Friday, November 13, 2009

What's it to you?

I consider myself an american, with some canadian mixed in, but i've often wondered where, or if, american/north american culture really resides.  It's easy to look at what's around you and see a lack of culture, compared to what appears to be the very rich culture of other groups, like recent immigrants for example, who often make a great effort to preserve (or occasionally reject) their own culture. So here's a list of things that Aceh has made me realize are part of American culture, aside from the obvious ethic and religious differences. More exciting posts to come, but after a long day of car rides and still not speaking Bahasa a list is seeming like a best option.

1. Using a fork and knife to eat, occasionally a spoon. Here hand (only the right one) are choice #1, only a spoon is choice #2.
2. A firm grip with your handshake. Here you touch fingers as women, loose grip as or with men, then touch your heart. Quite a nice gesture when you think about it.
3. Shoes, in the US you take them off when asked. Here you take then off whenever you go inside essentially, including into a health clinic or a gym or school.
4. Passing in front of people. You might apologize in America. Here you crouch a bit and gesture down with your hand as you scurry by, it looks truly apologetic to be interrupting.
5. Toilets. Sitting down and toilet paper in the US. Here everything from a squatting situation to literally peeing on the floor (sorry to be graphic) then you wash it and yourself with a bucket of water from a standing reservoir, out a drain in the back if it was the floor. You roll your pants up to your knees before you do any of this. Flip flops are (sometimes) provided, sometimes not.
6. Paying. In the US it's a negotiation, either you split it or one person pays. Here it seems to be a hard and fast rule that one person pays. Who pays rotates. This made giving out per diem a bit difficult at first, but we figured it out.
7. Sitting. In the US it's generally chairs. Here it's chairs if you're in an office or school, but it's a mat (handwoven often) if you're in a village or mosque.
8. Driving. Other than being on the other side of the road, signals are used entirely differently. For instance going through an intersection on a red light seems okay if you have your hazards on, but I've heard this is just lack of enforcement.
9. Gender relations. Other than the headscarf, sharia law issues, which are currently "under investigation" by yours truly, the amount of personal space is different, although I suppose that's to be expected. Traditional men will not shake my hand, it took weeks to get anyone on my team to sit next to me at lunch, and only the young "rebellious" survey does it regularly. Same at meetings, seating arrangements are by gender to try as much as possible to avoid seating opposite genders together, although this is sometimes not done.
10. Visiting. In the US someone will often offer you a drink if you visit them at their home or office. Here drinks just appear, from mini-fridges and desks and under tables. First come what look like plastic cups of water with seals, which you poke through with a mini straw, then super sweet coffee or tea may come, or if you're in the whole country a whole coconut and a straw or even some cake if they knew you were coming.

That's all for now, I'm open to additions!  I head back to the states on Nov 20th, see everyone then!

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