jueves, 21 de abril de 2011

The Lebanese Gandalla

As my fellow blogger Ginger Beirut very accurately pointed in out: when you are in a new culture, it is very hard to understand the whole etiquette/politeness thing.

Something that might be surprising to some, who picture us Mexicans as this free souls, fiesta goers, is that we are actually sort of uptight in all matters of politeness.

This might be a matter of class actually, or just part of our historical heritage. Us Mexicans we always want to be appropriate, polite, or "bien educado".
But the interesting part is that we are also totally inconsiderate in other ways: after raising eyebrows at someone else's faux pas in private, it is not uncommon to see a Mexican turn into this "gandalla" this absolutely inconsiderate creature.

A "gandalla" is very Mexican, someone who will cut you in line, or in traffic, the person who gets all the cheese on top of the lasagna, the guy who stuffs his face at the party he crashed.

To the proper Mexican a "gandalla" is shameful, especially if s/he is related to you. Ugh, you'd rather die before being associated with one. So you say "no thank you" to the last piece of pizza in the box, you say "go ahead" to the old lady behind you in the bathroom line (and hate her for taking hours), and you wait until the host has started eating even if you are starving.

But the reality is that to be Mexican is to be gandalla. Especially coming from Mexico City (come on, amidst 25 million people, if you snooze, you loose): we'd rather die before letting someone pass, we shout about people's mothers and penis' sizes (small) when they cut in front of our car and if someone takes a parking spot you were waiting for, a fist fight is totally justified (yup, I've done it).

So this Mexican walks the world like Dr. Jekill and Mr. Hide, with this polite/gandalla condition, misunderstood, uptight, fearful and rebellious...

Until I got to Lebanon. Man, Lebanon has some of the most beautiful specimens of gandallas. The road gives you everyday examples of how gandalla people can be here. The ladies in the big SUVs are the best ones. They don't even look at you. They just jam on the pedal and "tough shit" if you are in front of them. Sometimes I just laugh. It is shameless, no, it is defiant.

Girls in the bathroom are quite gandalla too. You can be waiting in a restaurant in line for 10 minutes, wondering what the hell they are doing in there. When you see them emerge, done up, perfumed and powdered, they might glance at you with an "in your face" attitude, to see if you dare say something.

I think the best was when my husband and I were driving on a one way street and we came face to face with a lady who was coming on the other (wrong) way. When we asked her to back up, she gave us the finger, turned off her car and started BBMing her friend. It took 4 other cars behind us and all the neighbors to move her. I didn't know if I wanted to kill her or congratulate her... I was just sorry I couldn't tell her "Que gandalla!"

But to back to my initial point: what is appropriate, polite or "bien educado" in Lebanon? Maybe this "gandallismo" is the survivor's attitude. Maybe this is just who you become when you can't rely in a system to make things orderly. You have to fight your way through life... and the traffic light.

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