Traditions and the etiquette around them are some of the hardest things to learn from a culture that is not the one in which you grew up. There are some traditions like holidays that after being in the host culture for a couple of years you end up learning and even embracing -like Thanksgiving. But then there are other traditions much harder to understand and to make them a part of your own life rituals.
Traditions around baby arrivals have proven to be specially tricky for me and often times, I end up “breaking” all the rules of etiquette that are common knowledge to any person who grew up in the US.
To understand my perspective, let me first give you some context and share how things are done in Mexico so that if I offend you in the future, you know that I really don’t mean to do that.
I think that in Mexico the most important traditions always involve spending time with the family (and those friends that are considered part of the family) and among them, one of great importance is child birth. Of course we share some of the same things that are done here in preparation to welcome a new baby into the family like having a baby shower for the expectant mom and coming to meet the new born.
The difference lies in what is expected of people once the baby arrives. Contrary to how things work here, a mom-to-be goes into the hospital with two expectations that bring her great excitement: the arrival of her baby and the arrival of the very many visitors that will come to shower her with love and care to meet the baby and to wish the family well. The more visitors the more loved you feel. The sooner they come the more that they show just how much they care about you.
Since I was not very well acquainted to the way things work here, I prepared for the birth of my first child as I would have in Mexico. I made copious amounts of cookies and desserts to offer to the visitors that I expected were going to come in high numbers to see me at the hospital and at home the first few weeks after the birth of my little girl. My mother had a person handcraft little keepsakes with the baby’s name embroidered on them and with a tag that read “Thank You For Coming To Meet Me.” So we headed to the hospital with a bag with our clothes, nicely decorated baskets for the keepsakes and platters of sweets.
After we officially announced on Facebook that our daughter had been born and that we were eager to show her off, my husband, whose culture does things similarly to the Mexican way, and I expected to see many, many, many people (from co-workers to friends) come through the hospital door to see us. I’m not going to lie and say that I wasn’t disappointed and a little brokenhearted when only four people came to see us there. At least the nurses in our shift were happy because they got to enjoy the food we had brought.
Once we arrived home I thought that I was going to see much more people. I remembered that Americans like their privacy and probably seeing someone in their hospital gown and after giving birth was much too personal. So then we waited, and waited, and waited some more until we finally realized that we probably were going to get extra fat from eating most of the desserts we had made for the visitors. I felt a little sad -I was expecting for things to be a little bit more like they are back home- but sometimes the only way to learn about local traditions is to experience them first.
The second time around we saw even fewer people at the hospital but at least I was better equipped to fight my need to have the tradition of baby arrival go “my way”. So I brought my laptop to the hospital and instead of waiting for someone to knock on my door, I let my friends from back home do the hospital visit to meet my baby boy through Skype. Sure, they didn’t get to try the delicious cookies my mom and aunt had made specifically for the occasion nor they got to take home the traditional keepsake, but at least I felt like I didn’t have to abandon my own tradition just because I wasn’t in Mexico. I have to say that I was at least glad to see that more people did come to see us sooner than the first time once we were at home.
If adjusting my own traditions is difficult when I am expecting something from people -like a visit at the hospital- it is even harder to adjust them in situations in which you are supposed to do something for someone else. Going along with the example of baby arrivals, my mother was very particular about teaching me the “right” way to do things so that we would show how happy we were for the new parents without bothering the family too much. We were to follow these rules:
- One is supposed to go to see the new mom and baby at the hospital because it is the place where the mom has the most help and is rested. At home people feel pressured to have the house clean and organized to welcome visitors but the hospital is a more relaxed environment since nothing is expected and the nurse is always a few steps away.
- If you cannot make it to the hospital you must make sure to call the new parents on the phone to congratulate them and you must make sure to visit at their house as soon as possible. The longer you wait to go meet the baby, the ruder you are.
- The visit should be short and sweet unless the new mom is a close relative/friend and wants the company. The visit should happen between 9 am – 2pm or 4pm – 7 pm and one must call ahead to make sure it’s O.K. to stop by.
- One must always bring a gift. The monetary value isn’t important but it must show that you really care for the person. My mom most of the time would bake something and/or get a little gift for the baby. Sometimes we also brought flowers.
- If the new mom is close with you, you must constantly check on her, offering any help that you can provide (because one day, you can be in a situation in which you will need someone to be checking on you).
Recently, one of my good friends in the US had a baby. I knew that by not being a family member, I was expected to follow the social code of waiting at least until they were home to go meet the new arrival. However, she was kind enough to let me follow my Mexican tradition of showing how much I care about them by coming to see her baby as early as they would let me. It made me feel very happy to be able to be there for her, because in my book, I did the “right” thing.
I know that many times you hear me say how hard it is for me to adjust to my host culture but I have to acknowledge that it is often as hard for my closest friends here to adapt to my foreign traditions too. I am glad that many times, we can meet in the middle and make things work.
Now that you know about the Mexican traditions around baby arrivals feel free to adopt one or all if I ever have more children 🙂