"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!