Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Miami Manners - a Primer

In a city as polyglot as Miami sometimes what one group might consider "rude" may be just misinterpretation of another group's social standards. For example in some cultures good service means a "chatty" server that has a lot  of "flair" (minimum: 15 pieces) in another, the waiter efficiently takes an order and delivers food and removes plates in a very unobtrusive way. Yet in others, surly servers toss your plate at you and give you the stink eye and then expect a tip. 

In social settings different cultures have different concepts of "time" and "time" changes if its business or social.  Driving habits vary across cultures as well.  In some places driving is a community activity where everyone efficiently gets to where they want to go, or Miami where even the shortest drive is really a test of intelligence, guile and cojones. 

Since I am a product of two distinct cultures, Anglo and Latino, and have spent many years in Miami I thought I'd give some pointers that may help everyone understand each other.

1. Time. I could go on about time, especially since they changed the clocks this week, but I want everyone to be clear on what we mean by time in Miami.

     a. On-time Anglo: On-time to an Anglo means 5 to 10 minutes early.  There is no difference between "social" time or "business" time.
     b. On-Time Latino: On time for Latinos has many nuances. Latin business time is usually on-time if you arrive within 30 minutes of a scheduled appointment. Latin social time: there is no guarantee that any Latino will stick to any kind of social appointment time, with the possible exception of weddings and baptisms.
So if you're having a dinner say "dinner will be served at 8:30 Anglo time." most Miamians will respect that. However, Argentines will arrive at 8:30 and refuse to eat till 1AM. 

2. Invitations and RSVPs:  Expecting RSVPs for a dinner, event or party in Miami is like trying to catch moths without a flashlight:  You know as soon as you turn on the light they'll come but you never know how many will show.  Thank you cards are not a very Latino custom, but calling the next day to say how you got drunk and laid, or any good gossip acquired at a their party is the best kind of thank you any host would be happy to have.

3. Cheek kissing and lip kissing. In Miami its customary for men and women (and gay men) to kiss each other on the cheek as a greeting or farewell.  Lip kissing to me is creepy, and I usually turn to avoid the lips. This is not considered rude. Brazilians kiss on both cheeks, left to right.   When in doubt, shake hands.  Anglo people prefer a nice firm handshake, brief if possible. Argentinian men kiss everyone, they are not all gay. 

4. Speaking a language that not everyone understands. It's perfectly acceptable in Miami to speak your native tongue. However it is perfectly acceptable for a non-speaker to ask for a translation, and even demand the nuance and context of any obscure Cuban saying. Simply because they're usually pretty funny in English too.

5. It's perfectly fine to speak loud in Miami. Whether on a cell phone, in English, Spanish it's okay, just let it out. Passion is fine, even if it's just asking your husband where the pickles are in Publix.  You are your own world and nothing else matters but you. 

6. Children: children are meant to be seen and heard in Miami. Not unusual to see four-year-olds out partying with their parents at 1AM.  If this bothers you, and it should, there's nothing you can do. 

7. Appearance. In Miami you are expected to look your best at all times. Not thin mind you, just look as if you put some effort into "your look". You must be clean, all over. Cubans are extremely peste-phobic. Do not have peste!!! (peste to Miamians means stink)

8. Feel free to ask anyone about their background, in Miami it's okay to ask someone where they're from. It's not okay to ask them their immigration status, regardless of how wealthy they may seem. 

9. Miamians generally do not have a "resume fetish" like New York, LA or DC.  In social situations most people don't talk about work unless you are close.  Avoid talking about work in general, it's considered a bit rude. 

10. Safe topics: Your favorite Cuban restaurant, trips to Spain, real estate, weather, clubs, reality TV and local festivals. Miami is not really a sports town unless one of the teams is winning....

So there you have it, a few hints to make your life in Miami just a bit simpler. 

At some point I'll do a blog about driving in Miami.