Friday, September 25, 2009
Culture and differences.
When living in a foreign culture, one has to deal with differences, habits and customs and protocols. This does not come as a surprise. There are the bigger ones (e.g. how to address someone who is older; how to behave with people of the opposite gender) and the smaller ones. The smaller ones are the tricky ones. The behaviour questions. How to behave and with whom in which way? Despite from all those cultural rules and regulations, you want to be yourself. You want people to see who you really are. Who wants to play a role all the time? I want to be myself. How can you be yourself? Can you ever be yourself if that self - grown up with other customs and habits - might not be appropriate in your new society? Tricky is how to deal with faux pas. You apologize after realizing that you made a mistake (this realization crosses borders. Sometimes we don't see it, right? Sometimes, because of different customs.). And then you wait. You wait for a response - anything; a word, a nod with the head, a smile. There is nothing else to do. You cannot force to be forgiven. But the longer it takes to be granted back, the more awkward it becomes. And there is, of course, the language. Can you be sure you are understood? You cannot. With all the idioms that exist in your language and in the language of your opposite? And maybe there are other barriors if none of you speaks in his/her mothertongue. Do you understand what I mean? Can I be sure you got that the way I meant it? And then I always have to deal with my assumptions. I assume, you feel about subject XY or issue AB in the same way as I do. I believe you understand my point because you have lived in my society - the West; whatever that is - you know its customs and ideas. I have known you for years, have heard your stories and thoughts. Have shared my dreams and fears with you. Thought we would know each other. And then I say A Word. Make a comment. Give a talk a different direction. Mention something that is common in where-I-come-from. Unmindful. Unknowingly that it might upset you. Oblivious of your current sensitivities. Maybe harsh. Maybe just dead honest, assuming I know you well enough to just speak off my mind. And then you shoot. In hard words. In mean words. You slam at me. About how to behave towards you. About respect and decency. About consideration. Flexibility. Patience. That no one ever, no matter where, would accept the thing I just said. And the worst right after that. That's your silence. You don't say a word. For hours. Only if necessary. If at all. Sometimes for days. Until it bursts. Taking this post into a whole different way: Are those differences really cultural? Are these irreconcilable differences? Is it something personal? Am I fighting something that can't be won? No matter how hard I try?