June 18, 2016
Below are some comparisons of what I expected to experience on the day that I met my host family juxtaposed to what I actually experienced.
If all people had the same traditions, food, languages, and ways of life, there would be no differences between cultures. As I have been imagining my study abroad experience for the last few months, I have been constantly dreaming up all of the ways in which Mexican culture would be difference and unfamiliar from the American culture that I have grown up knowing and will always know. However, as I think back, I cannot remember anytime I pondered the similarities between the two cultures that I would surely experience. However, after meeting my host family today, I believe that I learned more about the similarities between Mexican and American families even more than the differences.
Arriving at my host family’s house:
While nothing was said to be formally planned for when we were going to meet our host families, I had the loose expectation that all of us students would meet our host families in a common area around Querétaro, like one of the many plazas. And then, I figured we would follow our host families back to their houses.
However, what actually happened was not better or worse, just different and surely interesting. All of us students stood by the road at the edge of a main plaza in Querétaro surrounded by all of our luggage. We joked that as buses drove by they were saying, “to the right we have our Gringo exhibit” because there was no doubt we were a bunch of white gringos beginning to turn pink in the midafternoon Querétaro sun. We were waiting for authorized taxis for quite a while. Since it was early afternoon, many of the taxis were occupied. But, as taxis stopped, we went in groups based on the location of our host families’ houses.
In my taxi, there were three of us students. The other two students were dropped off first and then it was my turn. I was very excited to meet my host family. When the taxi driver was close to my street, he asked me what my house looked like and if he was on the right street. I replied that I had no idea what either my street or house looked like since it was my first time there. He didn’t answer me, but shortly thereafter we were counting house numbers and found the right place.
Meeting my host family was pretty much how I expected. Lots of family was over. At one point, there were at least 12 family members spanning three generations. It was wonderful to meet so many kids, grandkids, and siblings of my host parents. However, I could hardly pronounce some of their names let alone remember them even a moment later. Good thing I have five weeks to learn!
First meal with my host family:
Now, being someone who loves food, especially new food, I had spent a lot of time imagining what my first meal with my host family would be like. In my head, I figured we would be eating in the dining room of the house that would surely have a large table to fit all of the family that often comes over to share means. I also figured there would be some familiar Mexican dishes, but also many new dishes. I always say that new food is my favorite food, so I was ready for anything. I figured there would surely be rice and beans, probably tortillas for the basic familiar side dishes. And, for the main dish I expected something new and possibly local to Querétaro, whatever that may be. However, what I actually experienced in my first meal with my host family was more familiar than I would have EVER expected.
We were all enjoying the afternoon in the courtyard/garden area. The barbeque was warming up as we were listening to music. But the music, it was not in Spanish. It was in English. And I recognized the song. It was Michael Jackson singing about the ABCs. Now, I know that same as Americans listen to music in Spanish, Mexicans listen to music in English, but none the less, Michael Jackson was a surprise. Then, out came the food headed for the barbeque. But…again, it was something familiar. Very familiar. And something that I also associate with being very American. They were hot dogs!!! Wrapped in bacon!! Now, if that doesn’t sound American, I am not sure what is. The only thing “Mexican” about my hot dog ended up being the fact that I put avocado and jalapeños on it.
After we all finished eating, I shared the gifts from home that I brought. The two youngest grandchildren scored big as they were the only two children there and I had brought toys for the seven grandkids that I read about in a letter from my host mom. Their favorite gifts were the play dough and hot pink My Little Pony. The women loved picking out their favorite pair of earrings out of the ones I made and brought to share. Also, my host mom really appreciated the washcloths that I knitted her, as she is also a knitter herself. It was great to also share photos of my life in Oregon and tell them about my town, family, and friends.
Now, I have a theory about the hot dogs. I think that they may be trying to ease me into the Mexican culture by serving food that is very familiar to me at first. Because, undoubtedly, Mexican culture does have its differences from American culture and those differences will surely surface as time goes on. However, I believe that the foundations of both cultures are very similar as with most cultures across the globe. Mexican and American cultures both value sharing time with family, making memories, showing hospitality to guests, enjoy music from around the world, and love barbeques on sunny summer afternoons.
Now, just because the experiences that I had today may not be what I dreamt up or expected does not mean that I had a bad or disappointing experience. Nor does it mean that my expectations were wrong. They were merely what I imagined and reality turned out to be different. That really sums up life, doesn’t it? None the less, I must stress that today surpassed all of my expectations and was better than I could have ever imagined. I am so thankful for the host family that I have the honor to be staying with while in Querétaro. As we get to know one another better, I look forward to continue to learn about the ways in which our cultures are both similar and different in many ways that I have yet to imagine or expect.