Sunday, May 25, 2008

Women, Words, and Wisdom: Latina Blog Tour

I had to do some unexpected travel this past week, so consequently, I had no time to write up something all new for the Women, Words, and Wisdom blog tour. In fact, I'll be flying early in the morning on the 26th--my day for the tour--so I'm posting this a little early and will let you all know who Berta's winner is Monday afternoon after my plane lands.

So, here's a post from a couple of months ago that seems to fit the theme, slightly updated. Everyone who comments will be entered to win a $10 gift certificate and a copy of my April release from Harlequin Intrigue, I'll Be Watching You. Be sure to stop by Kathy Cano-Murillo's blog on the 27th to find out the winner and continue on the tour!

* * *

A few weeks ago, my car and I limped into the dealership with two nearly flat tires and an alleged transmission fluid leak. Interestingly enough, it turned out that my transmission was perfectly fine. Why did I think I had a leak? Because a few rude men at a Certain Oil Change Chain (*cough*Texaco*cough*) told me during my last oil change that I had such a leak, and they, of course, tried to charge me $100 to fix it.

Now I'm not the greatest with cars, but I have a strange sixth sense about the well-being of my Scion XB. I can sense a disturbance in The Force when the tires need rotating, or when something like the starter needs to be replaced, or when it needs an oil change (because the hot Florida sun always bleaches the little reminder sticker on my window well before it's time). When I went to get my oil change, I had felt no transmission-related Force disturbances, so I balked at having my "leak" fixed and took the car home, where my husband pronounced the mere idea of a transmission fluid leak to be the delusional yammerings of a greedy, two-bit con artist. So I decided to take it to the Toyota dealer and ask them, just to be sure. My XB is still under warranty, so the dealer definitely wasn't going to try to sell me a transmission repair if one wasn't needed.

Anyhoo, the transmission was fine, and just as my husband and The Force had said, the oil change people were just trying to squeeze another bit of cash out of a gullible woman driver.


Women are often socialized to always be polite, to trust authority figures or experts, to never shout or get REALLY angry in public. And sometimes, particularly at unscrupulous Oil Change Chains (*cough*Texaco*cough*), the mere idea that women are less likely to challenge authority or get all up in one's face puts us at a big disadvantage.

Fortunately, I didn't fall for the chain's dastardly schemes. And if I ever go back to that accursed Oil Change Chain, I am totally going all ajuma on them. What's an ajuma? Let me explain....

Not too long ago, I lived in Seoul, Korea for two years with my Naval officer husband (or former Naval officer--he just retired after 20 years on March 1. WHOO!). I loved the experience, although I hated the fact that I was a complete brick about learning the language and kept defaulting to Spanish whenever my broken Korean and spastic sign language couldn't get my meaning across to the people in my community. And what I found really fascinating were the cultural differences. (Note: I'm not stereotyping--everything to come was corroborated by Korean friends.)

If you had the Presidents protocol expert at your side when you visited Korea, s/he would tell you that it's rude in Korea to use your left hand to give something to someone else. Rather like Regency-period Europe, it's rude to just start talking to someone (who is not providing customer service) unless you have been properly introduced by a third party. (This is not an iron-clad rule, especially among young people. But it is present.) It's not really considered rude to stare. (Ergo, people would often come out of nowhere to gather around to unabashedly observe this then-pregnant Latina flailing her arms while informing a very confused taxi driver that "I need you to drive me to the pencil" in Korean. I bet my neighbors miss me--I was always good for an afternoon's entertainment.)

In addition, it's rude to be really loud or overtly emotional in public. Of course, it happens--remember when those two men in the Korean Parliament were in the news because they started wrestling in the middle of the Parliament building's floor? But in general, I could go on the subway or sit in a coffee shop or go to a store, and I rarely ran into someone who was yammering so loud on their cell phone, they seemed to be shouting inside my head.

This was particularly true with the women--younger women in Korea tend to be especially soft-spoken and generally extremely polite. They are extremely careful with their diets--the average Korean woman is a size two. I read this in a local Seoul magazine, and experienced it first-hand when a shopkeeper eyeballed my size-8 figure as I was looking at her collection of skirts and promptly handed me an "extra large."

On Korean Air, we noticed that this quiet, ladylike behavior was somewhat magnified: the female flight attendants had their hair pulled back the same way, were roughly the same (size two) weight, and wore heeled shoes of varying heights, so they all ended up being roughly the same height, with very similar makeup. I admired how gentle and refined they were, but their impeccable manners coupled with the rigid sameness to their dress made it all a little like riding on Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" plane, but in Korea.

But then, around age 50 or 60, many Korean women apparently say to heck with all that and become what is known as an "ajuma" (ah-juh-ma). Technically, the word means elder or married woman. But according to several Seoul residents I met, it's gotten a slightly pejorative connotation in Korea that unfortunately makes it more akin to "crazy old bag." Once a woman has decided she's entered the age of the ajuma, she often cuts her hair short and perms it (A phenomenon one Korean website describes as sending the message that "I am married; please don't try to pick me up."), dresses in horrible polyester pants, and says goodbye to her size twos as she gains as much weight as she pleases. And then comes the attitude--ajumas will bust in front of you in line without a backward glance. They will literally shove you out of their way. They will get in your face if they think you have an opinion or a mannerism that needs changing. They are not quiet and soft-spoken, and they are not gentle and nurturing. They are women, hear them roar.

They're fabulous. I loved the gentle, soft-spoken women I befriended in Korea, but I also secretly loved that in a few years, they'd go all ajuma and become strong, outspoken, and magnificent. (And yes, I met some younger women who were already strong and outspoken, but were perm-free. I'm talking patterns here--not absolutes.)

That's not to say that I never ended up on the wrong end of an ajuma. We had one as a landlady our first year there, and she would literally peer into my windows to see how high I'd turned up the thermostat in the winter. If it was too high, she'd barge in and turn it down--or lecture me about turning it down, complete with grand gestures because of my extremely tenuous grasp of the Korean language. And occasionally, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and would end up shoved against a wall while an ajuma barreled by. Which most of the time just cracked me up. All in all, the ajumas gave me great joy.

My grandmother on my dad's side has always had a bit of ajuma about her. A couple of years ago, she got a speeding ticket, and instead of just mailing in the payment, she showed up at the police station and told them to just put her in jail until they considered her debt to society paid. The police officer on duty ended up spending the better part of his day begging her to just pay the thing, because he really didn't want to put a nearly 90-year-old woman in jail. She tells this story often and with a considerable amount of glee. I have no doubt that she didn't intend to spend one minute in jail--she just wanted to see if she could get out of paying the ticket. And, I think, she might have been a little bored that day and just wanted to mess with someone.

And, of course, my mother and my aunts from Honduras probably started out as ajumas at birth. Whatever the cultural norms are in Honduras, they all taught me that being Latina means being a strong woman who stands up for herself. Is your boyfriend sometimes not nice to you? Dump him, Mom would say, because you certainly deserve better. Does someone make fun of you for your mother's accent, your perma-tan, your culture? Ignore him, Mom demonstrated again and again by example, because he's an idiot who deserves to be pitied for his staggering ignorance. Did a friend of yours just act in a way that's not so friendly? Forget about it, Mom repeated from grade school through college--she's just jealous because you're so fabulous.

Those things were all difficult to absorb when I was younger, but now, in my 30s, I remember them well and have put them to good use. And I may not have permed my hair or started rocking the polyester pants yet, but I have an inner confidence that I never would have had without all of the ajumas in my life--Honduran, Czech, and Korean. And yes, when I'm with the ones in my family, I do tend to feel just a little bit fabulous.


Milly said...


What a nice surprise to see your post a little bit early. I love reading about cultural topics. The story about your grandma going to the police station made me laugh, especially when you said that she was probably just bored. I have not read any of your books before, so I will have to look some up on Amazon. It has been fun to find out about more authors on this blog tour. My list of summer reading just keeps growing!

robynl said...

that is awful about your car leak; thank goodness you had an idea there was nothing wrong. I remember my first dh telling me that he and his brother tried to convince one of their sisters that she had glass ball bearings in her car. At that time I could have fallen for that myself, lol.

They wait until 50 or 60 to get a little rude; in our society it happens at any age(ajumas will bust in front of you in line without a backward glance.)

Jane said...

Beware of the ajumas. I don't know if the world is ready for old ladies with attitudes.

LadyVampire2u said...

I enjoyed your post. You know, I had the same thing happen to me with my car. Sadly I ended up paying the money and found out how wrong it all was later. But I guess if you learn from your mistake, then it's not that bad.
I've never been out of the US here so I really am not too knowledgeable about other culture's customs but I really like what you wrote on ajuma's. After living a life perscribed as correct, it's got to feel good to finally let go.

Karin said...

My gas station story was about a 'loose bearing in the car's resonator". I didn't fall for it and drove straight to my Uncle Waltie (the family auto guru) who told me that my car doesn't have a resonator! We aren't as dumb as those men thought we were!
I become an ajuma when anyone upsets my family members - especially my mother or my daughter. :>)

Karin said...

I thought I posted already but it doesn't look as if it went through. My 'garage guy' story is about a "loose bearing in the resonator". Like you, I said thanks, but no thanks and took the car to Uncle Waltie (our family car guru) who said that my car didn't have a resonator!
I tend to become an ajuma when anyone upsets my mother or daughter!

Zulmara said...

Wow, I loved the concept of ajuma...made me think of those wives in Texas we have been seeing in the women eventually reach a point where they heck with it, I am just going to be ME!! and not play the games have set up for us?

Great post, great foor for thought...


PS...I agree, the artwork is AWESOME!!!


Fannie said...

Why do men think we women are so gullable? I wouldn't go back to that oil change place even to go ajuma on them. Greedy jerks. It was interesting to read about other culture's traditions. If I ever get to go to these places, I'll be prepared. I love your GrandMother. She is my kind of woman. My sister was a lot like that. Thanks for the tour, it has been so much fun. I have enjoyed getting to know new authors and their amazing talent. Have a great day. Be safe.

Virginia said...

Tracy, you would be a new author to me. I would love to read one of your books. I have been checking them out.

About your car story, it happens all the time. Places like to take advantage of women, but some women are smarter then they think and catch them. I have been there.

I love the story of your mother. Believe your mother is usually right.

About being rude in public. I usually try to behave but let a car dealership try to screw over me and I will be very rude. It's happened before.

Virginia said...

Hi Tracy! I just posted but nothing shows so trying it again. Your mother sounds like a very wise women.

About your car thingy. Places like that try to take advantage of women all the time. Problem is some women are smarter then they think. I have had it happen to me before. About being rude in public. If someone is trying to screw over me and I get mad, I will be very rude.

Pat Cochran said...

Hello, Tracy,

I enjoyed your post, especially as I
am of the age where I can be called
an "ajuma." I have been known to
speak my mind, but I try to do so as
kindly as I can. Now, my late mother,
could deliver her opinions in a most
spirited manner, a true Hispanic

Patricia Castillo Cochran

CrystalGB said...

Hi Tracy. What a great post. It is amazing how car repair people think they can take advantage of a woman.
I think it is cool that women can be ajuma.

Tracy Montoya said...

These stories are outrageous! Glass ball bearings? Resonators? At least my guy went with a part that really does exist!

Thanks for visiting, everyone! Don't forget to head over to Kathy Cano-Murillo's blog today for the next stop--and the name of my winner!

LaraRios said...

Tracy, I loved, loved, loved your blog. I can so picture the ajumas in Korea. I come across them often when they try to tell me what I should do with "their" children. My kids get scolded in Korean school all the time for being too Americanized and doing things like handing items to the teachers with one hand -- two hands or nothing at all. They strongly dislike (I'm being nice) going to Korean school. But I love all those women. They're strong and proud and dominate their families - even if they let their husbands think otherwise.

Glad the car thing worked out : )


Michelle Monkou said...

You are a wonderful living example of grace, confidence, and beauty. I think your life experiences enhance who we are that can't be gained from text books and institutions. Your mother is wise woman.


Tracy Montoya said...

Oh, wow, Michelle, what a sweet thing to say. THANK YOU!

Tracy Montoya said...

Too funny about your kids, Lara! They will be so grateful to you later that you made sure they were connected to their culture. And, oh, yes, the left-hand/two-hand thing is important. I STILL catch myself doing it! : )

Anonymous said...

It is remarkable, a useful piece

About Me

My photo
Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter