I totally did not get the memo.
It is a freezing cold Sunday night in Paraguay, and I have been casually invited to a quinceanera- a big party in celebration of young lady's 15th birthday, the day she becomes a "woman." I put on my black pants, a nice green sweater, and even bought a new checkered scarf for the party. I wander my way over the church for the confirmation and walk past the 15 girls and 15 boys handing out bulletins for the event. The girls are in little hot-pink tube-top numbers and all the guys are wearing pink ties. I think nothing of it- clearly these are kinda like the bridesmaids for the evening. Lovely!
I take my seat at the side of a pew in the middle of the long sanctuary awaiting the start of service. As I look around, I start to feel a bit odd. Maybe I am just paranoid- but people seem to be looking at me strangely. Why would that be? I take another look around... since when were all the saints dressed in hot pink? As people arrive, naturally 30 minutes late as goes the hora-Paraguaya, I notice that everyone is in pink. Not just pink, they are all wearing full-out gala gowns! Oh geez... I am obviously underdressed. I send a text message of panic to my boyfriend asking what to do, "Just hold your head high, dear- nobody will say anything." I shoot off another text to my site-mate and fellow Peace Corps Volunteer for an American point of view, "Don't give in to the objectification of women- wear your pants proudly." I smile to myself and make sure to stand extra straight and tall throughout the service. Yeah- I am making a statement about a woman's right to wear warm clothes and my favorite color on this chilly eve.
The service is over, and I head to the reception. Never have I seen the municipality event hall look so lovely- pink and white hanging from ceiling to floor, every chair adorned with a pink bow, and floral chandeliers hanging like disco balls over the tables. There is a massive banner of the birthday girl posing in various ways as I walk in the entrance. I greet a family I know and pick my seat at a neighboring table, they shoot me a sideways glance... I see they are not in favor of my silent women's rights statement. The room starts to fill, and the only people brave enough to sit at my table are several 15-somethings that are too busy flirting to notice my poor choice of evening wear. Three hours later, we are still waiting on the birthday girl (I guess they decided to wait till midnight to start the party- technically her birthday starts at that hour). So far, I have seen a whole parade of people I know but hardly any have overcome the verguenza to come and say hello. I feel more and more out of place, this party is way more high class than I'd prepared for. The birthday girl's mom finally says hello and jokes, "Oh, sorry, I thought I told you we had a theme color. Don't you own a dress?" I can't take it any longer- my protest is over- it's time to escape. I gradually inch toward to back door and wait for someone to run in or out with some appetizers. Finally, I catch a break and make a literal run for it.
Around the corner and safely on the other side of the plaza, I run into a friend. I tell my embarrassing story and he laughs, "I can't believe you went to that quince dressed like that. I mean, they spent like 30 million on the party!" Really??? Gosh, some days I think I have totally integrated in the community... others not so much. One thing is for sure, as Americans we feel guilty when we act out of place or have done wrong, but a Paraguayan feels outright shame. Tonight, I may have pulled a faux pas reminding me that I am still US-American, but I sure feel the Paraguayan shame.
Next time, I would appreciate a copy of the memo. Thank you.