What we’re reading: Uncomfortable Neighbors

Cover image of book Uncomfortable NeighborsUncomfortable Neighbors: Cultural Collisions between Mexicans and Americans [Vecinos Incomodos: Choques Culturales entre Mexicanos y Americanos] by James V. Tiffany is a bilingual book that was published in 2003 in which the author attempts to provide intercultural understanding. Tiffany touches on such topics as stereotypes, la familia, respect, and getting along, among others. For instance, when discussing respect, he talks about the importance of eye contact among Americans*, whereas for Mexicans not making eye contact is often seen as more respectful. Clearly this can lead to misunderstanding when people of these two cultures interact.

Additionally, this may impact the way we see the colleagues or the audiences we work with or even people that we meet on the street or out and about. Understanding this cross-cultural behavior is important in order to get along with each other, especially since so much diversity and many different cultural traditions may surround us wherever we work, live, or play. As a Mexican herself, at least one of our LERG members was taught to respect her superiors, especially parents or the elderly, and this included not making eye contact.

On the other hand, some Americans may think that Mexicans, or those of Mexican descent, tend to be rude because they do not even look at you in the eyes! And that is true! Even our LERG member, who has been acculturating to the “American way” for awhile, has realized that when foreigners (especially Latinos or Hispanics) do not look at her directly, it can make her a little upset sometimes. Of course she knows why, so she just says something like “Hola”, “Buenos Dias”, etc., and may even step a little closer to them. If possible, she shakes hands (depending on the situation), or raises her hands; however, if they keep their distance, she always shows the palm of her hand as a sign of there being no threat at all. She, of course, gives them a big smile. That always seems to help get out of the awkwardness of a stranger passing by or a distant acquaintance avoiding the situation.

If you are interested in these types of topics, you should consider checking out this book. Though a little dated, it has interesting topics that are still quite relevant for our multicultural society. How do you feel about eye contact? Do you think it comes from your cultural background? Are there any other behaviors in daily interactions that you find to be strikingly different between the cultures in which you live (or have lived)?

*Tiffany establishes early on that, though all inhabitants of the Americas are American, when he uses the term American in his book, he is referring to the “Anglo (Caucasian) resident of the United States.”

Latino Employee Resources Group (LERG) members Rebeca Alonso and Jillian Frideres submitted this post.

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