Here and There: Culture Stuff

Culture… “is something inculcated into you from your very earliest breath, your very first awareness of the world…. ” At the very basic level, people from other cultures move differently. They shop differently, they think differently and they live differently.” (Sarah Hoyt, in a longer post on immigration stuff)

I find cultural differences and distinctions and the possible reasons for them endlessly fascinating (not the uguly diferences, like the fact that in one culture victims of rape are punished by public lashing, and child brides are hunky-dory). Part of that is also discovering the false assumptions we make about other cultures because of those differences. I’ve talked about this a bit before, but, for example, while we have this idea that Asians are very indirect and Americans are very blunt and straightforward, and this is generally true. Except for when it isn’t.

In the two Asian cultures I am most familiar with it’s perfectly respectable and straightforward to discuss a woman’s menstrual cycle in mixed company, in public, on television (I saw a Korean talk show where an older singer was asked how old she was when she stopped menstruating and everybody was genuinely interested and super impressed with how late it was). REgular bowel movements can also be an appropriate topic of conversation outside of your medical provider. It’s okay to ask about how much stuff in your house cost and how much you make and similar personal questions about money. People who come to my house think absolutely nothing of picking up my electric bill off the fridge and reading it in front of me, and then commenting on the size (previously, it was too large, since we stopped running the air-con at all, I’ve had a couple Filipinas comment that our bill is smaller than theirs). I’m putting a paragraph break here because if you’re American, try to imagine my efforts to control my face the first, second, and third time this happened.

It’s not only acceptable to ask a woman’s age, knowing everybody else’s age is something of a social necessity. People can and do comment on your weight, body size, and personal appearance in not necessarily complimentary ways. They aren’t being insulting, it’s just that for most Americans, we generally can’t say anything about somebody’s personal appearance that might be less than complimetary unless we want to be rude and insulting or we’re talking behind their backs.

I floored a couple younger friends (Korean and Filipino) when I told him that if I were in the U.S. and I happened to pass by somebody in public who was sobbing, in most cases, I would probably feel like I had to stop and ask if I could help with something. I would probably pat them on the back or touch their shoulder if it were a woman, or a youngster. My Filipino friends couldn’t believe it, because a significant difference between Filipinos and Americans is the issue of personal space- Americans have a huge bubble, and Filipinos wil not only sit hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder with total strangers on a jeepney bench, when somebody leaves the jeep, they won’t spread out and take the newly open space, they just keep their sardine like seating. But he would never stop and touch a stranger who was crying. And for the Koreans, that would be embarrassing to both parties, and the kindest thing to do would be not to notice.

So, yes, generally speaking, Americans are more direct and have stronger personal space expectations, but in some ways, we also have different things that are acceptable to be direct about. The utility bill thing still astonishes me, but I’ve squelched the automatic indignation that arises.

We have ten months left to live here, and I made a list of the things I’m looking forward to, the things I will miss the things I won’t. Spot some culture clues:

Just for fun and mostly not really very serious, here are a few of the things I look forward to when we go back to the US (mostly in no particular order)
1. My grandkids, their parents, my two youngest kids, and my mom.
2. Fresh blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries (they have strawberries here but they are super expensive) and peaches. If there are any berries I left out, I miss them too.
3. Sausage that isn’t sugary
4. Lunchmeat that tastes the way I am used to lunchmeat tasting.
5. Tomatoes with real tomato flavor. These tomatoes are the size of golfballs and completely flavorless.
6. Spring and Autumn, though it occurs to me that one of the pleasures of spring is that it’s been brown and colourless all winter so we’re starved for colour. The flowers bloom around the year here
7. Rhubarb pie, pumpkin pie
8. Being able to get in the car and go somewhere without walking to find a cab or trike
9. Plumbing related: Hot baths, which is funny because I’m not a bath person, but not being a bath person is not the same as never being able to take a bath because there are no bathtubs. Hot running water in every sink, being able to flush toilet paper in the toilet, double sink in the kitchen, a dishwasher
10. My mom’s tri-tip on the grill.
11. Many little efficiencies, because while I do love the relationship first and the time a transcation takes is irrelevant and the slow pace attitude, I also miss being able to know that it will take five minutes to dash into the convenience store, grab a bottle of milk and dash out, and I don’t aways want o go through a conversation about how many kids I have and how long I’ve been in Davao and where I am from in the U.S. just to buy a couple t-shirts and pasalobong at the department store.
12. Being able to buy clothes that fit me
13. You, and you, and you… (I started to list some people but then realized I would leave somebody out)
14. My books

Things I do not expect to miss:
1. Trash, litter, garbage along the side of the road, at the beaches where they don’t have people raking it up, and the accompanying smell that goes with spilled garbage and a hot climate
2. Having to go to the mall to pay the bills for various utilities- and not just one mall. No. The electric bill gets paid at that mall, and that store, the water bill elsewhere, and the internet bill at a totally different mall.
3. Being agreeably told yes, we can do that when the answer is really, “No, no way, not at all,” or just “I dont know.” I *understand* this cultural difference, and sometimes I can even tell when the answer is really no or I don’t know- but it’s still tough to figure out how to phrase my questions in a way that won’t be hurtful or rude and will gain the information I seek.
4. Being unable to go places if the cab fare is too much (because of the Cherub we don’t do jeepneys and bikes can’t go to some places).
5. Neighborhood children ringing the doorbell and running away (this is justice because I did this too as a child, and I am sure it still happens many places in the U.S. just not where we live)
6. unreliable internet.
7. Paying a jack of all trades neighbor to fix a leaking outdoor faucet and finding that part of the fix included cutting up a rubber glove I left by the outside sink and using it to tie the thing together.

(Addendum: These humidity levels, and the construction next door)

What I do expect to miss in random order mostly):
1. The people, the people, the people. People at church, people in the neighbourhood, people from the school, people we just got lucky to meet.
2. The fruit (except for Durian)
3. Fresh seafood
4. cabdrivers and trikes
5. the neighborhood kids, even the rascals who ring my doorbell and run away.
6. crispy kangkong
7. sinugang soup
8. bangus
9. Being able to afford a katabang and all the other things we can afford here that we can’t in the U.S.
10. The people
11. The sea
12. These amazing flowers
13. The people
14. Hopia bread
15. The people at church (last week one of the older gentlemen related the story of being baptized in a Carabao watering hole, and he told it in Visaya and I UNDERSTOOD HIM!)
16. All things buko and pandan
17. Korean everything and everyone. I have my own little private fan-girl sessions every single week over all of it. I get giddy when my little girl I tutor bows and gives me a formal goodbye in Korean. I get warm all over when one of the Korean co-workers gives us some kimchi (and not just because of the pepper). I practically hug myself in delight when I get to have an English conversation session with a Korean friend and co-worker. Just all of it.
18. Cute clothes that fit the Cherub and are affordable
19. Sari Sari stores- when I find myself out of coffee or out of soy sauce I can slip on my shoes and dash across the street, or two or three houses up or down the road and buy a pouch of instant coffee for tencents, a foil packet of soy sauce for 20 cents, and a candy bar on impulse for 20 cents.
20. How really kind, patient, and interested people are with the Cherub, people at church who make sure they greet her and shake her hand, guards at school who make sure to tell her hello and patiently wait for her to wave back, and just people who take time to pay attention to her.

And a lot more.

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One Comment

  1. Lisa Beth W.
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I love your lists, and every time you talk about culture, I am more and more impressed with and thankful for our missionary friends who have gone out and put themselves in another culture in order to bring the light of Jesus there. Truly a sacrifice inspired by the love of God burning in their hearts and overflowing to others.

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