Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

03 June 2007

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes...

It's not like moving to a new town in the States. When you move to another country everything changes. Everything is different. Nothing seems "right." Your world gets tossed upside-down. It requires an enormous adjustment. And for someone who hasn't spent a whole lot of time outside of the U.S., it is not always easy.

This period of adjustment is the subject of a recent article in an online publication called Offshore Real Estate Magazine. A woman named Jennifer Miller talks about the different stages of adjustment that we so-called ex-patriots (or "expats" for short) go through. It is interesting, and although Ms. Miller writes about her move from the U.S. to the Caribbean island of Dominica, there is a lot of common ground.

As for me, my transition from the U.S. to Guanaja has not been without its challenges. I expected that it would not be the same as back home. What I was not prepared for was just how different people of other cultures can be. As Americans, we have some preconceived notions and ideas about how people are "supposed" to act toward one another. We have a certain code of honor, a standard of social behaviour (manners) and a work ethic. I think that on a certain level, we assume and expect that all people on the planet share these same basic traits...what we would, perhaps naively call "common traits." It is a very wrong assumption.

The people of Honduras interact with each other in a very...er, "unique" way. For instance, you'll often see people on the street engaged in a very loud, animated, heated argument that looks like it could break out into a hockey game at any moment. You'll assume that it's some serious issue being hammered-out by two mortal enemies. But you'll be surprised that the conversation will simply end and the two parties walk away with no lingering rancor or animosity. It's puzzling at first, even jarring. "Back home," such an argument would surely require a "cooling-off period" and perhaps permanently damaged or at least estranged relations. Here, they simply shrug it off and go about their business. Next time the two co-combatants meet, all will be forgotten.

They are a lively, hot-blooded bunch, these Hondurans! They are very direct and in-your-face. It can be both refreshing and abrasive.

Attitudes toward personal property are quite different as well. In the United States you would never trespass on someone else's land or property - like in a subdivision, I mean, someone's homesite. Americans generally respect each other's property lines; you'd wouldn't just walk into someone's backyard. That's not the case here! There doesn't seem to be any sort of social prohibition of entering someone's property in Honduras. They do things here that could get them shot in America. But nobody really seems to mind.

There are other differences - and I could go on and on about them. But so what? I would suspect that Hondurans are just as different from Americans as Americans are different from Russians and Russians are different from Zimbabweans. People are not the same from country to country and culture to culture. Different does not always mean better or worse. Forcing them to fit your social constructs or paradigms is wrong.

So anyway, it's taken a while to adjust and adapt to this new culture...to stop trying to get them to "act like Americans, dammit!" It's just not gonna happen, not at this juncture. I've come to accept these kind, gentle, fairly simple people (and that's no insult) for who they are. And that's cool.

As David Bowie sang,

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the stranger)
Ch-ch-Changes
Don't want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the stranger)
Ch-ch-Changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

If you'd like to read Jennifer Miller's article, you can find it here. It's definitely worth a gander. Or you can click on the home page of the Offshore Real Estate Magazine.

2 comments:

Sharon Jones - sltmjones@hotmail.com said...

Bob, you hit the nail on the head. All cultures are unique and different and we should not expect them to act according to what we envision if "correct and logical". I, too, am amazed at the things some of the people do in Honduras, especially in a social situation. I am sure they look at the way we live and go about business and ask themselves "Why?".

David said...

Bowie!
Broad range there Bob. I love it!
You are dead on. Our culture is one of the youngest and often the most arrogant.
The most irked I have been overseas has been with Americans trying to impose their way on an entire culture and or just acting STOOPIT and making it rough for the rest of us.
You will do just fine cuz you'll pick up the rythm an' keep your own back beat!
David