As an expat in Latin America, you would naturally think that the locals down here would appreciate it when they encounter a foreigner who speaks Spanish and/or is knowledgeable about their country.
While that is generally true, there are moments where the gringo would be stepping on his own dick by demonstrating too much knowledge of the Spanish language or the culture & history of the Latin American country that he finds himself in.
As a foreigner, we have to balance that line between being respectful and showing an interest in things like showing we have learned some Spanish while also not demonstrating an interest too deep in the country for various reasons.
But to explain those reasons, let’s discuss what I consider to be “the arc” of knowledge that gringos find themselves and the benefits & issues they might come across depending on which side of the arc they are on.
The Left Side of the Arc
This is for the gringo who basically has no Spanish language skills whatsoever and has really no knowledge of the culture & history of the Latin American country he finds himself in.
First, it should be said that most locals aren’t expecting you to be knowledgeable of the history & culture of their country.
They know that you aren’t one of them.
Having said that, a gringo with absolutely no knowledge of the local culture can sometimes cause discomfort or tensions by not being aware of local cultural customs.
For example, he might approach the local taco guy on the street in Mexico and just say “QUIERO 5 TAOCS DE PASTOR!”
Without even saying “buenas tardes” or “buenas noches!”
Meaning he didn’t give a proper greeting before just shouting out his commands for what he wants the taco guy to make for him.
Another very minor example would be when a Latin American woman leans in towards the gringo exposing her cheek and expecting a kiss on the cheek.
Said gringo might be confused and lean back away from her.
These are just small examples anyway of some minor cultural differences.
And, truth be told, most locals will be more forgiving of you because they know that you are a foreigner and might just be confused.
Most won’t be dicks about you not behaving appropriately to a cultural custom that they find to be common.
Though a few will be!
Outside of that though, you also have knowledge of the Spanish language.
Now, to be fair, you have people like this in every country who get bitchy when foreigners don’t learn the local language of the country.
But I find most people to be forgiving, especially if you are a tourist who isn’t expected to stay longer than a week.
On top of that, you got plenty in Latin America who want to practice their English.
Ironically, you also got upper class fresa type Latin Americans who might bitch about foreigners not learning Spanish but then pretend to not understand the well-spoken Spanish of a foreigner in order to force the dude into speaking English because they 1) want a free English practicing moment and 2) want to show the world how “MUY EDUCADO” they are for being able to speak some English.
Anyway, while I find most locals won’t bitch at you for not knowing Spanish, you do got a few condescending types out there.
But let’s move on.
The Middle of the Arc
This is the type of gringo who speaks Spanish well enough to hold a conversation but makes various grammatical mistakes all the time and simply doesn’t have THAT great of a command of the language.
On top of that, he might know various things about the history and culture of the country but it’s all fairly “surface level” knowledge.
This type of gringo, in my opinion, is in the best spot socially.
He has the respect for holding his own in Spanish and you will find Latin Americans who are not upper class and who live in areas that don’t get too many tourists to respect you more for knowing any Spanish.
On top of that, some command of the local culture and history is respectable too and can even be intriguing to the local.
Like when they see a gringo being able to get the basics down for dancing salsa, merengue, etc.
This gringo is able to engage with the local culture just enough to get respect but still not come across as “too much” where it seems like he is trying to be something he isn’t.
He also has more ability to speak with more local women who don’t know any English beyond just the gringo hunters who fetishize gringos.
The only problem that comes to mind for this gringo is when he encounters the Latino from his home country (like the US) who is insecure about non-Latinos (especially white non-Latinos) speaking Spanish and/or having any interest in Latin America.
The type of Latino who actually isn’t accepted locally in said Latin American country as “being one of the locals” and is seen as different. Feels insecure about being different and maybe not “Latino enough.”
The type to bitch at white non-Latinos for speaking any Spanish because it is “cultural appropriation” as I wrote here.
Among any other complaint.
Anyway, their complaints are never noticeable in Latin America unless you maybe encounter one at an expat party in Latin America or find them more commonly back home.
Outside of this type anyhow, I don’t see many issues coming your way for being “in the middle” of the arc.
The Right of the Arc
This is the gringo who arguably comes across more social issues because his command of the Spanish language is quite damn impressive and he is seemingly very knowledgeable of the culture & history of Latin America.
What are the issues at hand?
For one, he runs into the issue of “going full Latino” quite possibly as I wrote here where some locals perceive him as trying “too hard” to be like a local.
He might not actually be trying that but his knowledge of Latin America and his great Spanish skills might give some that impression.
Though, being honest, I think most who have this issue are actually trying too hard and that’s why they are perceived as such.
Second, the gringo will naturally turn some Latina women off. Specifically, you have gringo hunters as I wrote here who want gringo men to date and/or fuck.
For some of these women, you are less attractive if your Spanish is too good and/or your knowledge of Latin culture is too strong because you, for whatever reason, just don’t “fit her idea” of what a gringo should be.
You lose “exotic value” so to speak because you aren’t fitting the role of what her idea of a gringo is.
Third, like I said, you have the few Latinos born in the US who are insecure of you even saying “hola.” Those types aren’t going to like it if you are listening to “Maldito Amor” like you can see here.
Vicente Fernandez -- Por tu Maldito Amor
Fourth, speaking of old songs, some Latin Americans will find it weird if you are into aspects of their culture that they would not expect whatsoever.
For example, if you are into popular artists like Bad Bunny, that’s understandable.
While Bad Bunny makes shit music in my opinion, they can see why you would like him since he is popular these days.
But now you like the songs from below here?
What the fuck?
For the Americans back home reading this, a proper comparison would be if you met a young Chinese dude in his mid-20s who has only spent a portion of his life in the US but likes music such as below here.
Perhaps he enjoys watching old Westerns that your grandpa used to watch and other random shit.
In short, it’s just weird to some.
Not bad necessarily but some would find it weird.
He might not be trying to “go full Latino” and he might not even be perceived as such but the image of such a foreigner (especially a young one when most of the young people in your country wouldn’t enjoy any of the above anyhow) is an odd sight to see.
But, as I wrote here, there are reasons for why some foreigners do enjoy the music above and it’s not because they are going full Latino necessarily.
Fifth, the gringo in question might actually be more knowledgeable about the history of the Latin American country than the local he is speaking with.
As we know, plenty of Americans don’t know perfectly the history of their own country and people of many other countries are the same.
Even if they received a good education, plenty of people around the world do forget bits and pieces of history of their own country over the years.
So imagine a social interaction where a gringo is interacting with a Mexican and said gringo ends up shooting out lots of information that he knows about the history of Mexico.
Maybe even correcting the Mexican on things the Mexican said that are wrong about his own history.
That’s not very socially intelligent even if the gringo was right about what he said.
Sixth, the gringo and Mexican might end up getting into a debate where they are both knowledgeable about the history of Mexico but fundamentally disagree on whatever.
To be honest, I’ve been there!
A few months ago, I got talking with a neighbor of mine about AMLO and we ended up discussing the history of PRI, other corrupt parties in Mexico, etc.
Anyway, we disagreed about if AMLO is a good president or not but it was respectful anyway the conversation.
But, despite it being respectful, I could tell that the dude did find it odd concerning how much I seemed to know about Mexico.
Even though he knew that I have lived almost half a decade in Mexico by this point.
The fact is that Mexicans – like people of any other nationality – will just find it weird if you know too much about their country even if you have lived there for years.
And while our disagreement never got personal, some Mexicans (and nationalities of other countries) ARE going to get annoyed at the foreigner who expresses different political opinions about THEIR country.
Seventh, it could also be the case that the gringo in question does know a lot about the history or culture of said Latin American country but sometimes steps on his own dick.
Perhaps he doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does or simply remembered badly certain details and is incorrect himself.
At any rate, that’s all that comes to mind.
Anything to Add?
So which is better to be?
Personally, if you immigrate to a Latin American country down here, I always lean towards being “on the right” side of the arc.
I couldn’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to always improve your Spanish (or Portuguese in Brazil) and knowledge of history and culture of the area.
Truth be told, it isn’t going to harm you as long as you are aware of the social situation you are in and when to demonstrate that knowledge.
After all, I don’t see any benefit to being “the dumbass” gringo who doesn’t know any Spanish, culture or history of the country he moved to.
Sure, you are more “authentically gringo” to the type of gringo hunter who just wants foreign dick that she can practice her English with but you could play that role also while being a gringo on the right side of the arc.
Just don’t overdue it, realize the type of woman you have and don’t go overboard with not “being gringo enough” for her.
And that is a rule for any other social interaction down here in my opinion.
Don’t ever try to “outdue” the local when it comes to your knowledge of their country even if you are more knowledgeable about something like history.
After all, you are the foreigner and, even if you have spent decades here, will still be seen as “the foreigner” in their eyes.
You don’t win any bonus points for being the “foreigner on edge” shooting out info like a Wikipedia article in a tense disagreement about history or whatever.
No need to be the Ben Shapiro of Latin American knowledge.
While a few people might appreciate your greater investment into the culture of the area and assimilating more, you just have to understand when it’s appropriate to demonstrate what you know and when it’s appropriate to play the role of “the gringo who knows Spanish but is still a gringo who isn’t coming across like he’s trying to be a Latin American.”
If you can handle that, I don’t see any issue for being on the right side of the arc.
Anyway, that’s all I got to say.
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Thanks for reading.