Ever since I’ve moved to London I’ve been experiencing a thousand different cultural shocks that go from a great public transport to “Why the hell a fresh squeezed juice costs £7?”. But there are some cultural barriers that are way beyond costs and infrastructure. Growing up and living in Brazil for 24 years of your live give you a lot to deal with, one of this things is a primal necessity to receive a good hug.
When I was living in Brazil I never understood really well what people meant with: “South Americans are warm people”. I just actually understood that once I was living here for a while. See, when I started my live in London, I needed to control the automatic act of giving people hug and kiss when greeting them. After a while I reserved that just to people who I knew, but there was a problem that too. Every time I triggered the automatic act to hug some of my friends, even though they hugged me back, it wasn’t the same thing. It was like they were not sure how to do that, almost like they were forcing it. It was very unnatural for them, I could feel that. A very dry, uncomfortable and awkward hug. I’ve never been hugged by a Asian person, or a North American, I know the Africans give pretty good hugs, so do all the South Americans, but I started calling that a European hug.
There’s a story I love to tell that says a lot about cultural differences. When I went on a first date with my husband, who is Polish, at the end of it we were chatting about the next time we would see each other and after that I was obviously expecting him to give me a hug, but instead he said: “OK, so see you tomorrow, bye”, turn around and go away… without a hug! I just stood there in the same place for about one minute just trying to process what just happened. I have recently asked him about that day and he said: “What? Why were you expecting me to hug you?”.
Exactly! Why? How can I expect someone with an absolutely different cultural background and life experience to act like I expect him to?
In Brazil when you hug someone you are actually showing respect for this person. You showing that your are not afraid to touch them and that you’re open.
I started realising that it was actually unfair to expect people to understand why I was hugging them. I stopped hugging everybody and now there’s a very close group of 5 people that I know I can hug. To get used to another culture is not easy, even if it’s not that different from yours (like the Asian or middle-eastern). But better late than never, I have in fact got used to many other things. Of course some stuff from your culture will never go away, like not being able to eat a burger with your bare hands, or were havaianas even when it’s -2° outside. But the beauty of living in another country is exactly the balance between what you adapt from the local culture and what you bring from your own.