I knew I was becoming Paraguayan the minute that I met a Colombian.
I was eating breakfast at a hostel in Asuncion (pretty much the only hostel in Asuncion, and therefore the hub for all backpackers in Paraguay it seems) when I started chatting with a guy who’s traveling through Paraguay and Argentina before returning home to Bogota. We discussed our common love of Colombia, the summer I spent in Medellin, whether the Rolos (people from Bogota) really aren’t as nice as other Colombians, and more. Needless to say, it was well established that he was in fact Colombian, not Paraguayan, therefore there was no need to interact with him based upon Paraguayan social cues.
Yet, when I pulled the juice out of the fridge and asked him if he would like some, and he responded, “Ah, gracias,” I turned right around and put the juice back in the fridge. The most concerning part of it all:
There was not a single doubt in my mind that he definitely did not want juice.
It wasn’t until some awkward laughter by people in the room [all non-Paraguayan], and him saying, “Uh, yeah, thanks I did want juice,” that I realized my mistake.
Oh god, what have I become?
And the answer came back: Paraguayan.
In the mate circle (traditional tea that is passed around and shared) when you don’t want any you say, “Gracias.” When asked if you want seconds in Paraguay, which surely will be phrased in the negative, “You don’t want any more to eat, do you?” The magic “Gracias” will get you out of eating more. Paraguayans have such a culture of indirect communication that they will go as far as needed to avoid directly saying the word “No.” So far in fact, that “Thank you” now means “No!”
I would feel fine about this situation if I were just sharing a cultural tidbit and it stopped there. What’s alarming is that apparently I’m slowly becoming re-wired to indirectly communicate like a Paraguayan [Seems I would prefer the inarticulate mumbling of American teenagers].
This is after only four months. God help us all when we see the results of two years, do you think they will be life-long permanent?
So, when I get back to the U.S. and you invite me over to your house for dinner, and I look at what you cook for me and say, “Yo no sé comer” (“I don’t know how to eat this,” a phrase used by Paraguayans which really means “I don’t like this”), I urge you to please yell at me in your loudest voice:
“THAT IS NOT TRUE MOLLY! YOU DO KNOW HOW TO EAT THAT, EVERYONE KNOWS HOW TO EAT IT, AND IF YOU DON’T, I WILL TEACH YOU RIGHT NOW!”
And then a little more calmly, “And if it’s that you don’t like it, I’m going to need to hear you say it out loud.”