Thursday, October 05, 2006

Going off script

I was confronted, upon exiting the elevator yesterday, by one of my retired female floormates. (there are four units on our floor - two retired couples and another couple with a young girl). She seems excited to see me, and began speaking and gesturing toward the plant outside the door of one of our neighbors. The plant was a mostly leafless, prickly thing. She was saying something about how gusts of wind could blow this over the ledge and hurt people below. I then realized she wasn't talking about the plant but a shallow glass bowl sitting on the ledge itself. That made a little more sense, but not much more.

Since people on our floor have been known to complain about actions of ours, I informed her that I did not live there, hoping it would end the tirade. She said, "No, I know you don't live there. But this is very dangerous! This can blow over, can hurt someone!" She was really getting agitated by that point.
"Did you tell the people who live there?" I asked.
"No," she replied and tried to continue her rant.
"Well, you shouldn't talk to me about it, talk to them," I insisted and walked away.

It was then that I realized I was completely off script with this woman culturally. It is quite common here for this to happen - complain about something that bothers you, but not to the person who could do something about it. That person will commiserate with you and justify your frustration. For me to not respond this way probably confused her. I imagine she walked away wondering what was wrong with me, why I wouldn't say my lines.

This is a struggle I find in living in another culture. As a foreigner, I want to be respectful, and even participate in, local customs and values. But there are times when, either by reason of my faith or other personal convictions, I won't follow the script that this culture gives me. It feels awkward, and gives me an acute reminder that I don't fit in here.


Sherri said...

Bless you! I really just can't imagine the difficulty with trying to fit in with different culture. I am like you in that I want to get along with those around me. However, I am also like you in that I am stubborn to stick to my ways and my beliefs as well. You are a brave woman and I respect you! I really do.

Victoria said...

Gina--that last line says it all, but not just in shouldn't fit in anywhere. As I was reading your post I couldn't help but think, what if that woman now wonders why you won't complain with or justify her complaints to you. What if she asks you why you don't follow that custom. I'm sure your answer is more than "that's not how we do it in america."

Vicki should see how they remodeled and changed Sanford around!!!