My jaw dropped as I watched a triangle of interaction take place. Having befriended a gal in our office I felt compelled to give her a little gift. The gift bag with froo-froo tissue paper hid two cute shirts. I practically skipped into the office. Seeing she was alone at her desk I sidled up and grinned saying simply, “This is for you.”
Beaming she gave me a hug even before she opened the treasure. According to custom she asked permission to open it. Once granted she gently pulled out each shirt and held them up to her small frame. Suddenly another gal appeared next to the desk. She saw the gift bag and my new friend happily fingering the new garments. Then she walked over, yanked one up and held it against her busty chest.
“This shirt is mine,” the third lady said in a dry matter of fact tone.
My Spanish abilities fly out the window when I am flustered. Not finding the right words I hoped the objection to what was taking place could be seen on my face. The gestures and stammering were insufficient against the allowances extended to ‘friends’ in this culture. My new friend tried to help me understand that this acquaintance was entitled to the gift simply based on the length of time the two had known each other. In the end I conceded, frustrated and confused.
Since this slap-in-the-face shirt experience early on in our missionary career here in Bolivia many interactions of entitlement have followed. I can even employ this relational device with relative ease. The first few times felt awkward. Then I started receiving immediate gratification by way of acceptance from the ‘natives’. I attained desired results attained which reinforced continued usage of entitlement.
Because I can identify the intricacies of this cultural nuance, I cringe a little when anybody calls me, “Pastora.” It is the feminine version of the title Pastor. The people have a right to call me this because I am married to the pastor. Yet, when they speak it, I know there is a list of duties attached they have pegged on me.
When the man says to my face, “You have to give me the money that the people from the United States send to you,” I know he is not trying to finagle anything from me. Rather, he recognizes my position in his life. Tactfully I can help him to understand why I will not be handing over a wad of cash. Then I can request of him specific behavior based upon my title.
The following titles I hold entitle certain groups of people to a certain level of entitlement: wife, friend, amiga, mama, tia, pastora, sister, hermana, señora, and daughter.
What titles do you hold entitling the people in your life to allowances? How do you feel about titles? What cultural practices have surprised you?
- Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America