This week I'm highlighting some of the things that happen here that at first I found illogical or peculiar. Turns out, most often there is a good explanation for those things. You just have to wait for it to emerge. (Check out Part 1.)
Why Do Those Men Keep Doing That?
One thing that takes some getting used to here as a white foreigner is that my face conjures some basic assumptions. They see me and assume that I have resources that they don’t have. Unfortunately, this is often true. And then sometimes they think because I have those resources, they can just ask me for them and I’ll give them over. I used to think that this was a holdover from the colonial mindset, but I'm learning that even this is a cultural practice that westerners often misunderstand. But I do get a lot of attention, for example, from handicapped people on the street. They will go from car to car asking for money. But they spend extra time and effort at my car because my skin gives me away. The vendors have a price for locals and then a white person price, which is often two to three times higher. Men try to “be my friend” not because they know anything about me, but because they see opportunity for greater security.
It is frustrating to say the least. It’s giving me a great deal more understanding for people who experience this back home, specifically people in the hispanic, black, and asian communities. By and large, white people are treated with greater deference and respect here, not less. Even still, getting separated out because of race is tiresome and daunting. I can’t imagine what it feels like to always get separated out because of your skin color in a place where, because of imbedded prejudice, your skin color often garners greater disrespect.
Every time I go downtown, I get A LOT of attention from men. They catch my eye and rub their fingers together in the sign for money with questioning eyes. And at the beginning I found this baffling. Why all the sudden does the harassment seem to double and triple downtown? Why do they see me and think I’m going to give them money? Is there a history of white people coming downtown and just passing out bills?!
Finally one day I asked someone about it. Why do those men keep doing that?
Well it turns out they’re not actually asking me for money. Downtown is where all the banks are, just like most capital cities. Instead of asking me for money, they’re asking me if I want theirs. They are money changers. Because I’m obviously not a local, when I get money from the bank it’s probably in dollars or euros. Their job is to buy your dollars in exchange for leones. Yes, that makes perfect sense.