Thursday, September 16, 2010

Happy Anniversary Mexico!

I was just reading in Facebook all the comments from my Mexican friends about Mexico's 200th birthday celebration. I couldn't help feeling nostalgic. This is the one day every year when I really miss my country… however, this year especially, it feels like I missed a very important event that will become part of its history.
Before yesterday, I never felt the urge to travel to Mexico to celebrate this important holiday, but now I am starting to regret it. It doesn’t matter how many years I live in Canada, the 1st of July will never feel like September the 15th in Mexico.

In the morning, I was listening to the radio and the guy was talking about the bicentennial celebration and ended his comment saying something like “Mexicans are celebrating this holiday by fleeing the country”. It made me feel very sad to realize that after 200 years the image of Mexico today is so deteriorated to the point that foreigners make fun of it. I am sure that the dream of all the people who fought for its independence was for a strong, stable country that would offer its citizens lots of opportunities to grow. However, what I heard in the radio is sadly true, 31% of my Mexican friends in Facebook live somewhere else. I also read a comment by one of my friends that said, “If you are going to complain (about Mexico) go live somewhere else!” … well, actually, that’s what a lot of us have ended up doing.

I feel very proud to be Mexican and I would have loved to be there for this big celebration, as I said before, I don’t think I will ever feel the same celebrating a holiday in any other country, no matter how long I live there. I will never get goosebumps like the ones I get when singing the Mexican anthem, or when watching the Mexican soccer team play in the World Cup. I am Mexican and will continue to be regardless of all the ugly things that are happening there.

Happy 200 Anniversary!!!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cultural Behavior When Abroad

I just finished watching a documentary about how year after year girls from different countries in Europe and North America go to a beach in Mexico during their winter to have fun and end up having romantic relationships with the locals.

It is funny how these girls feel totally liberated in a place where no one knows them. They seem to forget their customs, religion and education because whatever they do in paradise, will stay there (or so they think). These romantic relationships are "sucessful" first, because they are short term, but also because they happen in a neutral place, so the clash of the different cultures is not so evident.

I used to have a friend who was originally British and she was married to a Mexican guy. They had already lived in England for a while and they had moved to Mexico a few months ago. She would tell me how much her husband had changed ever since they had got to Mexico. It was as if coming back to his own country had reminded him of customs he didn't feel as "forced" to follow when abroad. Or maybe he was just so culturally conscious that he felt he had to show her how she was expected to behave.

Do we behave differently in regards to our culture when we are outside our country? In Mexico we have a saying that goes something like "wherever you go, do what you see", meaning that you have to adapt and adopt the customs of the place you are in. I know what some people will say, " I will not do something that in my culture is considered wrong"... and that is not what I mean, there are definitely customs that we wouldn't change no matter where we go, but I do think that just as we do when packing a suitcase, when we go to a different country we choose the behaviors we want to take with us and leave other ones at home. I am not sure whether or not this happens in every single culture, probably it is what makes some people more open to learn about other people and what makes them more adaptable.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Mil", "Dos Mil"... How Can That Be Motivating?

The other day I was talking to my cousin and she was telling me she was taking French in shcool. I started asking her questions about the things she had learned and I was shocked with what she told me. Before expanding on why I think it was shocking, it is important to say she is studying to become a chef. So, I was very surprised when she said she now knows the parts of the body, the numbers, etc. Aaaargh!!! It drives me crazy! How is that relevant to her and her career? There are tons of words and expressions she will need to use before having to say "visage" or "tête". How about teaching her, for starters, coulinary terminology, but most importantly expressions she will use in her career,so that she can communicate in French, see the relevance of it and get motivated!

And then, just a few days ago I spoke to a client who very excitedly told me about the few words in Spanish she had learned at a resort in Mexico while taking a vacation there. Apparently, it was one of the many activities the hotel offered to their guests: Spanish Lessons. And what were the words she had learned to say? Numbers! "mil", "dos mil", etc. Again, how is that relevant for someone who is on vacation and wants to communicate with locals?

Why is it so hard for these "informal" teachers to see how much more sense it makes to teach things that the students can use immediately in real life conversations? Whay can't they start teaching students to introduce themselves, saying where they are from, asking for directions, making simple requests.

There are tons of people out there who are frustrated because they have tried learning a new language and after a while they feel they are not getting anywhere. I am sure, in most cases, the programs they have enrolled in are courses that follow a traditional method in which they are given long lists of vocabulary words that they have to memorize and they are never given the opportunity to use them in real life situations.

I really thought things had changed and that these old methods had been put in a drawer and never used again, but as I can see, language instruction is still an area many educational institutions are not giving the importance it should have,and it is for that same reason that other types of companies(like resorts and hotels) can't tell the difference between what works and what doesn't. I guess there is still a long way to go!

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Culture of Driving in Canada

Yesterday I had to drive to Midland, Ontario, a small town 2 hours north of Toronto. This is not the first time I drive Canadian highways to the country, but yesterday I more consciously reflected on how different it is from driving in Mexico. The geography is so different, that it forces there to be a culture for drivers.

Ontario is a very flat place, so when you drive, you get a very weird feeling of things repeating over and over again and the road seems neverending. It can get so boring that at some point I felt like falling asleep. I guess this doesn't only happens to me, and a great way to avoid it and get distracted is taking a smaller road where speed limits change every minute. Then it is not so boring, you are driving at 80 kms/hour and suddenly you have to slow down to 50, then it changes to 60, then 80 again... but you are just starting to gain speed, when you have to slow down again. And then the scenery also changes a lot, you go from nothing, to a little town, to a lake, etc. It is a great way to discover new places to visit in the future.

When my husband first came to Canada and drove in a highway, he couldn't stop making all sorts of comments about how different it was even from driving in the US. To me, it seemed very irrelevant, I have always enjoyed road trips, and at that point I didn't see too much of a difference.

The reason for my trip was business. I drove there and back on the same day and it didn't seem too much of a hassle. In Mexico it is not very common for people to just take their cars and drive to the next town and come back on the same day. I am not saying people don't do it, in fact lots of people do, even on a daily basis. A lot of people have apartments and houses near the beach and drive there every weekend. However, in general this is something that is not seen as convenient and easy to do as it is here, and highways here (most of them at least) are free and in excellent conditions.

So all in all I enjoyed my experience yesterday and it is something I definitely recommend. It is just one more way of knowing the place where you live and its culture!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Language Learning and American Expats

For a long time Americans have been tagged as a culture who refuses to learn a second or third language because they think everyone else in the world should speak English.

In an article I was reading today they say that the amount of Americans immigrating to other countries is growing and there are now 5.25 million living abroad.

I was happy to see that there are a lot of Americans living in countries such as Costa Rica, Russia, Brazil, and Italy where English is not so commonly spoken. So I do have to doubt what it is said about Americans not wanting to learn foreign languages. I believe that everyday more and more US citizens are becoming more open to other cultures and therefore other languages. Maybe, as the article says the US is no longer a place where everyone wants to live in and even its citizens are starting to consider other countries for better professional opportunities and a better lifestyle.

In my case, and talking about Mexico specifically, English is the foreign language to learn, we think that no matter where you go, if you speak English, you will be able to survive. So in a way, it is the same kind of mentality Americans have about their language, with the only difference that for us it is our second language and speaking our native tongue already puts us in a more advantageous position.

It has happened to me and I am sure this is true for a lot of people that when you travel you see the typical American speaking English and expecting everyone to understand what he is saying. This attitude is the very reason why when visitng some countries in Europe you find that people are much friendlier if you speak to them in Spanish (or any other language) than if you do in English. Unfortunately, it is just natural to the human race to generalize and tag an entire culture based on just one or two experiences.

It seems like things are changing and the US is not the only land of opportunities anymore. And it seems like Americans are starting to realize this as well. It is nice to see that the way Americans think about other cultures and other languages is changing, too. I just hope they embrace multiculturalism even more and they don't continue to take foreign language learning off their school curricula.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dual Citizenship, When Is It Your Right And When Are You Taking Advantage Of It?

I have heard many times about people with two nationalities who go back to their country of origin, get into trouble and then ask their second country for help. Just this morning I was reading an article about that.

For some reason, every time I hear a story like this it bothers me, I don’t know if I am right or wrong, but it seems to me that these people are taking advantage of their dual citizenship. I understand that in order to be able to apply for a second nationality (for the countries that allow this) in many cases you must live in the country for several years, pay your taxes and comply with a series of requisites, and probably just that gives you the right to get help from that country’s government when you are in trouble somewhere else.

I can understand this happening in cases such as natural disasters, wars, etc. But in many cases (like the one in the article) people decide to go back to their country of origin, start a new life there and after even years of being there, they get into trouble and then they find it very convenient to appeal to their other country for help.

Maybe I should see it as one more benefit of having a dual citizenship, and honestly, I don’t know what I would do in such a situation…

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Diversity vs Unity

I had always thought that if you were to choose a country to move to, one of the things to consider was their openness to multiculturalism and how tolerant they were to foreign customs and traditions.

That is one of the reasons why I chose Canada over the United States. Canadians have always been known as open and culturally sensitive. One of the things I have enjoyed the most about living here is the fact that I can get together with my Mexican friends and celebrate our traditions without worrying about what other people may think or say. For instance, in December we organize Posadas and we follow the custom in which half of the people in the group go outside with candles and sing to the people inside a song asking for “shelter”. We also break piñatas on birthday parties singing the traditional “dale, dale, dale”, etc. Furthermore, I enjoy learning about other customs and traditions.

However, I find now that the result of Canada being so welcoming and respectful of its immigrants’ traditions is a lack of identity. Even after becoming Canadian citizens, and studying the Canadian history for the test, a lot of people don’t embrace the Canadian customs and they never really feel any kind of empathy to its traditions. We all mark the national holidays in our calendars but most of the times we don’t know why in May they celebrate Victoria Day, or what Canada Day is all about.

Well, it seems like Canadians are becoming less tolerant to this lack of integration (for the lack of a better word) of immigrants to their culture. According to an article in the last issue of Maclean’s (April 2010, “About Face”, page 20), in a series of polls conducted by the Association for Canadian Studies over the past three years, half of Canadians said they would like “newcomers to be urged to give up customs and traditions and become more like the rest of us”. This article talks about Bill 94, which will mandate that all faces be uncovered when receiving services supported by the government in Quebec (this includes education, health, and even services such as a library, community centre, etc). This would mean Muslim women who wear a niqab taking it off in public places.

The goal of this post is not to say if it is right or wrong to force someone to do something that goes against his/her religion. My intention is just to question how far a government can go to ban specific customs and traditions and if their reasons are legitimate. In this case, Bill 94 reads “uncovered faces are necessary solely for reasons of security, communication and identification” which I think is very reasonable. However, some people, like Christine St. Pierre (minister responsible for the status of women) are adding that the use of such garments is “an attack on women’s rights” and “unacceptable in our society”, so I ask, is that a legitimate reason? It may be from the perspective of the Canadian culture towards gender equality, which means that these people would have to give up this kind of religious customs if they wanted to move to Canada. But will these women actually feel that they have more rights because they uncover their faces? Will they feel more “Canadian”? Will initiatives like Bill 94 integrate all people towards a less diverse Canadian culture?

My personal opinion is that as immigrants, people should be willing to respect the traditions, customs and beliefs of their new culture in order to become part of the society of that country. I think that if I were one of those women who will soon have to take off their niqabs in public spaces, it would be a very difficult thing for me to accept, but if that means living in a place that offers better opportunities for me and my family, I would definitely consider doing it. It is a matter of setting priorities and deciding whether you want to stay in your country and keep your religious customs with whatever living conditions and opportunities, or move to a country that offers a better lifestyle but requires you to sacrifice some of your customs.

As I said at the beginning of this post, one of the reasons I decided to come to Canada was due to its openness to different cultures, however, after 5 years living here I do think that there should be more encouragement from the government for cultural integration and unity.