Embarrassing episodes in the life of a poor barefoot girl from the Andes
As much as I think that there are more similarities than differences among the cultures of South America and North America, I have to admit to a few minor cultural clashes — and food sacrifices — I’ve had to overcome since I came to live in the U.S. Now, not being the typical Colombian who wraps herself in the tri-color flag with a stubborn air of disdain for “gringos”, I must say that I’ve had a rather easy transition into my life on U.S. soil. Easy, though not totally painless… I’m thinking of those two times that I’ve done something so terribly embarrassing, I actually felt like a barefoot campesina at a U2 concert. For years I have kept these secrets buried down where nobody can ever find them. I think Joey may know of one of them, but this is the first time I’ll willingly share these embarrassing stories from my immigrant past. Why not?
Please Show Your Support
I was at business school, and we were going through one of the many hell weeks of the program. Midterms or finals were approaching, and that is the time when MBA students engage on home cleaning projects almost as extensive as all of the items in Martha Stewart’s spring cleaning checklist (BTW: please!). This is not something you pick up. You just do it by instinct, without anyone telling you… So anyway: I was cleaning the deepest most neglected corners of my studio apartment, and while I did, I was listening to a classical radio station.
I’m not sure if the fumes of cleaning supplies were hitting me hard… All I know is that the music on that afternoon was truly glorious… Really wonderful!… And the announcer kept asking his audience to call the station to show our support. He was saying things like “If you love this music, help us continue on the air. Please call us, and show us your support”. Not really sure of what he wanted, I ignored the announcer’s pleads for several hours. But the programming was truly stellar. He would repeat the “if you love this music, call us” line after every musical piece, emphasizing that they really needed to hear from us in order to survive. I was becoming ebria with the exquisite music — or maybe the Clorox fumes, so finally I pondered: Maybe the big executives think that this station is not being listened enough. Maybe they’re doing a tally of votes, and if they reach a certain number of “support” calls, they’ll keep these guys on the air. Heck! I love this music, I would hate for them to be turned off… Fine, I’ll call to show my support.
That’s as far as I have my details clear. What happened after they picked up my phone call is a nebulous dark memory my brain has tried to block for many years. I think they may have answered like “XYZ Station… How much would you like to pledge?”. Or maybe they just answered “Hello?”, and I actually had to explain that I was calling to express my support for XYZ. Anyway, the “pledge” word came up, and I had no clue of what that meant. So, maybe they had to explain it to me, or maybe the “how much” piece told me immediately that they were actually asking for money. For all I know, I felt like such campesina, the conversation might as well have gone like this:
—XYZ Station. How much would you like to pledge?
—Plech? Ay Diosito… guat does dat mean?
—Pledge… You know… How much would you like to donate to our station?
—How moch? Oh! I likit verry moch! Beutiful music. Biutiful!
—Yes mam. Thank you. So…, would you like to make a pledge today?
—Mam? Would you like to pledge?
—Plech! Yes! A plechure. Yor music is a pleashure…
I felt so terribly stupid. I thanked the Lord that I was actually on the phone and the person on the other end couldn’t see my bright red burning cheeks. I do remember having to say that I couldn’t give them any money, but I wanted to express my gratitude for such beautiful music. Not that they guy cared, probably, but there was no easy way to get out of that call.
The Heinous Kiss
OK, my English was much better by this time, but the Latin ways were still there, not knowing that they could be interpreted as something awful and dirty at the workplace. This was my first job out of business school. I was one out of very few women in a largely male army of financial analysts. I had succeeded at getting used to the fact that people landed on their cubes in the morning and left in the afternoon never saying good morning, or good bye. I had even began to embrace the privacy and secrecy of the American silent walk through the maze of cube walls. It was perfect: Nobody could tell if you came late or left early. I thought I had it. I thought that was it. That is: Until that embarrassing episode with Allan.
Allan was a serious and mysterious guy. I was usually afraid to ask him for help, but for whatever reason, this time I needed him. He had worked on some project and had estimated certain numbers I could really use. To my surprise, Allan was extremely nice and helpful. He came to my cube and either dropped the analysis I needed, or told me he would get it to me very soon… Again, my brain chooses to forget the painful details surrounding what happened. And WHAT happened is abominable!
Allan finished his speech and was about to leave my cube. He was standing at my “door”, and I was sitting inside the cube, several feet away from him. I was so thankful for his help, the natural thing I had always done with men and women came out. I said “Thank you so much!” and kissed the air. I didn’t kiss him. I didn’t even kiss the air in a dirty provocative way. I don’t have plumpy Angelina Jolie lips. I’m extremely light, if any, on the cuchi-cuchi hot-latina factor. I just crunched my thin lips on a quick thankful and — I thought — respectful kiss gesture that didn’t mean anything other than I am so thankful I could kiss you, though I won’t. But OH MY GOD! I might as well have shown him a boobie. His expression immediately turned somber. Like I had told him I wanted to sleep with him, or like I had actually walked to him and French-kissed him. He frowned. And frowned. And frowned even more intently, as he said: “Don’t ever do that again… It makes me verrrrry uncomfortable”. And then he walked away.
I hid from him for a long time. I was so embarrassed that my friendly completely natural Latin gesture had been interpreted so wrong. He eventually lightened up, and I sucked it up, and we actually had a normal coworker relationship. He was even funny… Who knew he could… But Allan will always be remembered in my past as the guy who frowned in disgust of that terrible kiss gesture I did at the workplace. Needless to say, that was the last time I made any kiss gestures to anything or anybody in this country — that is, except for my husband… who I’m sure would’ve probably handled even a boobie a lot better than Allan.
So there. I’ve done it. I have plenty more to be embarrassed of, like the time I puked my chocolate milk all over every child in my school car pool… but I can’t remember many stories that I have kept from others for so long.
What about you? Any silly stories you have kept in the closet because they’re just too embarrassing to even think about?