Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Cultural Insiders

One of the first lessons about living in another culture is the importance of cultural insiders. Initially these are people who speak your language well and ideally have an understanding of your culture too so that they can help you understand during those "What on earth is happening here?" moments.

After awhile, when you have your own language skills, just about anyone who looks friendly can fill this role. I decided that I needed to employ someone for this today at the pool because yesterday something happened that made me go hmmm, and I'm not even talking about that stuff in the locker room.

There are 6 lanes in this pool and like most things in China they were crowded. I saw at least two people in each lane, except one, so I chose that. The man already swimming didn't seem to notice me, or maybe just didn't care, because he kept swimming in the middle of the lane. As a result, despite my best efforts, when we passed each other I accidentally scratched him.

He proceeded to yell at me for a minute, then get out of the pool. I noticed that there were signs on each lane like "learning lane" and "expert lane." I was in the learning lane, so I thought maybe I had done something wrong without knowing. My character reading wasn't good enough to know for sure.

Enter cultural insiders, in the form of two older women sitting off to the side. Today I asked them the meaning of the lanes. They explained, but said they didn't really matter, I could swim wherever. I also asked if I had to wait if there was already someone in the lane. They said no, just swim down one side and back on the other (ah, you mean like how that guy wasn't?).

Armed with this information, I felt more confident. Unfortunately I forgot to ask them about the protocol for when I look up and there's an old man just floating in my lane in a Mickey Mouse tube. I'll save that for next time.

Cultural insiders. Don't attempt new cultural situations without them.

1 comment:

Rena said...
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