There is something special about Halloween.
Of course, anytime that you knock on strangers’ houses and instead of getting glares and puzzled looks you get candy and smiles, that’s pretty damned special right there. For how comfortable and identified with American culture I feel, there is still that small but significant part of my psyche that is, in fact, NOT American.
That part of me often wonders, is amazed, and downright knit-brow puzzled by Americans and their arms-length friendliness (or lack thereof). You can walk down the same streets; pause in the same street corners; play in the same parks; take your children to the same schools; do the same grocery shopping in the same stores FOR YEARS, and some (AMERICAN) people will barely nod in your direction with the faintest glimmer of recognition somewhere around year two, or four (if you’re lucky), or never.
I used to think that there was a problem with me, and with the way I interact with people. Maybe the way my eyes are brown or the way my hair is just a little frizzy, maybe that puts people off? Maybe the way smile sometimes until my face falls off… could THAT be scaring people away? Or maybe it’s the way I wave eagerly in their direction on occasion… perhaps that scares people? (Answer from my neurotic self: yes, dumb-dumb. Also that staring thing you do? Just stop.)
As it turns out, it’s really that simple: I am not American. I was born in a culture where people are quick to be loud and friendly and overly polite, in general. It’s not a virtue: it’s really just part of what happens. People greet; people buss; people hug. It’s seldom-to-never socially awkward, unless you’re attempting to buss someone who comes from a different culture. Americans hate things like the dreaded Social Kiss for a reason: they did not grow up doing it, and therefore they feel super-duper awkward doing it.
(This is why I am never going to show up to a wake with food: I think it’s super-duper creepy to get gifts of food when all I would want to do is cry my eyes out because someone just died.)
(“Then again, that macaroni & cheese sure smells delicious…” <—actual words uttered by me when someone showed up with food to our house upon the passing of my step-father.)
(I also did that with some cookies when my grandmother died.)
But the culture I grew up in is a shallow culture, too: people never truly get out of the pleasantry phase. So you may be walking down a veritable musical theatre ensemble piece of greeters and hailers when you live in a Latin American country (though this is not exactly true everywhere), but perhaps you may find that you don’t really know your neighbors, and that you never will. That you won’t ever be able to rely on your neighbors, because though you may greet them on a regular basis, you have not slowly, over the years, made a lasting bond with any of them.
That American hesitation is actually somewhat comforting: the day you say hello to me, I will know that you will honestly and truly mean it. It will be a bond. I will know I can trust you, beyond the fancy of a smile and a wave. I will trust you with my house keys and maybe even with my problems. And one day, food and sorrows will be shared, and we will break bread together.
(And I will still think it’s a little creepy but my amoral stomach will be totally cool with it.)
And on the one ghoulishly happy day of the year where it’s okay for me to ring your doorbell and make outrageous candy demands with my children, I know that you will be prepared and generous, and that you will mean it, too.