What Nicaraguan Women Really Think about Foreign Women
When I first came to Nicaragua, I would always wonder about what that woman on the bus really thought about me. I mean really thought about me. I knew what I thought about her – I thought she looked done up, demure. I pitied her that she had to have the men help her put her luggage on the bus. I assumed that maybe deep down she envied me for my apparent freedom and independence.
Yesterday evening I talked to a group of my female Nicaraguan friends and the topic of foreigners came up. It was late in the evening and I was amused to hear about how foreign women’s behaviors really baffles them. It was insightful to see how much of their traditional ideal of what a women should be still prevail – pretty, modest, dependent and a mother – and I feel that now, when I am on said bus and watching said woman watch me, I have a better idea of what she may be asking herself.
Here are five of these perceptions:
1. “Why did you refuse that seat on the bus?”
Seating priority in public transport goes something like this: pregnant women, women with children, women, old men, male children and all other men. This unwritten cultural norm is deeply engrained and it is very common for a man to offer his seat to a woman, especially if she is carrying a backpack or other luggage. When you decline, she doesn’t understand that you are being nice, she secretly thinks you are a bit foolish for not accepting.
2. “Why don’t you have children?”
Nicaragua has the highest teenage birth rate and one of the highest fertility rates in Latin America. It is a cultural phenomenon here and it is uncommon for women above the age of 25 not to have a child. Children are cherished in Nicaragua, as are their mothers. For a Nicaraguan woman, having a child elevates her status from being a girl, to being a mother. She socially gains more respect, more power, and more independence. In a country that values family above most everything else, having children and creating a family is extremely important. So when she asks you if you have children and you answer no, the look she gives you is not envy; it is pity.
3. “Why do you walk so fast?”
It is fair to say that Nicaraguans have a very relaxed sense of time. People will always stop to say hi to their neighbors and friends, and will wait out a rain shower, even if that means being an hour late to work. Partially because they put so much value on appearance, there is virtually no reason to hurry if that means you will sweat or get wet. Especially for women, doing physically demanding labor is not necessarily seen as a good thing, especially if it can be avoided.
4. “Why can’t I have your eye color?”
In Nicaragua, blonde hair, blue or green eyes, and white skin is the epitome of beauty. When she sees you, she might be secretly wishing that she had your eyes or your skin color, and at the least thinks that your physical attributes are beautiful.
5. “Why do you all have such a bad dress sense?”
When I left for Nicaragua, I left all my nice shoes and blouses at home, and instead brought things that I figured I would just throw out in the end. Nowhere else have I been more mortified to have to wear Birkenstocks and jeans with holes in them than here, where people care a lot about appearance. And it isn’t so much about brands and quality jeans as it is as much the fact that you put in an effort. When she sees a group of sloppily dressed women, she is secretly thinking you lack self-respect. Because she probably also thinks you are beautiful so she is also a bit confused as to how you could let those clear eyes and long legs go to waste under such unshapely clothing.