Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sometimes when they touch, it's all a bit too much

I would expect some pretty big fallout if someone in a Canadian workplace routinely called a co-worker “Fatty.” Or nicknamed them Chino because they had a bit of an Asian look to their features.
    But for the most part, such things don’t seem to rile the average Honduran. I mentioned to one of my co-workers this week that if she ever came to Canada, it was probably best not to call anybody “Fatty” – Gordito – as she had just done while summoning a chubby co-worker. She and the so-called Gordito both looked surprised to hear that such a nickname could be construed as offensive. Gordito himself noted that sure, a nickname like that might cause offence if said the wrong way. But if said in a friendly voice – hey, what was the big deal?
    It got me thinking yet again about cultural differences. A good part of what I see around me in the workplace would be interpreted as harassment in Canada, or at least as “unacceptable practices.” Yet if the other party not only tolerates it but appears to be perfectly relaxed and happy with whatever is being said or done, what then?
    The Hondurans I've met don’t seem to have the same sensitivity around body image that so many North Americans do, which perhaps explains why rather blunt comments related to their appearance don’t seem to rile them. I sense that they accept themselves as they are much more readily, and don't have the crazy thinking patterns so common in my land that if you could only change your physical appearance, everything about your life would be better. 
    So while I quietly wish they'd quit calling each other Fatty, Skinny, Liar and other impolite nicknames, who is it that actually has the problem if I’m the only one taking offence? I've drawn the line at using such nicknames myself, of course, but I'm also trying to stop taking offence on someone's behalf every time I hear such things, given that they show no signs of being offended themselves.
    Then there’s the kind of touching that goes on in the workplace, which is way beyond a modern-day Canadian’s tolerance level. I’ve seen my co-workers – single and married alike - give each other back rubs, lay a hand on each other’s thighs, even cuddle up beside each other on a bed.
    Sometimes we’ll be in the middle of a meeting and one person will come up behind a co-worker and wrap their arms snugly around the person’s waist. The two of them might stay that way for 10 or 15 minutes of the meeting. And we're not talking about a licentious group of people here; my co-workers are deeply religious.
    More than a year and a half on, I’m still quite freaked out by the intimate touching that goes on in broad daylight by people who work together. But I've come to see by the calm and welcoming expressions of the people being touched that in fact, the problem is mine. Nobody but me seems to be troubled by any of it (although I suspect spouses might object were they to show up at work unexpectedly and catch an on-the-job cuddle in progress). And no one is touching me, given that I'm much older than any of them and emitting a prickly don't-even-think-about-it energy.
    I don’t doubt that such touching begets sexual harassment, a concept that my Honduran co-workers are not yet familiar with. I’m sure there are Honduran bosses out there who are taking much advantage of the practice of intimate touch in the workplace, and unhappy employees whose faces are not showing the same calm acceptance that I see among my own cuddly co-workers.
    But perhaps that's a conversation for another day here in Honduras. My co-workers, male and female alike, look at me like I’m some old prude on the rare occasions when I mention that people sure do touch each other a lot more intimately in the workplace than we do back in my land, and call each other rather cruel names that could get you slapped with a harassment suit in a heartbeat in a lot of Canadian workplaces. The people I work with truly see nothing inappropriate in what they’re doing. 
    Chalk it up to cultural differences. I envy Hondurans for being comfortable enough in their own skins that being called Fatty doesn't rile them, but I do wonder where all that workplace touching will lead. Give me a clear no-touch policy any day.  

1 comment:

Michael Geoghegan said...

I have been watching season one of Mad Men and it certainly highlights how much things have changed. For example no one blinks when a fight breaks out between two guys in an office, it was just two guys settling their differences. Today there would be arrests, firings, victim impact statements, law suits, grief counselling, hurt feelings reports the list goes on ad naseum. In most ways things are better particularly for women, but for men it is a shame when someone is being ignorant you can't just invite them outside for a pummeling. As for the cuddling etc at work the French have long though North Americans overly prudish on the matter. viva la differance