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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cultural Relativity



It can be odd at times-- this blending in when there's really no possible way you can blend in. Like a horse clucking in a group of chickens. It's a nice effort, but you can spot the odd man out right away.

And that's what I am, for the most part. The odd woman. I like to think I am in, not out. It is so un-American to try to accommodate or become like another culture. To consider that possibly their way of doing things may have a reason behind it--or even be better than how I was raised to do it.

I fluctuate between thinking, "Don't create noise" and "Hey, yeah! I'm weird, your weird-- so how's the weather?" In other words, it is a daily learning to be comfortable in my own skin in a place where I am virtually the only one wearing my kind of skin. Or language. Or customs.

Things are harder here, and generally much simpler. I often find myself trying to downplay my "American-ess", and then questioning if that is right. For example: I have a strong liking for interior decorating, for making what was ugly and un-livable into something beautiful and functional. Decorating isn't really a "thing" here, so a well-decorated house (although humble by American standards) can come off as "rich". Recently, I found myself actually trying to hang pictures in a hodge-podge manner so it would look more "Mexican" and not so "decorated". I had to fix them an hour later.

The other day a friend came by, and said, "You live here? An American? I mean, I thought it would be a mansion or something--like in the US." I jokingly said, "What? You don't think my house is pretty?" Giving a cursory glance around her, she said, "To be honest, noooo." And I felt my chest swelling with happiness.

Why? Because I know that means I am now more accessible to her. There is always an automatic assumption here: American = rich. And, I think that is what keeps many people from coming to my house or wanting me over to theirs. They think they will be embarrassed by my wealth.

And, that's what it is all about. Presenting an accessible "me" to people here. It isn't a "different" me, but it is me in a way that doesn't intimidate people or unconsciously send them a message of superiority.

Hence. I find myself on this invisible fence... between trying to dress and present myself in a non-pretentious way to my neighbors here--and trying not to feel horribly frumpy and behind the times when I get back to the US. So, if you spot me somewhere, looking a little wild-eyed and bewildered... just chalk it up to the craziness that happens to us that have a feet planted in two very separate worlds.

1 comment:

  1. I've actually experienced the opposite of this in some ways- since we live in a little concrete house and serve our neighbors, I expected them to be like- what, YOU live HERE? But, I think this neighborhood is so normal to them, it doesn't really trip the radar as anything special to live here. It's kind of humbling. The comments I have heard along those lines usually come from people who don't know us or who live in nicer places themselves. One woman told me that she wouldn't be caught dead walking in my neighborhood! ha ha I think the biggest compliment I've gotten in quite a while was from a friend who told me the other day- you know, Ellen, sometimes I forget that you are an American and that you actually speak English. Whoo hooo! You can say that all day long. :)

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