Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tacky, tacky, tacky, puertorican style!!!

tacky = crass; cheaply vulgar; tasteless; crude; gaudy; flashy; showy

etiquette = rules governing socially acceptable behavior

Tacky...that is one of those words you don't learn in English class in Puerto Rico. And if you do, is by the meaning of "sticky" as in glue. So when I moved here, it was one of those words that resonated in my head and stuck with me.

There is a parenting forum I visit in my area quite regularly. All kinds of opinions are discussed there. But when people ask for what is considered "acceptable" according to etiquette rules, that seems to ignite the most heated discussions on the subject.

I have been pondering on this. Ever since moving here, I have discovered many differences and similarities on what is considered "socially acceptable behavior" here and in the Island. And what is considered "tacky".

In my childhood, around the age of 6 or 7, there was a movie shown every afternoon, with a hostess who taught viewers what was considered good manners, etiquette. Lucy Pereda is her name. I cannot remember what the show was called, but I loved to watch SeƱora Pereda, elegant, poised, showing how to hold the knife and fork while cutting meat, how a seƱorita would seat properly, and all those other things proper ladies should learn.

Fast forward a "few" years, and I move to Wisconsin. I always considered I was respectful and considerate. But after living here for a few years, I start to discover what is tacky and what is not...

For example, around the time of my wedding, it was perfectly acceptable in Puerto Rico, and the trend, specially among "well-off" families, to include in wedding invitations a little card stating that a present was not necessary to attend the wedding and share that time with the couple, but requesting that, if the person really wanted to give one, to then make it a monetary gift. Yes, people were requesting money instead of presents! I asked about this, and more than one wedding stationary person glared at me as if I fell off a spaceship!

Of course, if you know me, you know what I ended up doing: I did how my people did it. So I am sure more than one guest commented how tacky that was...still, most of them came to the wedding, and by the end, the card box was packed. So, is not tacky to be whiney and complain to then end up doing whatever it is anyway? I think it is...

Then, comes the baby shower issue. When I was pregnant with my second child, my oldest was already five years old. We had moved once since her birth and got rid of most of my baby stuff. My brother-in-law's wife offered to throw a baby shower for me. Blasphemy!!! A few people I rather not mention scowled and were miffed I was having a second shower. Until I moved here, I did not ever give a second thougth to it: you are pregnant, you are having a baby, you get a baby shower. Simple. No matter if is number 1 or 10. I imagine that, if you asked a puertorican lady in the island about it, they would look at you like "huh?" one of those things you don't even ponder upon.

I ended up having my baby shower also...

I know, I know...I can probably hear a few say, "Well, you live in the United States now...". Um, excuse me...I have always lived in United States territory, for one. For another, the United States is a mix of many cultures that live here together. And many still preserve their traditions and their own rules for what they consider "socially acceptable"...I can do that, too.

So...funny thing, the word "etiquette" comes from the Old French word "estiquette", which means label or ticket. In Spanish, we use the same word, "etiqueta" for etiquette, and for labels. So, those who do not follow what some consider proper etiquette are labeled tacky...

If etiquette is supposed to dictate what is acceptable behavior, then the purpose is, I believe, to help people be more civil to one another. Why, then, people attack others who, in their opinion, do not follow their concept of etiquette? This is another thing as personal as religous beliefs and opinions, as unique as our own ethnic backgrounds and cultures. Why judge? Isn't that TACKY?

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