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Culture: El sarcasmo!

by Brandi

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September 21st, 2009

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In each of the Latin American countries I’ve lived in or visited, the people react to “el sarcasmo” (sarcasm) very differently than they do here in the United States.

In the United States the use of sarcasm is widespread and is used as a common, daily form of communication. For example, if someone you know purchased a new shirt that was obviously a little strange, you could tease them by saying “Nice shirt!” Of course, when you say “Nice shirt!” what you really mean is, “Wow, that shirt is a little crazy or strange.”

In Latin America, people generally aren’t used to hearing or using sarcasm with one another. For example, one time I was working with a native Spanish speaker who was wearing a very unusual sweater. It was definitely out of the ordinary and somewhat different. I said, “Nice sweater!” After I said that he looked at me with a thoughtful look and said “Thanks”. He didn’t understand the fact that I was using sarcasm with him and that I thought he sweater was a little unusual. He thought I was serious and was giving him a nice compliment about his strange sweater.

As I lived in different countries in Latin America for two consecutive years, I began to get used to this new attitude of not using sarcasm. It took quite a while to get used to, but pretty soon I didn’t use sarcasm at all. Due to of the lack of sarcasm in Latin America, it seemed to me that there was generally more respect among people there.

Then, after two years of living among the Latin natives and adopting this new mentality of not using sarcasm, I met up with an American. We were assigned a project where we had to work together every day for about month or so. He had just arrived in Latin America and wasn’t used to the language or the native Latin culture (without sarcasm). Often, I found myself getting offended when he used sarcasm with me. I had become so immersed into the native Latin culture that I found his sarcasm offensive. It took me several weeks to get back into the swing of things (the U.S. sarcasm mentality) and realize that he wasn’t actually trying to be rude or mean. He was simply using a similar type of sarcasm that I had used previously when living in the United States.

Now, I’m sure many of you may be saying, “I know some Latin people in the United States who are sarcastic”. If you do, most likely it’s because they have already began to adopt some of our cultural behaviors. Just keep in mind that most native speakers living in Latin America usually don’t use sarcasm.

Moral of the Story: When visiting Latin America, whether it’s for business or pleasure, it’s important to know about their mentality on sarcasm. On the other hand, even though many Latin people living in the United States may have adopted sarcasm and use it often, still be careful when talking to them because sarcasm may still offend them. Although a world without sarcasm was very different to live in and get used to, I grew to love it and found the people to be very respectful towards one another.

Sneak peek at next week: “Rest Homes in Latin America?”

¡Hasta luego! (Until later!)
David S. Clark — President / Director
Click here to learn Spanish!

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