First, I have to stress that I’m not comfortable using the words, “us” and “them,” nor with making generalizations about other cultures or people. I’m not qualified. However, I’m always curious and eager to give my opinion on anything — so what follows is just my own impressions. Are my impressions true? Maybe some of them are. Here goes:
You can probably never really see yourself as someone else does. But seeing ourselves abroad, we might learn a few things about being American. I’ve seen one thing clearly in French and Spaniards’ reactions to my traveling companion. Americans are seen as in eyes of these other cultures as super enthusiastic and happy about fairly ordinary things. My companion laughs a lot, especially in slightly awkward social situations…nice big belly laughs. Out loud. In France, especially, whoever he is talking to is shocked by this. They say, “No, really!” and look disapproving. That usually makes him laugh more. He can’t help it.
I’ve read that Americans are seen as “giddy,” by the French. I’d call it “jolly.”
Americans like to smile, laugh and be explicitly friendly; that is what feels normal and right. For myself, I have a VERY hard time not saying, “Hi, how are you?” to waiters and shopkeepers. But they would find that silly and forward. In Catalonia, you just say, “Hola.” That’s it. Full stop.
Don’t get me wrong…people are kind and they are nice, just reserved. So if you are an introvert, you should be happy here because you don’t have to make an effort.
We lived in Latin America for nearly five years, and I remember there, especially in Mexico, greetings were warm and friendly – so maybe enthusiasm is a North American continent trait, not just American. Also, “Hola,” would have been a lame, lukewarm greeting in Mexico. There, we/they always said the equivalent of “Good Morning!” with a happy smile.
Catalonia does not consider itself Spain, and that is why they speak their own language first and Spanish second. I have wondered if, in far away Castilian-speaking parts of Spain (like Madrid), we’d hear, “Good Morning” and “Good Afternoon,” and the reason they say “Hola” here is because “Hola” is “Hi” in both Catalan and Castilian… So starting a conversation with a stranger by saying “Hola” might be an unconscious way of stalling until you discover someone’s language. But that is Kristi-specuation.
Also, Americans wave to people – in cars, in crosswalks and so forth. No waving of the locals in this area. We wave anyway, as we cannot help it.
Friends here don’t hug either, unless maybe you are siblings and friends. That can be a problem for us Americans. Even though I am personally not a huge hugger, I just hugged someone today. Again, I couldn’t help it. She had been very kind to us our six weeks here and we were saying goodbye. So I did an awkward mix of the cheek kisses that were appropriate and American hug. I felt like a monster.
Not really. I don’t mind being a little awkward. Being comfortable with discomfort is part of travel. Keep laughing loudly and carry on.