I moved to Miami because I was called to – it’s an energetic thing. I felt a pull that happened for the best part of a year and so I decided to give in to it. I’ve holidayed in Florida several times but I’m fully aware that the experiences of a short-time tourist and those of a local and/or long-term expat are an entirely different matter.
I was born and raised in a town in the north of England where the culture is to talk to people around you. On public transport it’s normal to start a conversation with the person next to you, in shops it’s normal for staff and customers to have a brief chat about their day, and – more interestingly – as you walk past someone in the street, even a complete stranger, it’s customary to very lightly nod your head and give a half smile in recognition of the human with whom you’re sharing a small space and a moment in time.
I moved to London in my early 30s and this turned my understanding of how humans interact completely upsidedown. In London, unless you know the person, you avoid eye contact and, if you do, you’re considered crazy. Speaking to strangers in London just isn’t the norm. I was there for nine years and it took me several years to become OK with this.
After London I did a lot of international travel (because I wanted to understand what makes people genuinely, deep-down happy – a personal and professional mission). I spent months at a time immersing myself in different CULTURES – it’s not really about geographical locations, it’s about the societal norms that develop in a particular society and there are more factors to consider than simply where they are on a map. There’s a lot that influences a society’s behaviours and attitudes.
I’ve lived in several locations in the world, all the while, observing behaviours. And I’ve witnessed some incredibly stark differences between societies.
I found in Barcelona for example that, in general, the culture is to be very closed off, dismissive, secretive and disrespectful. Yes of course there are historical and social reasons for this, it’s not about pointing fingers, it’s about observing behaviours. In Barcelona, when you go into a shop, the assistant will continue her conversation with her colleague before attending to you. When trying to pass a group of people in the street, if there isn’t enough room to pass by, the group will not move at all, you will have to either push past or walk in the road. Waiting staff appear to hate their jobs and customers, they often don’t greet you as you walk in, they’re unhelpful, disinterested and slow.
Obviously this isn’t everyone, but it’s generally how it is. After the Mobile World Congress was held in Barcelona last year, unsurprisingly, they received a record number of complaints from global delegates about the appalling customer service in restaurants, hotels and taxis. Friends make arrangements and one will cancel at the last minute with literally no regard of how it could affect the other person or people. All this is absolutely everyday-normal.
What I’ve noticed already in Miami is the huge difference in attitude between the first language English-speaking Americans, and the Latinos. The differences of attitude presented both in the streets and in restaurants is fascinating. In general, the Americans are smiley, friendly and helpful. They hold doors, move out of your way in the street to let you pass, smile at you when they catch your eye in a genuine way, the same way the people do from my hometown. They have a positive attitude. They treat those around them with kindness and respect. I’ve watched as strangers rush to help each other with a genuine wish to help others.
The Latinos behave in exactly the same way as the locals do in Barcelona – closed off, no eye contact, no courtesy.
And I’m not “racist” – I couldn’t care one way or the other where someone was born or what their skin colour is. I’m simply observing behaviours as I find my own place in the world.