Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

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?


  1. On , Petie wrote:

    Hm, I’ll have to give it some thought. You know, I never can think of funny stories about myself – I think it’s embarrassing that I couldn’t really think of anything funny about myself for my sorority nickname and nothing of note really happened to me during pledging. I had a lame nickname on the back of my jersey.

    I think Americans are too stiff. Poo on us. ;)

  2. On , Maria wrote:

    What was your sorority nickname? :)

  3. On , Maria wrote:

    Oh! oh! I was trying to come up with some prompt lines for you Petie… It went: Let’s see: farts, poop… POOP… I actually have one more closeted story. Nothing to do with cultural shock… Yeah. I think that one will probably die with me. There are no other witnesses to implicate me.

  4. On , Petie wrote:

    Runaway. One night during pledging, we were in a hurry to get over to the other side of campus, so we hopped in a car. Well, we all tried to hop in the car. I didn’t make it and the girl started driving off without me. Pretty lame. Chris is over here and said, “yeah, you didn’t have a good nickname.”

    I did think of something that was terribly embarassing to me at the time, but now just sounds hilarious. Joey was looking for something in the bathroom cabinent when he still lived at home. I had just recently started my period and was very insecure about that. I heard him say, “damn, I can’t find ______ (can’t remember) because of all the pads in here.” I was mortified. Oh, Joey embarrassed me another time in front of one of his friends. I had just gotten home from camp and he made a comment about how it had been good for me. I’d slimmed down. I can’t remember his exact words, but his friend was there with him and it was very humiliating.

    I’m sure I can come up with many more things like this… I used to be very insecure about all womanly type issues (periods) and my body. Ironically, I’ll never have another period and you just lose a lot of your insecurity over your body during the whole baby thing…. especially breast feeding! Man, all kinds of people have seen various parts of my body naked now! Oi.

  5. On , Maria wrote:

    The runaway story is funny! It cracked me up.

    Just be thankful that Joey never did what one of my ex-guys did to his younger sister. Once a guy called this girl and my guy (let’s call him D) picked up the phone. The guy on the other line goes “Is Rosita home?”. And D replies “She’s taking a dump, would you like to leave a message?”. She was actually in the bathroom, doing what D said, but dude! come on!

  6. On , Petie wrote:

    Oh! I thought of one closet story. I think maybe I’ve only told Chris. I had a crush on this guy in 4th grade. Apparently I told someone and it got around. He left a note in my desk that said, “I hate you Patrina your a bartbag.” That really hurt. Ouch.

    Chris just asked me what his last name is so we can look him up. Chris will send him a nasty note for me. (kidding – although, I really am looking in my year book to see if I can find him. I’m assuming he went to the same middle school as me.)

  7. On , Maria wrote:

    How evil!… Maybe he really loved you… On 4th grade, he was probably humiliated about a girl liking him?
    Did he really say “Patrina” or did you just misspell it?

  8. On , Petie wrote:

    He really wrote Patrina. He couldn’t even spell my name correctly. Sniff. I just found him in the yearbook. Michael Stanley. Grrr. What a jerk.

  9. On , Maria wrote:


  10. On , Jennifer wrote:

    I don’t think the kiss in the air is bad! Sheesh – he just sounds wound.

    As for embarassing… I’m sure there are many in my past, but the only one that came to mind reading your stories was when I had a crush on a soccer teammate of my (older) brother’s. I think his name was Tory… as my brother is about 5 1/2 years older, so was Tory. My family invited him along for something… I think a show or concert or maybe we were just driving him home after a tournament. Anyway, he had the “hump” seat in the back while I had the window seat on his left. I had fallen asleep on the drive and apparently at some point during my nap I wound up on his shoulder.

    When I awoke – still groggy – everyone, including my parents, were stifling giggles. I was like, “What?” Tory was just blushing/grinning and I forgot who, but someone broke the silence and told me what had transpired.

    I think I had to be like, ohhh… 12? Yeah, priiiiiimmmme time for crushes on teenaged boys.


  11. On , Ivan wrote:

    El beso al aire es lo mejor! a mi me encanta cada vez que recibo uno. Que raro eso de estar pidiendo contribuciones de money cuando uno esta pensando es en otra cosa, raro. Ahora, osos, pocos, siempre el oso aparece días, meses y hasta años después de haber pasado. Así soy yo. Chao prima.

  12. On , Maria wrote:

    Cute story, J. Trying to think here if I ever had a crush on an older boy as a girl. I probably would’ve been mortified, specially after seeing the guys’s face grinning.

  13. On , Maria wrote:

    Ja! ja! Me recordaste la palabra “oso”. Hace rato que no digo “que oso”, o mi antes mas habitual “oso peludo” para mayor enfasis.

  14. On , mandarine wrote:

    I can’t believe the kiss in the air thing could have had any embarrassing consequences. It must have been a very special part of the US. OR, the guy was in love with you…

    The most embarrassing thing I never told anybody (nothing to do with US, though) was when I was in third grade, at the end of a week of skiing with the school. There was a mini-prom ball and we had to choose partners. I had already chosen Marina, probably because she was the other straight-A pupil. But as the day wore on, I had a terrible belly-ache and had to cancel.
    That belly-ache turned out to have bowel-related causes, and I found relief a few minutes before said ball. I went upstairs to the girls dormitory, and told Marina in front of what still feels like all the other girls: “I am OK now, it was the poo” (generalized laughter of nine-year-old females, overwhelming shame, eternal embarrassment — until now — thank you)

  15. On , Maria wrote:

    I love that you had the cojones to go and tell her… even if that made it become an embarrassing memory for you. :)

    One of the guys I dated in college once had the same thing happen to him while we were hanging out in a very romantic situation. The whole set up was designed so that he would finally make his move with me, but he never did. I was secretly pissed — even considered he might be gay, and that story ended up in nothing. And many years later he finally told me that on that night, the thing that interrupted his intended actions was pretty much what you’re describing. Not that it matters now, and we had a good laugh once he told me, but back then I probably would’ve rather know.

  16. On , Kim Rodriguez wrote:

    Ok….so I’ll confess my little cultural blunder….when I lived in Germany during my grad school internship, there was this great little health club close to my house….It had an indoor pool, sauna, steamroom and courtyard where you could sit out on lounge chairs and enjoy the sun….it was a family place and for months I was curious to check it out….so one spring weekend, maybe late april or so, I decided I would go and spend the Saturday there….I had saved up some DM to pay the day fee….it was a sunny day and i headed over there…paid my fee and the attendant proceeded to show me the facilities….first we entered the COED locker room….having spent a little time in Europe before, I knew there were somewhat different ideas about nudity etc than what we had in the US….so I thought as cool as a cucumber…”it’s ok..I can handle this”….I changed into my swimsuit and as I was coming out of the locker room into the pool area I realized that I was the ONE AND ONLY soul wearing a swimsuit… which one of the attendants said to me…”Oh we don’t wear swimsuits here”….Well, I struggled to keep my cool cucumber demeaner and I had already paid my long saved DM and would certainly not ask for a refund…and it was a family place…..sooooooo…I opted to do as the Romans swimsuit was relegated to the locker room….but I decided to save what face I had left and forgo a swim for maybe the privacy of the sauna with my towel…..I entered the sauna only to find it occupied by a 2 men and another woman….unabashedly lounging on the benches in their respective all together soaking up delightful dry heat into every exposed pore on their bodies….towels were used merely as a cushion between skin and wooden bench….not wanting to be the prude, I nonchalantly found a spot on an unoccupied bench and mustering what dignity I had left laid on my stomach….well….after a few minutes the woman left and one of the men left….the other guy began some harmless banter in German much like the conversation one would have with a stranger in a train…about the weather…etc….and in my flawless German (it really was!) I chatted it up…..and after a few minutes he said to me…”Your German is really good….I don’t think I’ve ever met an American with a Swiss accent before”….I do have a Swiss accent because that’s where I learned German… I asked do you know I’m American? “The American girls ALWAYS come in here and lay on their stomachs!”

  17. On , Maria wrote:

    Oh my God!!!… My jaw hurts after laughing non-stop while I read your story, Kim. Too funny! I don’t think I could’ve done what you did without a mask covering my entire face. I mean: I don’t even do pool parties with coworkers, and boy!… Do Texans love those!

  18. On , Kim Rodriguez wrote:

    Yea…I was sooooooo glad I had gone on the weekend when my colleague had gone home to visit his wife! He lived in the same house I did and we often talked about checking the place out when we drove by it on the way to work everyday!

  19. On , me wrote:

    I don’t think I need to hear this.

  20. On , Kim wrote:

    …I rented the basement apt and he rented a room uptairs in this little elderly couple’s home…..:=

  21. On , Maria wrote:

    At Ana’s wedding in Germany, Joey met three other wedding guests (2 guys and a girl) at the castle’s health facilities. The guys were naked, and one of them made fun of Joey: “You Americans are so uptight”… except, we were not surprised by the nudity thing, but by the fact that the girl (I think she was wearing a bikini) actually worked for this guy. Yeah! Call me uptight or whatever, but I would never get on a hot tub with a male boss, much less if he’s naked.

  22. On , Marla wrote:

    Why does so much embarassing stuff have to revolve around the period and related functions like childbirth and breast feeding?

    In middle school, I was extremely shy unless I knew you heart and soul. So when I began cramping enough to get sick to my stomach, I was too shy to interupt my teacher’s lecture to leave the room, thinking, that she’d stop me in the middle of the room and I’d be mortified. (She was one of those older teachers who liked to make “examples”) Well, when I finally did get up the courage to leave, I had to grab the trash can by the door and throw up in it while the class looked on and screamed eeeewwwwwww. I learned my lesson. After that, leaving class didn’t seem like such an aweful concern…

  23. On , Maria wrote:

    Ahhhhh.. the puke story. Mine is no less embarrassing and gross. It ended happily for me, though. Not so much for the other children victim of my reflux.

    So, wait: are you saying that childbirth may be embarrassing? I was hoping that the pain and urge to get the kid out would be so intense, you wouldn’t give a damn about being almost naked, pushing in front of a bunch of people receiving the baby. Except, if poop (or farts) could be involved? That could be embarrassing… I think we can go offline on this subject, but I’m seriously curious about the embarrassing stuff revolving around childbirth.

    Breast feeding I can totally see myself mortified about having to do it in front of any public to whom I’ve never shown my naked boob. That would be everybody, except for Joey.

  24. On , Maria L Sanchez wrote:

    Kim Rodriguez,

    I’ve run into the opposite situations in American locker rooms.
    In Brazil we women are much more comfortable with being nude and showering in the women’s locker rooms. I think most Latinas are more in touch with our femininity and nudity than many American women. I’ve run into situations in America where I was the only woman in the locker room who wasn’t uptight about being nude.