Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Cultural differences

I was out to dinner with the bf's family the other night and I happened to glance across the restaurant just in time to see a woman throw a glass of water in a man's face, pause, then pick up her other (alcoholic looking) drink and throw that in his face as well. No one in the restaurant, including the people at the two tables closest who definitely observed the incident, reacted. Everyone kept eating and drinking, choosing to be oblivious to what was going on around them. Similarly, I was at a bar (fairly nice one) when two men started fighting on the floor. Everyone briefly glanced at them, then turned around and continued to dance. The bouncers ejected the fighters, but everyone just kept dancing through the whole scene.
These recent experiences stand out to me because in India we could not get two seconds peace in public. Everyone in India is in each others' business all the time. At first I thought we were getting more attention because we were potential easy prey and the bystanders wanted to watch/ assist the touts in screwing us, but I quickly realized many people were just culturally nosy. It reminded me of one gigantic small town in the southern U.S. People swarmed around conversations and other minor incidents only involving fellow Indians as well. I eventually learned how to deal with the inevitable crowd by raising my voice slightly, which seemed to disturb many of the rickshaw wallahs and other bystanders. Several looked to my boyfriend and said things along the lines of, tell her to be quiet, tell her I am giving the best price, tell her to get in the taxi. To which he politely smiled and replied, I'm sorry, we don't speak to women like that in the west. The bf found it highly entertaining that many of the service industry men could simply not cope with an assertive woman.

Cultural differences often pop up in unexpected circumstances and I think that international student orientations can be critical times to ensure newcomers to the U.S. (or from the U.S. at other schools) are properly integrated into every day life. I noticed on the Georgetown calendar that my international colleagues have arrived on campus and have also noticed international bloggers have begun to appear in the U.S. for their respective pre-term activities and apartment shopping. As I said, these programs are important to allow students to take a bit of time to adjust to a new country and to get a firm standing before classes start. When I did a visiting student's program in London my junior year we had a two hour information session and were sent into the wild. I thought, well, UK, no problem, they speak the same language, I can read signs, I'll be fine. And within a few weeks, I was. However, information on the banking system, where to buy pots and pans, groceries, how much I should be paying for a pint, were all lacking from my orientation experience. U.S. undergraduate institutions and business schools seem to do a lot better in preparing international students for every day life in addition to coursework.
I hope my international classmates are enjoying the July/ August DC weather!

1 comment:

ipoel said...

hey good observation.. interesting one too :)