“we laugh so we don’t get old”
Hello everyone! Below are some pictures of my house. (I didn’t take pictures of other rooms inside my house, because I didn’t want to make my host family uncomfortable. If there is interest I can try to get some shots.) My host family situation is a bit complicated, but I am going to do my best to explain it here. I live with my host mom and dad, and my mom’s mom (abuela). They have 3 children, all grown, all of whom live in adjacent houses. My host dad has something like 9 sisters, and they all live right next door as well. My host parents’ kids are each married and have children of their own (ages 7-17). I refer to the actual kids, who are technically my host nieces and nephews, as my host siblings. All the families basically live in a little village – there’s a gate, a long driveway, and all the houses share a common yard. It is a really fun setup because there are always people around to talk to or hang out with, but I do always have the option to stay in my room if I need a little bit of peace and quiet.
People here seem to be fascinated with my last name, Kaczynski. I thought people in the Midwest had problems spelling and pronouncing it, but that’s nothing compared to here. The first attempt usually sounds something like “kahk-SEEN-skeee” (with very separated syllables), which is not too far off really, but it doesn’t improve after that. My history professor was very excited about the Polishness of it, and asked me all sorts of questions, like when my parents moved to the US, what my favorite Polish foods are, and whether I can speak Polish. I think my answers might have disappointed him just a little bit. When we went to apply for our student visas, the visa officers processing my forms were also very amused by my last name. They asked me how to pronounce it and repeated it multiple times until they had it more-or-less right. Then, as they were typing in the rest of my information, they would say it to themselves and then just chuckle a little bit. It was like the punchline of a joke, but I feel like I kind of missed the joke…or maybe I was the joke…
One VERY big cultural point here is the use of the terms “America” and “American.” In the United States, “America” is pretty much synonymous with “United States,” and an “American” citizen is the same as a US citizen. However, in Latin America (and I would think South America as well), if you tell someone you are American they will say, well I am too. To them, (and personally I think this makes more sense anyway), “America” is the entire 2 continents. There is North America, Latin/Central America, and South America, but it is all America. Honestly, I chalk it all up to a language difference, and here’s why: in Spanish, there is a word for being from the US: estadounidense. In English, I seriously cannot think of a word: United Statesian? United Statesese? There isn’t really a good way to say it in English, so we say “American.” From a Latin-American perspective, I understand how they could interpret that to mean we think we are the only Americans, but from an English-speaker perspective, I understand that there really is no good alternative. However, I have been trying to catch myself every time I am about to say “America” or “American” and find an alternative.
Almost every night at my house, my host mom plays cards with her sister and with abuela, and when I can I join them. I have noticed that they tend to laugh their way through everything – dropped a plate? whoops! Burned the food? – shoot! Didn’t preheat the oven? – oh well! I had chalked up their slap-happiness to lack of sleep until last night when my host mom – mid laugh – turned to me and commented that they were crazy, right? I agreed, and then she said something which to me was really profound: “we laugh so we don’t get old.” I thought, wow. She’s right. Why be sad and tired and stressed when you could just laugh it off?
The other day, when I was walking home from the U, the sun was shining and it was raining at the same time. The Ticos I was with told me that the saying goes in Costa Rica that when there is sun and rain at the same time, it is the Virgen de los Ángeles (the same Virgin Mary for which there was a procession to Cartago a few weeks back) smiling down on us. Aww.
Sad fun fact: They most certainly do not use the Oxford comma here. I am a big proponent of the Oxford comma. I have gotten corrected on all my papers. It is disappointing.