Tuesday, April 03, 2012

C is for Culture

"Culture and language acquisition."  This is where we find ourselves now.  It is much more than learning to speak someone's language and knowing how to live in a different country.  It has more of a down-to-earth, labor intensive aspect to it- a desire to learn and actually take on some of the culture and language of the people you are living among.

Philosophically, this is easy to do.  We had classes on this in our training.  When we moved to the Philippines two years ago I knew that things would be different but I thought eventually everything would iron out and we'd all just be the same again.  I had prepared myself for culture shock and fatigue through familiarizing myself with a few important differences between Western culture and Asian culture.  Yes, I felt prepared.

However, the biggest shock I had was not the culture itself but my own reaction to it.  I wasn't prepared!  I have discovered how fiercely private I am, how tightly I hold on to time and how careless I am about what I wear in public.  I've learned in what ways I am totally uncouth and what values I hold above the value of people.  I've seen the other side of the scale and I now know how unbalanced I truly am.  How hard it is to change and how seldom do I really want to!  

Things still catch me off guard.  I realize how many times I put people into the box that I know and understand when the reality is we are thinking on different planes all together.  We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto!

For example, my friend who sells fried banana treats often gives me freebies.  One day I decided to offer her payment.  In my culture, that is a way of acknowledging that her efforts and financial sacrifices for our friendship have not gone unnoticed.  By offering to pay one time I'm not really expecting her to take me up on the offer but to understand my unspoken, "Thank you for always thinking of me.  Thanks for all the tasty treats, I really value our friendship and know that by giving these to me free you are sacrificing some of your income."  Am I right?  I wouldn't always necessarily put those feelings into thought but that is basically the gist of the Western response.  As an outsider I obviously cannot jump into the mind of a Filipina but in retrospect I believe that this offer was offensive to my friend. Her demeanor changed toward me afterward and it took awhile to get back in her good books again.  Perhaps the mere offer of financial repayment in her eyes negated the depth of our friendship.  And that is just one example among many.

I could say so much on this subject but I'm trying to be brief, really, I am.  Here's a little list of things that I've experienced that may interest you.

1. Stepping out of the way of a motorcycle coming straight toward me on the sidewalk.  Even more surprising was that it didn't alarm me in the slightest.
2. Waiters and waitresses taking my baby back into the restaurant kitchen for a photo shoot.
3. Getting a pat down every time I enter a store.
4. Seeing guards with large guns at the entrances to, well, everything.
5. My children being called Barbie every time we go out.
6. Being told an item is out of stock at a store, then 10 minutes later the worker hunts me down to tell me he found the product I was looking for (that's service!). :)
7. Singing out loud in public places is totally acceptable (i.e., public transportation, grocery stores, restaurants, etc.)  This one of my favorite things here in the Philippines!


Anonymous said...

you're still missing out a lot about Filipinos dear. there's more to them than meets the eye. take time to sit down alone in a foodcourt or in a crowded place like divisoria and really "see" them behind the chaos and you'll know. (",)

Java with the Johnsons said...

so glad you are back to blogging...you make me laugh!!

Dennis and Valerie said...

Hey Brooke, thanks for the encouragement! :) It keeps me motivated. I really like your blog too.

Anonymous, you are so right! I have a ton to learn. :) I don't think I'll ever be able to "see" it all perfectly, but by God's grace I'm working on it. Thanks for stopping by.

MynameisEarl said...

Hahaha, it's always better to go straight to the source country if you wanted to learn another language.

Coming from a foreigner what you said seems about right, culture shock is always the first thing that gets foreigners. One time my uncle married my American auntie and they went on holiday in the Philippines with us a few years ago. As we picked them up from the airport we were swerving our way in and out of traffic and throughout the whole time my auntie was screaming like hell as she wanted to get out of the car.

I guess my uncle didn't tell her that it's how we did things there. Now she's kinda used to it but still has to watch for other vehicles like a hawk lol.

Dennis and Valerie said...

Ha ha, Earl- talagang nakakatawa iyan!

At the beginning I used to get nervous while in traffic too, but I'm quite used to it now. We had a friend visit us and he freaked out when a car came too close to us. I didn't even notice until he gasped. :)

Thanks for commenting!

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, what an interesting experience--greatly exaggerated, I suspect, compared to Americans living in Europe or something. I'm sure there are times it's hard, but I bet in the long view, it is really fantastic.

Melanie said...

I think it's great you are making it a point to be aware of your thought patterns and are observing/digesting the new culture around you. Have fun!

Dennis and Valerie said...

Hi Hart and Melanie, thank you for reading my post and for the encouraging comments. It's been a steep learning curve, but that is what makes me grow.