Friday, August 2, 2013

Everybody says "I love you".

"I love you mom". "I love you dad", "I love you kids". Do you remember those American sitcoms of the 1980's where everybody declared how day felt about each other at least three times an episode? As I would watch those shows with my family in Poland when I was growing up, those were the bits that we always found silly and a little over the top. We would rarely say something like that and it felt reserved for special occasions. It's not that I didn't know that my parents loved me. I just didn't need to hear it. If anything I always thought of my parents as very loving, extremely giving people. There's something about saying it and having it said to me that always felt embarrassing. Like a distant aunt at a birthday party trying to hug you and pinch your cheeks while you're trying to get away. We also never had a need to hug. Everybody hugs on TV right after they talk about their feelings. It wasn't my experience. It wasn't how we were raised. Those forms of expression of emotions were foreign to me and quite uncomfortable. I wouldn't know how to behave and I certainly didn't find comfort in it. Americans I find, are different in that respect. They "Love" everything. They say "I love" to people with the same ease they "love" the new peach ice cream flavor or the movie they saw last night. I often think, what is the value of the words you use every time you say good bye? "Love you" means I had fun hanging out with you, let's do it again. If you don't save special words for special occasions, don't they lose all meaning? And did I tell you that Americans hug? It isn't just TV. They hug plenty in real life. I still don't know how I feel about it and I think it brings them more comfort that it ever would to me. But I don't pull away from it- I recognize it as something that's culturally significant. I've been hugged  by people on the street. I've been stopped by people with a paper board that said "free hugs". I have a friend who calls himself an "excellent hugger". And I have known people who would let me go until they stopped me for a few minutes and gave me a big hug and would not let go until they were done as if they were taming a wild animal. Some of these experiences were not quite bad. And have I mentioned the word "friend"? This has to be the single most overused word in American-English. Everybody you spend time with or know ever so slightly is a friend. By contrast, the Polish word "przyjaciel", implies emotional closeness and fondness and isn't thrown around easily. It's reserved for those you're closest to.  For most people I know, but don't feel connected to I use the word "znajomy". I guess it's the equivalent of the English term Acquaintance - but there's some coldness, a distance that the English word implies that makes it sound almost technical. It's not something I would say to a person or with them sitting there. It would feel like I was making a point about the nature of our relationship, separating them from the other people I know. These are my friends and this is an acquaintance. It feels that language just like anything else is a product of culture. We're different in expressing feelings and ideas but it doesn't mean we're not passionate people. I grew up with the notion that using the "big words" is a bit cheesy but let me tell you one thing. When my dad was being taken away by an ambulance back home and my family kept it a secret from me while I was taking my bar exam so I wouldn't be upset and distracted my brother chased it down the street because at that moment all he wanted to do is tell my father how much he loved him.

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