I have been in trouble so many times in the name of “honesty” ; I have been in awkward situations for being “indiscrete”; I have been in uncomfortable circumstances for “opening my mouth” when I should not have done. I have been in so many situations for so many reasons…Yes, loads of times. But I have also been in “trouble” for saying things that in my country would be a compliment, especially to women, and in trouble because what is deemed as “OK” and “normal” back home, could be an offence to Irish women.I am one of those people who if I give you a compliment I really mean it. I do not say nice things to bullshit you for the sake of it, just to try to gain sympathy from people. Of course, this way of being could make matters even worse. Could we call it a cultural shock? I don’t know. Should we call it imprudence? I don’t know. What I am going to do is I am going to try to honestly explain those situations I have been in and you can form your own opinion. Mind you, it is extremely hard for me to try to be or pretend to be something or someone that I am not, and even when I have tried the real me always comes out, naturally.
Jennifer Lopez, or JLo, is a huge female icon in our Latin American culture, not only for what she has achieved professionally, but also for her sexy big ass. Women love her and want to have a bum like hers, not to mention the dirty thoughts she awakens in men because of it. I have friends back home who would go to the gym and try to work out their arses off to have one like hers. If you say to a girl, “oh my god you have a big bum” you are giving them the best compliment ever and her working out achievements would have been fulfilled. I did not know in Ireland having a “huge bum” was such an offence and of course I ended up offending someone. This girl is very slim and in my opinion had a nice big bum. One day, thinking I was giving her the compliment of her life. I said “oh my god, look at your bum is huge and lovely” and with an unfriendly face, she says: “thanks Marlon for telling me I’m fat”. In my head I couldn’t understand why she thought I was calling her “fat”, when JLo in Latin America is regarded as one of the sexiest women alive. It took me a few years to realise that there will never ever be an “Irish JLo”. In Ireland having a big sexy bum is a no no.
Working in the hairdressers and in the summer with the hairdryers, the salon can get very hot and stuffy. One day this lady dealing with me at the reception area, when she was leaving, said “Oh Marlon I think I got wet at the basin” and I went “Oh really? Let me see” I walked around, touched her and I said “No, you’re fine, you didn’t get wet, you’re just sweating” and she nearly died. She didn’t say anything to me, but she mentioned it to the stylist who was looking after her “Oh my god, Marlon just told me I was sweating”. I was informed of her disgust and I couldn’t understand what is wrong with sweating. Venezuela is a hot country and my city, Maracaibo, is even hotter. You can easily get 45 degrees in the month of August so sweating is as normal as having to go to the bathroom for our physiological needs, so I couldn't understand that sweating can be an insult for an Irish girl. Lesson learnt, in Ireland if a girl is sweating, you can notice it, but don't dare to mention it.
A client, who I still see now and then and whom I had a good customer relationship with, was very used to a particular hair stylist who was on holidays when she rang to make an appointment with her and I told her she was away. She was insisting that she needed a haircut desperately, but because I knew exactly what and how she liked her hair to be done, I strongly suggested her to wait until her stylist comes back from her holidays (in 4 days), but she kept insisting in me recommending someone for her haircut, this is something I did before and she never liked the haircut she got from the 2 different people I recommended in the past, so I said " Mrs X I won't recommend anyone, and suggest you to wait until your stylist comes back, because I did recommend 2 different stylists before when she was not around and you were not happy, so because of you being very fussy, you better wait" and she nearly had a convulsion over the phone and said "Marlon calling me fussy is not very nice" and I said "but you are fussy, so you better wait" and she said "OK I will wait then". I hung up the phone and I went and asked the girls working with me at the time "Girls, can you use the word "fussy" with a client" and their face dropped and started laughing. "Who did you say that to?" and I said "Mrs X" and they laughed loudly. When Mrs X eventually came to the salon I approached her and explained to her that I didn't know you couldn't use such term in that context. She said "It's OK Marlon, next time you can say that I am very particular" she is actually admitting she is very "fussy", but we must say "particular" Hmmmmm interesting.
In Venezuela if you have white skin you are rather popular, dark skin is a no. I wasn't in Dublin even a year when this happened, a girl I knew and who had (according to my Venezuelan taste) a lovely white skin, one day I met her by chance, and said "Hello how are you? I haven't seen you in a while. Oh my god you look great and look at your skin is even whiter since the last time I saw you" Her forehead frowned and she said "Thanks Marlon for pointing that I have a pale skin" and I said "Yes, it's very pale and white, but lovely" and she goes quite serious "Well thanks again, I spent 40 minutes and 50 euro this morning in the tanning shop getting my tan done because I am going out tonight" and in my head I went "Oops". I never saw her again. She probably drowned in her spray tan.
I grew up seeing my sisters, nieces, cousins being pregnant so in my family there are more babies than stars in the sky. I saw so many of my friends being pregnant, too. All these women, family and friends and even Venezuelan women in general carry a sense of pride when pregnant and their bellies are growing. I even remember one of my good friends when she found out she was pregnant, she could not wait for her belly to grow. So she would buy tight dresses in order to show her belly off. There is a Saturday TV program that near Mother's Day they had a competition on that consists of measuring the size of pregnant women bellies. The prize the winner gets is bigger than her belly. Can you imagine the thrill of the winner being rewarded for having a huge pregnant belly? It is a massive compliment to say to a Venezuelan pregnant girl "oh my god, your belly is growing", because the bigger the belly the better, meaning that the baby is growing healthy and is going to be a big healthy baby. I know you can already see where this going. In one of my previous jobs a girl fell pregnant and of course like every human pregnant being, her belly was growing. As a symbol of respect and compliment, one day I made the "mistake" of saying "Oh look at your belly is growing, you're getting bigger" She nearly choked. She nearly had the baby right there in front of me. It would have been a premature baby caused by the disgust of my comment. She even nearly started crying and I thought "Jasus her hormones must be all over the place that she is nearly crying because of my compliment" Let's put it this way, I have never said anything like that ever again when I have seen an Irish pregnant girl. Even though I think they’re glowing because their bellies growing beautifully big, I just bite my tongue and keep the compliment to myself.
Every single one of these situations I’ve been in has helped me to broaden my horizons, allowing me to solidify my integration into the Irish culture. I came from a totally different background and therefore I had to change my mind set in order to fit in. It has been a very interesting journey that has enriched my view in life and changed my perspective as I am exposed to the Irish society on a daily basis because this is my home now.
There is more to tell in Part 2, for example when a bottle of red wine got me into trouble, and not because I drank it.
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