Monday, February 23, 2009

Neighborhood meeting

Last week there was a neighborhood meeting for the 24 houses on our street, and I went. The meeting started at 8:30, and when I gave up and went home at 10:30, it was still going, but jerkily. I've facilitated neighborhood meetings and organized neighborhood meetings, so it was very odd to sit, struck dumb, in a neighborhood meeting where, if I opened my mouth, I would sound like someone's four-year-old who just happened to look like a gray-haired grandmother.

We all sat or stood around the guard house on a variety of plastic chairs. The circle of neighbors extended out into the street, so whenever a car entered half of the meeting had to pick up their chairs and move.

I followed the general thread of the meeting, met some neighbors, and heard some familiar attitudes - the man who valued his time at home and didn't want to go to meetings, the woman who could always think of one more possibility. But there was much I didn't follow, so I listened for language and attitudes. The formality was a surprise: the neighbors carefully addressed each other as Don, Doña or Licenciada (an all purpose title indicating a college graduate). They addressed our guards as Don Alex and Don Francisco.

I've already learned that Salvadorans like wearing uniforms and dressing carefully. This was another indication that the rules of courtesy - rules we've mostly discarded in the United States, where almost everyone is on a first-name basis - are important here. It hadn't occurred to me to say "Don Alex" or "Don Francisco" to our guards: now it does. And I'm getting to like being called "Hermana Susana," though I have never been entirely comfortable with Sister Susan.

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