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Language Of Love Tells All, 'Mi Amor'

by Maria Padilla

February 14, 2001
Copyright © 2001 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

This is not a day for quibbling. It’s a day for a little heart to heart, corazón a corazón. In the Hispanic community, it’s Valentine’s Day everyday because hardly a conversation goes by between two Hispanics without people touching each other or somebody dropping a mi amor, which means "my love" or "honey." It’s a cultural thing that says we like each other a lot.

For instance, people say mi amor in the most inconsequential ways. Somebody might say, "Mi amor, I need to talk with you" or "Come here, mi amor." It’s the Spanish version of Southern charm. Bare acquaintances address each other in affectionate terms, much as people do in the South. It works when least expected.

Years ago, a family friend was returning from grocery shopping when a mugger decided to strike. She disarmed him by saying "I have no money, mi amor. But you can take the groceries." The mugger apologized and continued on his way.

Knowing something about this bit of charm can help you differentiate among Hispanics. In Orlando, island- and stateside-born Puerto Ricans come together, and you can hear the difference.

Those born here speak Spanish with a different accent and with less fluency. But it’s also true that Puerto Ricans who have spent many years in the Northeast or Midwest have lost some of their amor. They’re likelier to have an edge -- the gruff speech of the big city.

But the Puerto Rican who arrives in Orlando from the island is dripping with honey. Same goes for most Hispanics who land here from their country of origin. Sometimes they are too nice or too trusting for their own good.

Transplants from the island are the dominant presence in Orlando, so Puerto Ricans born here often have to relearn the Spanish civilities to better fit in. Otherwise, they come off as unmannered.

But you can bet they already know how to get "close." Hispanics like to press the flesh -- a handshake, a hug, a touch of the shoulder.

In a gathering, it may seem as if the room is filled with family and old friends. In fact, they may have just met.

When we talk, we stand inches -- not feet -- apart, a trait that many non-Hispanics find disconcerting. But in most Spanish-speaking countries, the sense of privacy or personal space is not as great as it is in the United States.

In fact, Health magazine once published an article stating Puerto Ricans were among the most affectionate people, touching each other 180 times during an hour’s conversation in a restaurant. The French came in second, at 110 touches per hour. Americans touched only twice in an hour.

When Hispanics greet each other, a handshake is fine -- as long as it’s an enthusiastic one. Among friends, a handshake and a kiss are not uncommon.

The rules change in the professional world. Fear of sexual harassment has curtailed some of the exchange, but not by much.

Men may hold back a little more, but Hispanic women continue to heap spoonfuls of sugar, irritating many American feminists.

Others have noticed this difference, too. Last year, when the classic health book Our Bodies, Ourselves was published in Spanish, the publisher said they used a friendlier tone than the original because of the less antagonistic relationship between Hispanic men and women.

Now, there’s a valentine for you.

Maria Padilla can be reached at or 407-420-5162.

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