You don’t shake hands with a woman in Mexico. It’s strange. To them, I mean. My generous couchsuring host invited a friend over and when she came in I put out my hand and introduced myself and said ‘nice to meet you’. As you do. No, you don’t. Later, I was told (reminded) that in such a situation, you give a kiss on the cheek. To those citizens of the United States of America (I’ll get to that), it may sound odd, if not sexist. Why don’t you shake her hand? Is she too frail for a firm squeeze of the hand and an acknowledgment of her equality—political, socially, sexually—with men? I don’t know the answer. It’s just not the way things are done. A nice consolation is that it’s completely acceptable, so I’m told, to give a little cheek rub to a man you’ve just met. You, obviously, being a man. It’s true that the kiss on the cheek as a greeting is something that is often lost to most modern citizens of the United States of America. A man kissing another man? Well, we might as well just let them get married together and adopt kids (…).
This was part of a discussion that we had, one of my favorite types of discussions, about the ways that our cultures are different around the world. Our norms are different. Certain things are accepted and certain things are frowned upon, for better or for worse. My host told me of an instance when he had a guest from China and a female friend of his gave him the standard kiss on the cheek greeting. He just about clicked his heals and headed off for bed a happy man, his face flush with erotica. But it was only a ‘Hello’. You’re a human. I’m a human. We’re saying ‘Hello’.
That wasn’t my favorite part, though. As we started talking about the, eh, interesting relationship between Mexicans and their neighbors to the North (that’s us), I was asked a question that I could only answer with a joke. Have we come up with a way of identifying ourselves, as nationals of the United States of America, besides ‘American’? I thought for a second, shook my head, and then was asked why. I said, ‘Porque somos Americanos!’ (‘Because we’re Americans!’) with the typical gringo accent. This yielded the same scornful chuckle that Americans get when they try to eat out in Paris.
In Latin America, the term ‘estadounidense ‘ has caught on recently as a way for ‘Americans’ to identify themselves. It’s kind of like saying ‘United Stateser’. It’s better than referring to yourself as a ‘gringo’ or ‘yankee’ (‘yanqui’) – too many bitter sports fans. Oh, and the Civil War. I don’t think Southerners like being called Yankees. I’m not an expert.
Now, regardless of the fact that Mexico is also a united states, I’d like to point out that for the rest of the people living on this continent – north and south – we are all Americans. Bolivians are Americans. Mexicans are Americans. From Tierra del Fuego to wherever the hell Canada ends, we are Americans in the eyes of most of the population of this hemisphere. So one can see how it would be troubling to be asked such a question. In effect, we’ve appropriated the name American for ourselves, and stipulated that the lesser parts of the Americas refer to themselves in more specific terms. Paraguayan. Canadian. Argentine. Argentinian. Never really sure on that one.
If there is a name, please enlighten me. I may even delete this post if I’m embarrassed enough. According to the world’s main source of knowledge, Wikipedia, Americans are from the United States. I had doubts when I saw http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hispanic_and_Latino_Americans but it clearly states at the top of the article that these people are not to be confused with inhabitants of Hispanic America and Latin Americans. The article refers to persons of Hispanic and Latino ethnicity, not nationality.
I don’t know. I think we need a national naming convention. We need to come up with a good name for ourselves. The ones currently at work in other parts of the world simply will not cut it. ‘Imperialist Pig’ is just a little too demonizing, whereas ‘Patriot’ seems a little vague and self-righteous. Then there would be all those Mel Gibson references, and that would only hurt our image.
Isn’t just ‘American’ a disappointment? We’re selling ourselves short here, America. Whoops. I invite you all, whatever you are, to give us a name. An identity that we can be proud of. Our nation will be baptized in five great lakes of , secular, water.