Culture. Such a small word for something so huge. Where do you even start when you want to compare “yours” with the one you are trying to fit into? It can be frustrating (to say the least) and hilarious at the same time. We are so into our privacy in the states. Most of us have huge personal bubbles and you just don’t dare pop someone else’s! My bubble was popped whether I liked it or not pretty much the minute I stepped off the plane! With every day of interacting, my bubble gets popped over and over again, but slowly and surely its size has shrunk a little each day. How could it not shrink when standing in a grocery line doesn’t mean a single file, 2 foot buffer zone, steadily moving procession but instead a shoulder to shoulder, basket to butt, churning mass of people pushing their way to a register? How could it not pop when driving here is more a constant game of “chicken” than a logical, “all cars going the same direction on a one way street” idea from America. You mean those yellow lines on the road actually mean something!?
Talking on the phone or texting while driving a bike is too common. I even heard of someone who got struck by lighting because he opened his phone during a storm!
Having a baby in this country opens so many doors for conversation and relationships but it also can put you in some very awkward positions! If you have a baby here, it’s pretty acceptable to nurse them whenever and wherever you want to. No one cares if you are sitting smashed up against them on the local taxi/van and you want to stop your baby from crying so you whip out a “snack” and it’s a common suggestion to feed your baby at anyone’s house whether he is hungry or not. The other day we were visiting some friends in a village pretty far away. This village does not see white people very often, so all the women from the village came over to see Noah. They passed him around and were pretty much ecstatic to have him there. When it was time to feed him, our host let me use a side bedroom to nurse him. I’m not really sure why I was given a side room because there was no intention of giving me any privacy. One by one, about five women came in to observe. They were so giddy about Noah and just stood there staring at me with huge smiles on their faces. But looking wasn’t enough; one crawled up on the bed and plunked down right next to me so she could get a better view. The others sat around me on the bed and took turns reaching in to squeeze Noah’s cheeks. I am pretty much over the modesty part by now, but I was just cracking up in my head imagining how this would go over in the states! It’s just so drastically different than “my” culture but I am really glad I can laugh about it and not get annoyed!
One thing I love in America is just going to a store or the mall to browse. Not intending to buy anything really, just to browse around was very relaxing for me. There I no such thing as browsing here. For one, the isles are about 4 feet wide, so it’s not necessarily a leisurely stroll when you are dodging carts, customers, and groups of employees sitting on the ground together sorting products… or… I’m actually not sure what they are usually doing. Another reason it’s hard to browse is that you are being followed at all times by at least three employees waiting to see if you need help. No thanks… I don’t need help looking at this shirt. No thanks, I can read the sign that says this is on sale. No thanks, I can carry my shampoo myself. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t relax and shop when there are three smiling employees trailing my every move.
Although some things are hard to get used to, so many things are just awesome about the people here. Almost everyone is willing and happy to help you with anything you need, and they will drop what they are doing to assist you. Whether you are out in the heat and a stranger invites you in out of the sun to cool off and have a drink, or your car breaks down in the blazing sun and a friend drives over immediately to help once he hears about it, you can always count on someone to care!