“When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done” —Robert Burton,The Anatomy of Melancholy
Recently, I was back in my hometown and had the opportunity to visit some very close friends of the family, whom I hadn’t seen for years. They were like my second family when I was growing up, but as the story so commonly goes, once I left for college, and then left the continent for good, our paths didn’t cross very often. Since my mother had moved from the area some years before, I hadn’t much reason to go back and we had missed out on most of the significant events in each others lives, like marriages, births, graduations, and the like.
When I arrived at their house, I effusively greeted their father, who was now nearing 90, but looked to me as he did when I was a child. I then hugged and kissed my old friends, brother and sister, who did look slightly different than when we were kids. Finally, my old friend’s husband was there with his hand extended. As I took his hand and leaned in to kiss him as well, he recoiled back and said with some degree of surprise, “Have we met?”
It was then that I realized that the boricua in me was showing. I’ll admit that when I first came to PR, I found strange the custom of greeting everyone – friends, family, complete strangers that you were just introduced to – with a kiss. I found it particularly strange when it happened in the workplace. Don’t get me wrong – I was not adverse to physical greetings – I grew up in a large Italian family and we were expected to greet each other with a kiss. But that’s kind of where it ended.
Over the years, like any species engaged in self-preservation, I’ve adapted and adopted. Because of his profession, my husbands knows lots of people and I often find myself in social situations where I am being introduced to people I will mostly likely never see again. And yet, I now have no compunction about bussing the cheeks of these complete strangers.
Once you’ve lived in a new culture for a while, some of your behaviors are bound to change, consciously or unconsciously. I don’t remember the exact moment I got over my surprise at the practice, and just started smooching everyone I met. But I do know that living here has allowed me to kind of pick and choose those customs from each of my cultures that best suits my true nature. In the process, I guess I’ve developed my own, unique culture — some mix of my family’s Italian heritage, my American upbringing, and my Latin living. Will all this cultural melding improve my chances in evolutionary terms? I’m not sure. But I know that for right now, it feels just right.