Living in Germany for the past four years has taught me a lot about what it’s like to be Puerto Rican. Even though I haven’t lived in the island since 2007, the plantain stain, or mancha de plátano, as we call it, is in me, no matter how much I may try to hide it. Many people don’t know about Puerto Rico, yet we are everywhere. So here is a humorous look at who we are, based on my experiences living in US and Germany and the differences I’ve encountered.

We’re disappointed when people don’t know where we’re from

To us, Puerto Rico is the best place in the world, so naturally we’re disappointed when we say “I’m from Puerto Rico” and we only get a glazed look in return. It is even more disappointing when the other person is from US, since Puerto Rico has been a US territory since 1898. The ones who do know have been there on vacation or know someone from Puerto Rico. I met a guy from the Philippines who knew that Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez are Puerto Rican, so that was nice.

Here in Germany, it’s even worse. The people only know that Puerto Rico is somewhere in the Caribbean or maybe in South America. They confuse it with Costa Rica all the time. It’s funny because Germans travel to Cuba and Dominican Republic a lot, yet have no idea Puerto Rico is right there, in the same area.

We’re always late

All Latin/warm countries seem to suffer from the same problem – we always arrive late. In Puerto Rico, people often arrive one to two hours late to a party. I’ve never been so late, but here in Germany I’ve noticed how hard it is for me to be punctual, especially when German punctuality means arriving ten minutes early. If you meet a Puerto Rican or any other Latin person, learn to live with it. We can’t help it.

We can make a party out of any situation

One of our comedians once poked fun at how Puerto Rican protests differed from US protests. In US, protests are organized and tame. In Puerto Rico, someone will bring a drum and the slogan will be made into a song. When there’s a hurricane watch, people buy beer and plan to spend the day at home drinking and relaxing. We have festivals for everything, from coffee to bananas, to kites and flowers, to chicken and fishing. We also have a yearly festival to our patron saint, and each of our 78 towns has a different one. Our Christmas season starts on Thanksgiving and lasts until the end of January. So if you want to party, Puerto Rico is the place to be.

We love to shop

Puerto Rico is a poor country, but you wouldn’t know it if you visit the malls. They are always full. A new store opens, and we are there. We have the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean, Plaza Las Américas. Enough said.

Puerto Rican food is not the healthiest

Puerto Rican food is delicious but it’s mostly all fried. We hardly eat vegetables except for the occasional salad. Our diet consists of rice, beans, and fried meat, with some fried plantains on the side. If you go to Puerto Rico, don’t plan on keeping your diet.

Not all of us can salsa dance

Puerto Rico is the salsa capital of the world yet most Puerto Ricans don’t know how to salsa dance. They feel like they should take lessons and they don’t want to look foolish in front of other people. I was one of these people, and it wasn’t until I moved to a small town in Germany where I finally learned Puerto Rican style salsa from a German couple. The irony.

Or know how to swim

Just because you live in an island surrounded by water, doesn’t mean you know how to swim. The beach is for sunbathing and jumping into the water when it gets too hot, then stand there while you look around and/or talk. It’s not for swimming. It can be dangerous to swim. It’s not a sport event. Hence, why I still don’t know how to swim and may never learn, since here in Germany it is rare to find swimming lessons for adults. Most everyone takes lessons when they’re children.

We don’t speak ‘correct’ Spanish

Puerto Rican Spanish is a mixture of our indian Taino heritage, African heritage, and English. In Puerto Rico, an orange is not a naranja, but a china. Supposedly, Puerto Ricans gave it the name that was stamped on the bag they came from–China. We use many English words like strawberries, parking, and truck, but pronounced of course a la Puerto Rican: estrawberries, palking, tro. Other Latin countries make fun of our accent, but we don’t care.

We’ve already had a crash course in defensive driving

People in Puerto Rico break traffic rules all the time–they don’t use the signal when they want to change lanes, slow vehicles travel on the left lane without moving over, the speed limit is not followed, cars that should be in junkyards travel the streets. You have to keep your eyes open at all times, and watch every car around you. The people driving may or may not have a driver’s license, and if they do, it doesn’t necessarily mean they passed the test. You’ve been warned.

Even if we make fun of our country we’ll always be proud

I love Puerto Rico and I miss it. It’s a unique land with a unique history. We’re part of Latin America but belong to the United States. Our education, government, and law systems stem from US, yet our culture, music, and food match those of the rest of the Latin community. We have economic issues and many of us have had to leave our country in order to make a better life for ourselves and our families. Yet Puerto Rico is a part of us and we talk about everything it has to offer with everyone willing to listen. Once you meet a Puerto Rican, you will learn about Puerto Rico and will always know where we’re from.

Are you a Puerto Rican and have more to add or think I’m off base? Let me know in the comments below. And if you’ve met a Puerto Rican or visited Puerto Rico, does any of this resonate with you? I’d love to hear your anecdotes.

What's it like to be Puerto Rican

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Written by Delise Torres

I’m a Puerto Rican daydreamer, currently working on my first romantic Women’s Fiction novel while trying to survive in Germany.

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