Thursday, August 03, 2006

Culture: unexpected reactions

During my holidays I didn't miss blogging, but now some of the things that happened or conversations I had run through my mind, shaping themselves into blogposts and offering an excuse to upload more of my pictures ...

One story someone told me was very interesting with regard to adapting to different cultural habits. A Dutch person lived in France for 15 years and came to a Dutch party after all this time. A person asked her to dance, and she was surprised to find that he was dancing 1 meter away from her! Though she could remember that 'dancing together' means for most Dutch people dancing separately, she had completely forgotten it. So it gave her an unexpected surprise.

I had similar experiences after I had lived for 10 years in Kenya, Mali, Ethiopia and Ghana and came back to the Netherlands. You remain Dutch ofcourse, but I had troubles trusting appointments and felt an enormous urge to reconfirm an appointment one day ahead of time (which I surpressed, because I knew rationally appointments just work in the Netherlands, but emotionally I didn't trust this as I grew used to reconfirmed all meetings and appointments.

On a similar note, I used to feel a small shock in conversations when people would go immediately into the topic/business at hand, after maybe one line of introduction. My natural feeling for the length of time of introduction and relationship building by exploring side topics had changed. To get used to this habit of diving straight into the topic, took me almost one year I guess.

I think it shows that living in different cultural environments changes you, at least if you really engage with the environment and don't remain in a subgroup of your own culture. And even if rationally you understand reactions of other people, you may have an emotional reaction, in the form of surprise or feeling uncomfortable.

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