How you speak and what you say are all part of la buena educación, “good upbringing,” a very important trait in the eyes of Spaniards and Latin Americans. This is not related to schooling but how you treat others…Personal hygiene and courtesy are of primary importance, from the look of the fingernails to table manners to the rituals of politeness.
The first rule of courtesy is always to greet everyone; acknowledge their presence. If you enter a bakery, for example, you greet the person there before placing your order. Buenos días, señora. Buenas tardes señor. (Good morning, ma’am. Good afternoon, sir.) Notice that día is masculine, so its Buenos días. Spanish speakers are often astonished while visiting a home in the United States or Canada to see children pass by them without any greeting and even at times without saying anything to their own parents. This to the Spanish and Latin American mind is mal educado. The custom is that you show respect by greeting everyone.”
Excerpted from Tune Up Your Spanish: The Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken Spanish, by Mary McVey Gill and Brenda Wegmann, p22.
Being bien educado.
La buena educación is one of the reasons I came to Costa Rica, and Latin America in general. After having lived in Mexico for 2 ½ years in the ‘70s, I was aware of the Latin rituals of politeness all too well. I learned by observing and then doing. I noticed, too, that the children were much more included in social events and parents were not excluded from teen parties. I noticed that everyone at a gathering was acknowledged, from the grandparents down to the young children. I saw being bien educado as being an integral part of the fabric of Latin life. It’s one of those civil things that attracted me to Latin America.
Even before my years in Mexico, back in the 1960s, I noticed this decorum. I lived in the San Francisco Bay area and my friends were Latins from every part of Latin America. Both my girlfriend at the time and my roommate were from Colombia. I would go with them to dances, family events, and other Latin functions. I was never excluded, and I learned to be bien educado. I felt like I belonged because they readily accepted me. In fact, at college, I always belonged to the International Relations Club and visited the International House at various college campuses in California. I was often chosen to represent Colombia at cultural events featuring the folkloric dance, the cumbia. To the spectators, I was Colombian, albeit a blond-haired, blue-eyed one.
It’s so easy.
Being bien educado is the easiest way I know to begin the integration process. It will be especially helpful in your community, barrio, or neighborhood. It’s something you can use every day the rest of your life, whether you’re in Latin America, Europe, the U.S., or Canada. Sometimes people say that Costa Rica is like the U.S. was 50 years ago. But I think that good manners and acknowledgement went out the door well before that. It doesn’t come naturally to us because, to some extent, it may never have existed in the northern European culture. Certainly though, people were friendlier many years ago, more courteous and polite. But being bien educado is something that can be learned.
Because you now acknowledge everyone, and by uttering a few pleasantries along the way, you will be seen as someone who is friendly and approachable. In just a few short days you’ll be waving at your neighbors. They’ll see you and you’ll see them. You will be familiar, as will your car. It’s the single best thing you can quickly and easily do to enhance your experience and integrate into your community. But please, don’t wait for them to start. It must come from you. All you have to say is “Buenos días. ¿Que tál? ¿Como está?” (Good morning. How’s everything? How are you?) I guarantee, they will respond. They’ll be thinking, “This is no ordinary Gringo, but one well-brought-up. His parents taught him well.” Soon, very soon, it will come from them too, and you’ll be well on your way to making some new friends and acquaintances. Are you being bien educado?
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