The King always sits at the head of his table, right? The King is always the one in charge, right? The King is the one that gives all the directions, right? Well since I have arrived in Paraguay, this has been the case exactly, but with just one small change: I’m not a King. During training we were told that Paraguayans are known for treating guests very well. Initially I thought to myself “O Yeah? What’ makes Paraguay so different? All Latin American countries are known for being very hospitable to guests. In fact most people (no matter where you go) treat guests well, what makes Paraguay so different? ” Well, I have changed my mind. As I have mentioned in some of my previous posts, a unique characteristic of Paraguayan culture is the manner in which they receive guests (or outsiders).
To be brief, the Guarani Indians were nomadic and peaceful people. As the group traveled, the always were kind to everyone they came in contact with and all new comers. Part of this was because they are peaceful people and part of it was because they understood that being a nomadic group they would come into contact with the same groups again, for these reasons (among many others) they treated outsiders very kindly (this my own brief summary of some of my readings). This aspect of the Guarani culture has carried over to today. In case you didn’t know, Paraguay is one of the only (if not the only) country in Latin America where most of the population speaks Guarani (more or less) and Spanish. So what does this have to do with being treated like a king? I have noticed that each time I go and visit a family or meet someone, I am given the choicest cut of meats, the best seats, the last morsel, the most beer (against my will), allowed to eat first, in many cases I decide what the family is going to eat, on many occasions I’m forced to sit at the head of the table.
The manner in which I’ve been treated does not just involve food but many other things. In some of the rural parts of Paraguay a cold shower is common. Many rural houses now have an electric overhead apparatus that heats the water as it comes out of the spigot. This is not very reliable and sometimes goes on the blink. Well in most homes, I’m given first opportunity to shower (given=forced) before the apparatus goes on the blink. To use the system you simply flip a switch as the water runs through the overhead apparatus and it heats the water. On one occasion, I turned the switch off (as I always do) when I completed my shower, when my host dad went in the bathroom after me, he noticed that the switch was off and he thought that I had taken a cold shower. He thought that my host brother, Cesar (who showered before me on this occasion) had turned off the switch, resulting in my cold shower. My host dad came and apologized and was about to get onto Cesar until I told him that I had in fact turned it off. My current living situation is a bit different. I have a separate room that is apart from the family next door. Knowing that I live alone, the family next door frequently brings food over whenever they eat.
The way Paraguayans treat me always makes me feel weird. I have not learned to let Paraguayan be nice to me. I try and tell them “no Thank you” and “ Don’t bother, I can ….” But it has not worked yet. So, although I’m not a king, I’m treated this way on many occasions. I’m still not sure I like it though.