Thursday, November 13, 2008

being expat

Before leaving Brasil, someone told me how much she liked me, that I was not like an American. This comment surprised me so much. Upon asking why this was, I was told that I was sincere. When I said something it wasn't just to be polite, I really meant it. This woman had lived in the U.S. for about three years and her experience was that American women say things insincerely. We smile at everyone indiscriminately, we ask how you are but really don't want to know the truth of the answer. We say things that are untrue so as not to hurt any ones feelings or make them angry with us, and then turn around and say the reverse to someone else. This left me with much to think about. How culturally different we all are.

When travelling to different countries I am ever more aware of the things I do. Do people think I am rude or affected, even insincere. I recently was in my seven year old's class-room and it was snack time. the teacher reminded the children that they must practice eating their snack with mouths closed and no slurping, as this is an American school. So the question is should we impose our cultural norms upon the world because they are what is comfortable for us?

About six years ago I was invited to a ladies dinner potluck, hosted by a dear Scottish lady. In my head I pictured us sitting in chairs around the lawn, a plate on our lap. I whipped up some not beautiful, but very yummy coconut oatmeal cake bars, and deviled eggs. I arrived to a beautifully set table with candles. I don't think one of my cake bars was eaten. Someone had bought a beautiful chocolate cake covered with chocolate shavings. It was all quite posh, and surprisingly formal. Isn't it funny how different our take on what the event was going to be. It was just supposed to be a bunch of us getting together for a girl's night but it was something quite culturally different.

While living in Brasil one of the customs was that when someone came to your home they must leave through the same door they entered, as being allowed in the front door and then ushered out the back meant you were not welcome. In China you always take your shoes off at the door. So many things to learn everywhere you go. Hopefully in my journeys I will be able to present myself well and also be able to embrace all that is good about others.


Ballerina Girl said...

in my humble opinion, I believe that some people are one way and some another.
I can think of many of our Brasilian counterparts here that are quite INSINCERE!
So, I do not think of it as American to smile and be courteous, or American to eat with our mouths closed...
I think of it as a way of life for many!
Interesting thoughts to ponder for sure! Now you have me thinking :)

lizzy-loo said...

being in china has brought the culture issue much closer since the differences are greater. to clarify this woman is not brasilian but peruvian.

Cairo Typ0 said...

I agree that imposing first world morals on the rest of the world isn't cool. But chewing with your mouth closed and not slurping.. Well those are good habits to bring to the rest of the world!! LOL

What brought you to China? I'll definitely be following you in the future! :)

lizzy-loo said...

cairo typ0 - the open mouthed chewing and slurping can get to you after a while. i can handle this better though than the potty training children with the open pants going potty wherever they are.

my husband works in the petroleum industry.

Brenda said...

So true! Every thing you say. I have lived as an expat in several countries for the past 18 years and have been surprised at how often Americans are seen as insincere. I did not understand that until I saw our behavior through the lenses of another culture.

Tamie said...

isn't it interesting what people pick up about us americans. I've heard that before, that many americans aren't sincere. i had a college prof. tell us that if we're going to ask someone how they are doing, to only ask if we mean it. and in fact i've asked someone that, and then said (after their normal reply of "fine"), "no, really, how are you?"
we're so used to having surface relationships i'm not sure we would know the real thing if it came and bit us on the rear end!
great, great post!

Ronnica said...

Good post. It's amazing how much we think is right/normal is really just cultural.

Gombojav Tribe said...

I lived in Mongolia for years and we still visit there often. Mongolians are very sincere and very straightforward. So much so that I sometimes found myself with hurt feelings. Their compliments are real. But, they'll also say things like, "Your house is messy." or "You look fatter today."


I never could quite think of a proper reply!


Vicki said...

I think it's just good manners to follow whatever culture is the dominant one where you're at. If it's an American school then I see no problem with following American customs. Just as in another cultural setting their customs ought to be followed (as long as they aren't morally wrong). I see no problem with being an American and having American ways. This is how we were brought up, just like others were brought up to let their potty training kids pee wherever they wish.

Can't wait to read more though. I lived in Europe for four years and would love to get out of America and explore some more again!