Coping with change

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Adapting to Cultural Differences

For most people retiring in the tropics will require adapting to cultural differences on the day they arrive and continuing to  a greater and or lesser extent every day thereafter.  For this reason it is the first of many topics we will address on our coping with change page.


If we take a look at the map of the tropics we can see the areas highlighted in red include much of Latin America, sub Saharan Africa and most of Southeast Asia.

Clearly each country has its own culture and also shares some or many attributes with countries nearby, still other countries particularly in Central and South America have a shared cultural history, most having  been settled by Spain.

Understanding Latino Culture

As mentioned above each country in Latin America has unique cultural aspects but in general understanding latino culture will explain many different aspects that apply to most if not all countries in the region.

One of the first things many people  raised in the northern hemisphere notice is what is known as the mañana mañana syndrome or translated tomorrow, tomorrow.  To those who have not experienced this yet is refers to rapid service does not exist.   You will have to learn that almost nothing is completed on time and noone arrives for an appointment at the time agreed upon.

Caucasians see time as money, to arrive late to an appointment is impolite as it wastes another person’s valuable time.  Latinos see time as a gift, they regard it as very impolite to leave an appointment with someone until everything has been discussed.

Latino Vaqueros (cowboys)
Latino Vaqueros (cowboys)

A second group of common traits stem from how the Spanish settled Latin America   Unlike North America Spain conquered Latin America and ruled it as nobility in a feudal culture.

Two clear results of this are a very authoritarian cultural orientation and great financial separation between the classes with a small to nonexistent professional middle class.

One of the most evident ways these two results can be is seen is in government corruption.  This manifests itself in many ways from paying a police officer to not write a ticket to paying an inspector to approve a perfectly good project, you have to adapt as it is a part of day to day life.

People in power are used to having individuals submit, regardless of whether it is legal or not and people not in power are accustomed to submitting, or at least appearing to do so.  They form or join unions through work and other associations to use strikes that can cripple a city or country to resist what they see as abuse of power.  Power to the People!

Another way the separation between socioeconomic classes  affects the Latino culture is the poor think both the rich and powerful from their country and all people who retire in Latin America are rich.  While many people retire on their retirement pensions and or government retirement payments and are far from rich, you will be seen as such and become a target for petty crime and being overcharged, when compared to a local, for everything from a taxi ride to a dental visit.  Businesses and wealthy individuals protect their wealth using armed guards and numerous burglar entrance protections.

The tempo of day to day life is different  than most North Americans are accustomed to  and this can be both an

Boy lunch was good, I am stuffed

advantage and a disadvantage.  Latinos tend to eat at different hours than we do.  The large meal of the day is most often lunch and it consists of a protein, a salad, a carbohydrate such as twice fried bananas (patacones) or mashed potatoes and dessert rather than a sandwich.

This is often followed by a nap (siesta) that lasts two or three hours. Dinner is often eaten late, in some countries as late as 11:00 PM, so those of us accustomed to eating much earlier have little to no competition getting a reservation at 7:00 PM.

In many countries in Latin America beautiful views of nature, beaches and major highways are strewn with litter.

A final word, our description of Latino culture is a description of generalities and like all generalities it does not apply to every individual nor every country. In our personal experience Latinos are warm, kind, friendly people who have much more in common with us than differences from us.


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