Latitudes and Attitudes.    Are you ever surprised when a side of yourself surfaces in an unexpected way in an unexpected place?    Convinced that I am stable and predictable, I still get a jolt each time the power of place shapes my personality. 
After decades of moving between North and South America, I feel kinship with Jimmy Buffet when he sings, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” It seems that my sub-conscious reprograms my behavior to blend into my surroundings. Three anecdotes will illustrate.

1.     “You’re different in Boston.”  Thus claims my husband born in Argentina.  At first, my rebuttal was, “What do you mean? I’m not different!”  However, after 25 years, I think Oscar is right. When I arrive in New England, self-reliance and independence take control of my days and my ways. Social interactions are framed by organized schedules and mutual expectations. My productive demeanor dispels idle camaraderie, just as wintery winds discourage seaside strolls. Except for shivering when the mercury falls to zero, I resume northern habits without noticing. And yet, someone who lives with me in a different locale can clearly see that I have donned puritanical practices, along with my winter coat.

2.     “Do I look OK?” When in Buenos Aires, I examine myself with a critical eye before going out on the street. My fashion sense ratchets up in a city where cosmetic surgery is a booming business. I don’t buy Botox or silicone implants, but I do upgrade my packaging. My faded jeans and flannel shirt, worn without hesitation in the States, are replaced with tailored slacks and a crisp white blouse. I dye my hair, apply make-up and wear size 10 instead of 12.  I emulate the dress code of my southern friends and understand the peer pressure that produces look-alike teens at the local mall. In the mirror, I see a woman who enjoys her more glamorous look. And yet, when I transport my fashionable wardrobe back to Boca, it gathers dust in the closet! 

3.     Momentary Morph. Recently, I was visiting my mother in Massachusetts when her cable box was being replaced. Detecting a Brazilian accent beneath the installer’s professional English, I spoke to him in rusty Portuguese. We chatted while he finished connecting the wires, with Mother looking on.  After he left, Mother declared, “I have a new box and a new daughter!” Seeing my puzzlement, she described my bantering with the Brazilian…my gestures, facial expressions, rhythm of speech and laughter. “You became a different person right here in my living room.” Although my mother had read my novel, Until Brazil, and heard about my many business trips to São Paulo, neither of us knew that I had a Brazilian persona. My metamorphosis, triggered by language rather than latitude, was invisible to me and a shock to the woman who knows me best.

These stories make me feel like the teenager who is moody with her parents, but charming with her friends. Having different personalities surface in different contexts shouldn’t surprise me. But it does. When my spontaneous behavior mimics the people around me, I realize I am not so stable and predictable after all. Those diverse cultures within me are determined to express themselves. And my internal GPS knows exactly where to find them!

What is your latitude/attitude story?  

I would love to hear it as comment (or reply) below.

© Copyright   2012  by Bethe Lee Moulton
Photo credit: PNetzer / 

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Bethe Lee Moulton
Author of Until Brazil 
Blog Hostess at The Cultures Within Cafe

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Beth Marks
12/08/2012 2:01pm

I posted some commentary on your Facebook option just a few minutes ago...maybe, in summary, exterior stimulants have the real ability to ignite areas of our personae that remain dormant, seemingly for many years, to keep us SAFE in other environments, but they never leave us if the right circumstances promote them and excite us! ..loved meeting you at the "J" this past Thursday

Bethe Moulton
12/08/2012 6:07pm

Travel often triggers the "right circumstances" to discover those hidden personae within ourselves. Adding new cultures to one's daily life further develops those new dimensions, giving a richer texture to our personality.

Beth's suggestion that dormancy is a safety mechanism could help explain why we can express different facets without feeling hypocritical.

Stephen Long
12/08/2012 9:04pm

Bethe, I've seen you in action in Latin America, North America, and Asia. You just have a fabulous ability to adjust and make those around you feel comfortable. What a skill.

Bethe Moulton
12/09/2012 12:35am

It is nice to know that those variations are positive! Thanks for the compliment. As an executive with global experience in all those locales, you have your own talent in working in diverse cultural settings. Do you have any secrets to success?

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    A story of risk and potential reward, delivering a cultural feast, business intrigue, an intimate portrait of personal transformation and an unexpected love story. (Click on cover for more)
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    The Author

    Bethe Lee Moulton brings a unique perspective to her writing, grounded in strong family roots and inspired by global experience.  Her career as an international strategist inspired her to write her award-winning novel, Until BrazilHer blog, The Cultures Within Café, is a place to share the challenges and joys and challenges of living in an ever-smaller world. Bethe divides her time between Boston, Buenos Aires, and Boca Raton, to be with her far-flung friends and family, spanning four generations, multiple cultures, and diverse worldviews.  



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