A few weeks ago I was in El Salvador. I'd been warned that the culture there was much more subtle and that often Americans are perceived as a bit harsh and overbearing. I just figured that meant Salvadorans would be more emotionally passive. But what I found is that they are a gentler people in many ways.
The entire time I was there, I didn't once see a parent yell at a child. I only saw two women loud and angry—both trying to break up dog fights. Even young boys (whom I assumed were naturally aggressive and rough) were very considerate and gentle to make sure they didn't hurt one another—clearing up for me yet another misconception, changing "how people are" into "how Americans are."
Multiple times I looked around to realize that I was ten or more steps ahead of the group with whom I was walking. Returning home this pace was even more starkly different as I felt like everything I experience here is now rushed and hurried, including going for a run!
What I thought would be competent Spanish from a minor in college was little more than kindergarten level trying to understand their quiet mumblings with absent consonants in their dialect. Ts became Ths. Ss became barely a puff of breath through their noses.
While I felt myself fumbling and a little disoriented trying to navigate connection, all this subtlety was endearing. I LOVE the example these people have set for me. I am finding myself wanting to be more gentle, more kind, softer maybe even than I have ever been. Gracias, mis amigos nuevos de El Salvador.
My incredible translator Cynthia and me.