it had been awhile since patricio and i had seen aunt sara. since the day she donated to the cause of our insurmountable gym aversion an old exercise bike and the space-age contraption that lets us ski through the air, i haven't had to pull myself out of bed at seven-thirty for her gym session burn. neither did the serastone volunteer work with her last very long; transportation became a complicated beast, which is what tía sara and i tell ourselves to explain away the short-lived career--though the real, unspoken reason was the internal conflict that rose up and took arms when trying to recommend a massage treatment that always left my own hips feeling like a woodpecker had mistaken them for a good place to start a new home.
since our time together has waned, we've missed her. and i decided to give her a call last night. immediately, she invited us over for la comida this afternoon, the closest equivalent to lunch in the u.s., but usually served around three o'clock, and almost always the day's most sizable meal. but talking about la comida and muscle-working and poking devices isn't what got me thinking last night. it was the phone call that did.
there are so many formal spoken courtesies here that come naturally to most people who grow up in mexico. i dare say that they are considered more common than formal--things one hardly thinks twice about saying. like addressing many elders as usted, asking about and sending greetings to a friend's family when ending a conversation with her, asking a guest into one's home, even if he already knows he's invited, and then offering your house as his home.
plenty of courtesies are shared between both countries, like pleases and thank-yous and offering a visitor a glass of something to drink. perhaps it's still the conscious way i employ my new repertoire of niceties, but sometimes i would wonder if i come from a country less polite.
i picked up the phone and dialed. sara answered, "¿bueno?" and i replied, "hola tía, habla alisa" (hi auntie, it's alisa).
that response of mine when sara answered the phone also became a response to my wonderings about civility in the united states, giving rise to the idea that there might not necessarily be any fewer details of thoughtfulness--of making another person feel at ease--but simply different ways of manifesting it, based on commonly perceived needs for it in social situations. the custom of writing thank-you notes in the is one of them, and punctuality another. but last night, when sara answered the phone, i found my illuminating example.
with the exception of our most intimate family and friends, or with many business-related calls in the u.s., when the answering party is expected to ask "who is speaking?", i had taken for granted that a caller will say hello, followed by "this is [insert name]." it's completely routine, and completely courteous in an american context; it saves the person on the other end from the uncomfortable and often embarrassing position of scrambling to figure out who the caller is--or worse yet, asking who they are.
here, patricio explained to me, almost none of that applies--from the name stating, to the discomfort on the other end. it's not a source of embarrassment to ask who the caller is, and so most callers never say who they are unless they're asked. it isn't a lack of courtesy, because there's no apparent need for it in the first place.
hmm. like losing weight with exercise bike workouts, especially after big comidas, these realizations happen slowly for me. but i'm glad they're happening.