For the hermit I have become the last couple of years, a typical caraqueño might seem too invasive. This is a city where neighbors are constantly up in your business, asking all kinds of questions about your family. Go to a high school reunion and the main subject is always who got divorced or how much their aunts want to know everything they do.

People say “el mundo es un pañuelo,” but really they mean “Caracas es un pañuelo.” When you’re applying for a job, the interviewer knows a friend of yours or, at least, he studied at your same high school and quickly the conversation gets personal. Or you run into your students on a date (and, of course, that would be the first comment at your next class). The phone rings, you have to pick it up: family and friends might think you’ve been kidnapped if you dare not to answer.

Sometimes I would certainly like being alone.

But the truth is I love this part of our culture. Because all those people always willing to comment on your personal life are only too willing to offer a helping hand. I felt it when my father died and everyone was there to support us.

And in these hard times, solidarity among neighbors, family and coworkers helping with food or medicines is keeping people alive.

Last week I saw a woman giving away her food at the Metro to a mother begging for her children. I keep hearing stories like that from friends. I have been helped at the street after a car accident by an old friend I haven’t seen for years and was passing by. One time, waiting for a bus, my sister’s friend spotted me. Of course, she picked me up and gave me a ride to work.

These tiny acts of solidarity can fade into the background, into the fabric of everyday life. But as we struggle through this crisis, we can’t ever forget what it means to be able to count on so many people right here, at home.

And that’s why, really, it feels like home.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Ours is a culture of instant intimacy , where social exchanges easily take a personal open warm tone and the barriers of social distance are low and readily bridgeable ……doing a queue in Venezuela is very often an exercise in instant neighborliness , people are avid gossipers , have no qualms about talking about their personal lives with absolute strangers , find pleasure in being helpful to people theyve just met and are very disposed to form informal cliques with anyone that theyve shared some part of their lives before ……!! (reason why there are so many words in Venezuela for clique : rosca , macoya , cogollo ) .

    The counter side to this happy feature of our national ethos is that where a contact is impersonal and functionally distant , a wall of distrust and antipathy easily rises between people on each side of this invisible gap ……..you can see this most readily in the way govenrment workers treat people they are meant to serve or in the way Venezuelans generally see impersonal institutions with dislike and distrust ……!!

    We dont trust institutionalized impersonal set ups because if they cannot be personalized then they are seen as alinenating and obstructionistic , we have to get something done at a ministry or at a company we instantly try to find a friend or acquiantances that can help us from the inside !! this is automatic in Venezuela …..much more than in other places…thats probably why our institutions and the rules that they are supposed to operate by are so frail and dysfunctional .

    It is easier for us to be rosqueros than to be prim dutiful citizens !!

    • Bill, That is very insightful. Of course, I have known the upside of Venezuelan “instant intimacy” since shortly after I got here. It is one of the things about Venezuela that I fell in love with. But, I had not thought about the flip-side of that coin.

    • have you ever heard of Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory?
      It allegedly describes national cultures by the extent to which a country expresses more or less of each of 6 different dimensions: Power Distance, Individualism , Masculinity , Uncertainty Avoidance , Long Term Orientation & Indulgence

      what you commented reminded me of what the model described Venezuela to be, according to its score in the Individualism dimension – I read that some years ago and only remembered it when i read your comment! —- here is what it says:

      “Individualism
      The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty.

      At a score of 12 Venezuela is amongst the lowest Individualist scores; in other words, it lies amongst the most collectivistic cultures in the world, such as Ecuador, Panama and Guatemala. Since the Venezuelans are a highly collectivistic people, belonging to an in-group and aligning yourself with that group’s opinion is very important. Combined with the high scores in PDI, this means that groups often have their strong identities tied to class distinctions. Loyalty to such groups is paramount and often it is through “corporative” groups that people obtain privileges and benefits which are not to be found in other cultures. At the same time, conflict is avoided, in order to maintain group harmony and to save face. There have been many struggles for power among different political factions and between unions and employers, but seldom have such conflicts become really as violent as what has been observed in other countries in Latin America.

      Relationships are more important than attending to the task at hand, and when a group of people holds an opinion on an issue, they will be joined by all who feel part of that group. This may result in the task being completed quickly through cooperative effort, or it may result in the task being totally abandoned (if that is the opinion of the initial group articulating an opinion). Of course, this is also linked to PDI, so power holders can more easily get a group formed around them, rather than people who are perceived as having less power.

      Venezuelans will often go out of their way to help you if they feel there is enough attention given to developing a relationship, or if they perceive an “in-group” connection of some sort, however thin. However, those perceived as “outsiders” can easily be excluded or considered as “enemies”. The preferred communication style is context-rich, so public speeches and written documents are usually extensive and elaborate.”

      so it is quite similar to your own analysis —- and I myself do consider Venezuelan culture to be highly collectivistic as well — & even if I also disagree with some conclusions the model makes (also in the other dimensions), I recognize some of the characteristics ascribed to us as actually being similar to ours

      although this model has been discredited for having flaws —- including the magnification and perpetuation of determinism, the overlooking of individual variance , the resulting statistical issues where inferences about individuals are deduced from inferences about the larger group of people to which they belong , etc, etc., —- I still think it is an interesting read nevertheless

      I’ll leave you with the link to the whole Venezuelan profile, so that, if you’re interested,
      you can read how the country scores in the others five dimensions:

      https://geert-hofstede.com/venezuela.html

      if you have some spare time you can also compare it to the scores of other countries, I find that tool especially interesting — seeing how different cultures allegedly compare and contrast to one another …

  2. That’s one of the things I miss the most. If I was moving I would just have to call and 10 people would be there in an instant to help me pack.

    They would always notice if I had a new haircut or had lost (or gained!) some weight. And I never felt it was mean spirited.

    When anyone gets sick there is a family meeting inmediatly to figure out how to help and take turns bringing food or any other needed thing to the family in need.

    Everyone has lived at our house for a while at one point or another. And I am lucky enough that my English husband is comfortable having people stay at our place all the time.

    But that feeling that there is always someone there is impossible to replicate when you are abroad. And I miss it everyday. In good days and bad days.

    Thanks for reminding us that there are still things to love about Venezuela.

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