My entire life has been spent in the United States of America, with the exception of a trip to Mexico and a few islands in the Caribbean. I know people who have never left their home state, let alone the country. For this reason, I wanted to help expand the knowledge about the differences in lifestyle and culture in other countries. For my Cultural Encounter experience, I chose to interview a family friend who is native to Honduras. She is a shining example of someone who is a hard worker, as she is now living in the United States as a doctor, new mother, and wife.
A: Please tell me about the social differences between your native country and the United States.
Francia: One of the many social differences between Honduras and the United States is the issue of security. Our country is currently going through a period of political unrest and instability driven by a series of corrupt leaders with personal interests linked to drug trafficking. The problem is rooted in true third world poverty as opposed to the United States, which is a world potency. The United States social situation as a whole is that of a secure, stable, and a desirable place to live on a day to day basis. Despite the unfortunate isolated shootings and gun point assaults at lower income neighborhoods I’m afraid they occur at an extremely lower rate here in the U.S. than they do at home.
A: How did you learn English, and do you have any tips for me to learn a second language?
Francia: I learned to speak English as a child attending a bilingual school while growing up. My suggestions are practice, practice, practice and immersion. I think traveling and living in an area where you are forced to use your language skills help.
A: Please explain the educational system in your country.
Francia: We have both public and private schools much like the United States. Private schools are much better in Honduras, and you can pick anywhere from bilingual, trilingual, or Spanish only. The Spanish only schools usually run from January to December as opposed to bi/trilingual schools which follow the American Standardized system from Aug/Sep-Jun. The other main difference is the coursework, which is set and we have very few or no choice as to what subjects we have to fulfill in order to complete our high school degree. This way, they ensure we all have a basic understanding of every subject (whether we like it or not).
A: Please tell me about you and your family’s favorite holiday.
Francia: Christmas! This is by far our most celebrated and wonderful holiday of all. We celebrate on December 24th with dinner and a cocktail party which goes on past midnight. Children are usually sent to bed and woken back up around midnight to open presents and are allowed to stay up until they collapse from sugar overload! Many families also attend Catholic mass at midnight and celebrate with food once they return to their homes followed by, of course, presents!
A: What are the two things you miss about your country, and what are the two things you like about living in the United States and why?
Francia: I miss my friends and family and the delicious food. I love the practicality of the United States. Where else can you buy pre-cut onions and peppers?! I also love how safe it is; open lawns and no walls around most houses.
A: What is the most important value that you learned from your home culture?
Francia: Appreciation. I’m grateful for everything I have. We live in a blessed country where life is good, really good.
A: What is the biggest difference between your home country and America?
Francia: Language is a big one. English vs Spanish. My home country is also a very conservative country from religion to social beliefs.
A: Would you say there are any negatives to your home country? What are they?
Francia: The main negative again is that of social security. For instance, foreign travelers are always steered towards the tourist hot spots to stay safe. It is sad they can’t truly experience the beauty of our country due to safety issues.
A: What is the worst thing about living in the United States?
Francia: The wastefulness of it. It makes me cringe to see how wasteful we are when I know we could be using our resources better.
A: What is considered respectful or disrespectful in your culture that differs from the United States?
Francia: We kiss on the cheek as a friendly “hello”. Sometimes, it’s a little too personal to do that with everyone you meet in the United States.
The interview I had with Francia was eye opening. I did not realize Honduras had so much corruption and poverty. I really take the safety that I have in the United States for granted. Especially as a woman, I have so many privileges and opportunities in comparison to the women in many third world countries. Even though the government is far from perfect in the United States, it is nothing in comparison to some of the corrupt countries in Central or South America, like Honduras. Another thing that resounded with me about the United States, is just how wasteful we are here. It is true, many resources like food, water, clothing, electricity, and objects are either wasted or owned in excess. The are many people in less fortunate countries who would be glad to have the things like a half empty bottle of drinking water, or an old pair of running shoes, that Americans just throw away.
One aspect of her home culture that I wish the United States had is better private schools. Most of the school in Honduras are bilingual. I can only imagine what an advantage that is to grow up being immersed in two or even three languages. Francia has gone on to medical school and became a doctor, so this part of her culture really paid off. However, it is unfortunate that the students in Honduras are not allowed to chose subjects they are interested in, rather they are forced to learn the same basic standards.
Francia and I share love for the same holiday- Christmas. It is my favorite time of the year as well. I agree that it is a time of celebration to spend with family. Most of my family lives in California, so every Christmas I fly out to see them and spend time with my mom, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We all have a big dinner together, a lot of food and wine, and open presents at my grandparents on Christmas Eve. Her family has a tradition that sounds similar to mine.
The cultural difference that surprised me was the kiss on the cheek to say hello. The social norms of the United States are very conscious of personal space. It is considered rude to stand or walk too close to someone, usually arms length is a good distance to be from a person during a conversation in the United States. I do not even hug my friends or family every time I see them. It would feel uncomfortable if a person I know kissed me on the cheek as a greeting, but especially if it was a stranger.
The interview with Francia helped me expand my knowledge of the Honduran culture. I learned about the social aspects of the country such as poor security, and their education system, which in some ways is better than the United States’. This interview has also made me appreciate the positive aspects of the United States’ culture as well. We live in a blessed, fortunate country with many opportunities, safety, and freedom.