I have never been in any Hispanic country outside of Europe before. The first place was Puerto Rico. Since I didn’t have the chance to travel around the island, I can rely mainly on my experiences with the people I had contact with in the community within which we were living.
Arriving to the airport was already an experience: at the airport next to the gates there are slot machines, a lot of them. Already in the terminal, I realize that the general speaking voice level is quite high compared to Northern- Europe. Also, just after we landed a guy next to us called his relatives to pick him up from the airport. As it turned out the family wasn’t that enthusiastic about the idea… After he hung up he told the story to everybody in his surroundings. He also added that he had to sleep at the airport because nobody was willing to pick him up. Within two minutes, while still on board somebody offered him a lift to his home. This little story clearly portrays three main characteristics of the Puerto Rican people: dramatic (I mean in a sense of always looking at everything from an extreme point of view; even if the original issue is as small as a broken glass they can still end up visualizing the end of the world in two seconds), helpfulness (big heartedness), and emotions and feelings on 100%.
Dealing with emotions is not easy, especially in Europe. Suppression of feelings has a big tradition on the continent. This leads to a lot of mental problems. Probably the free flow of emotions is one good way to stay mentally steady. Puerto Ricans, in general, live their feelings out right there in the moment. This means that when they’re sad they cry, when they’re happy they cry, and when they’re angry they do whatever brings release… No suppressions, no unsaid words, and emotions on full speed.
This was something I had not witnessed before. Some might compare it to the Dutch culture, however, it is different. Indeed, in the Netherlands communication is very direct, but it doesn’t mean direct emotional reactions, as in PR.
Now a few words on Family –
I think one of the biggest differences I felt, coming from a European culture, was the relation towards family and family members. In my view, generally speaking in Europe, family is important, people keep in touch with their families, but not like in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, a family visit is not even a previously announced event. They don’t call each other on the phone before a visit. They just show up at each other’s place. Which is really nice because this made me feel that there was an unconditional welcoming feeling in each person’s home. They were always there for each other, regardless of time and conditions.
There are multiple other advantages of such family oriented societies. I would highlight one for now: taking care of each other. After the hurricane the government wasn’t on top of its agenda (let’s fraise the chaos more casually). Family members visited each other after the hurricane regardless of the road and gasoline conditions. Considering the circumstances, it was not only a nice gesture, it had a very practical reason behind it as well. Family connections were functioning as a web across the island. After such a natural disaster, to figure out the conditions of individuals and to give them immediate help was not an easy task. Especially if a state is so disorganized as the Puerto Rican one. Family check-ups took over the task of the state. Practically speaking, citizens were taken care of by each other. It was really special to see and also to experience that family and community relations were the first steps towards recovery and were not engendered by the state. The idea of self-support and not just waiting for outside help nor completely relying on the care of the government, was really an admirable quality to witness in a nation.
To conclude, if you visit Puerto Rico but you don’t have relatives or close friends there, most likely you miss a big part of the culture. The connection between locals and among family is so strong compared to Europe, with the exception of some southern countries, that it was truly an experience for me.