Mandy and I have just arrived in Paraguay’s capital city, Asuncion, and are sitting on the worn black leather in the back of a taxi, football commentary blaring on the speakers. We are headed for Mandy’s boss’ house, where we will be living for the next couple of weeks while we get settled into Paraguayan life.
Mandy gets off her cell phone and reports they are expecting us. Her boss is still at work, but her husband is at home waiting. Wanting to make a good first impression, which seems like it is going to be hard judging by the amount of prolonged looks my dreadlocks have received already, I start quizzing Mandy on the Paraguayan greetings.
The past 6 weeks we had been living in Argentina where the greeting was one kiss on the cheek for guys and girls. Mandy informs me that in Paraguay they give 2 kisses, one on each cheek. With my newfound knowledge of Paraguayan greetings the taxi bumps to a halt outside the front security fence of our destination.
We ring the buzzer and the maid and the husband come to unlock the front security gate. We say our hellos and pleasantries through the bars of the gate like it’s visiting hours at prison. Then a prolonged silence settles over us as the maid struggles to find the correct key in the early evening darkness.
This gives time for me and the husband to size each other up like prisoners in the shower. He is a small man in his early 60’s, wearing a check-collared shirt and light brown coloured dress pants, his balding grey hair and glasses giving him an intelligent distinguished appearance. There I am on the other side of the bars standing there in boardies that still bare a sauce stain from Thailand, and shoulder length mouldy dreadlocks with an array of seashells hanging from them. I’m praying in my mind that the maid will hurry up and find the right key before the husband decides it’s better for his family’s safety and property value that he doesn’t let me in.
Like a prisoner hearing his cell door being unlock on his release day, I thank god, pick up my bags and follow Mandy through the gate. Mandy naturally embraces the husband in a hug and they rhythmically kiss on each cheek as though they have rehearsing it for years.
After Mandy finishes and steps aside, I confidently step forward to the outstretched hand. But I don’t want to be like the other timid foreigners that have passed through their house and merely shake hands. I want to impress him with my knowledge of Paraguayan greetings and put his dreadlock doubts to rest.
So I clasp his outstretched hand and place my left hand on his shoulder, moving in and planting one kiss on his cheek. He didn’t seem as into it as me, and I don’t blame him, getting a face full of mouldy dreadlocks can really take the passion out of a greeting. But I was determined to finish what I started, and he wasn’t getting away that easily, and I plant another kiss on the other cheek.
Following the second kiss he pulls away and distances himself like any straight rugby playing man in New Zealand would if a dreadlocked male stranger came up and kissed him. He says “no, no, no”! I look to Mandy for help like a 3 year old looks to his mother after he’s shat his pants on a packed public bus and stunk it out. But Mandy is as shocked as the husband, as her mouth is open but nothing coming out.
I tried to explain and plead my innocence “Mandy told me that you give two kisses in Paraguay”. Finally Mandy recovers from the shock and says “ummmm, yeah sorry I forgot to mention that it’s only with women, guys don’t kiss in Paraguay like they do in Argentina”!
You can read more about author Hap Cameron on his blog: hapworkingtheworld.com.