Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village
After a little more than 1 ½ years of living in a new culture with new friends, it is evident that I am becoming more like them. I’m not just learning the language, after all, but living the language. I am learning how to view the world through the eyes of my friends instead of the eyes of my birth culture. While here, these changes are fantastic. One goal of ACL is to become one of the people, to the point where I understand them and can relate to them in culturally appropriate ways.
The downside is that my behavior might not be considered…umm…normal in places outside of this Amazon village.
Honestly, I have picked up some habits that would be unacceptable at the very least (if not obnoxious) in the good ‘ol USA, and might even shock you a bit. The list below is not intended to be derogatory or make fun of my host culture and their ways. The fact that I actually DO all of these things here shows that I don’t have a problem with their culture and am adapting to it quite well.
My intention is simply to share more about becoming part of a new culture by comparing the differences in a humorous way.
To be completely candid, it would be just as easy to write a post…Why North Americans Should Probably Not be Allowed to Visit Our Village. Some culturally normal behavior from the USA or Canada would be viewed as very strange or downright offensive here. In the interest of relating to others in love, avoiding offense and living at peace with my new friends, I have learned to suppress certain habits and customs learned from North American and Brasilian culture.
All of these differences are not indicators of better or worse. They are mere reflections of diversity. God made all of us different, thankfully. Wouldn’t it be boring if we all acted and thought and behaved exactly the same? It is important to appreciate and value diversity. And why not enjoy the funny side of it as well?
Besides, I need something to laugh at other than all the language mistakes I make. Although those are quite amusing. For instance, during my language evaluation last week, I told my friend, twice, very confidently, that yes, my entire family speaks Portuguese and only Portuguese. We had a good laugh over that one. For variety’s sake, though, sometimes I enjoy laughing at my new “normal” behavior, imagining what it would be like to bring such customs back to North America in my suitcase.
Before you resolve to never invite me to your home or church, let me assure you that I intend to leave my new habits here in the jungle, suppressing any random third-culture urges. So please do invite me over next time I’m back in North America! I’ll be good (and as culturally normal as possible), I promise! What would it look like if I did fail in this intention, however?
Well, I might…
- spit on your kitchen floor.
- fling small amounts of water, left in a cup or pot, onto the floor. Imagine my surprise when the wood or linoleum doesn’t immediately absorb the water like our lovely hard-packed dirt floor do.
- throw chicken bones or other undesirable scraps of food on your floor.
- practice the fine art of culturally appropriate nosiness. “Where are you going?” “What did she say to you?” “When are you going to town?” “What are you doing?” It probably wouldn’t take long for you inform me that in American culture, such things are none of my business.
- casually ask if your child (or you) have lice. You mean that’s not a good conversation starter?
- treat meat and potatoes like finger food.
- Carry a notebook around and write down phrases from every conversation, sometimes asking you to repeat yourself to make sure I record your statements word for word. (This isn’t actually part of the culture here, but it is something that a language learner is expected to do which has become part of my daily life. I have even mastered the impressive skill of writing words in a notebook while walking on jungle trails, without falling down. Usually the words are even decipherable).
- Ask to go along when you nonchalantly mention that you are going grocery shopping, hunting, or to visit your in-laws. Can’t miss a good cultural event, after all.
- Stand up in the middle of a church service (even the sermon) to go rearrange something that doesn’t look “just right” to me.
- Speak tonally.
- Make strange comments such as, “will there be electricity tonight?”, “I love refrigerators!”, “It’s morning, and the lights work!” (This also has nothing to do with the culture, but is a direct result of living in a place with only 2 or 3 hours of generator-provided electricity each day…okay, most days).
- Ignore compliments, as if I didn’t even hear you.
- Ask, “Did you wake up?” instead of saying good morning.
So, if some random person did happen to engage in such behavior, which number above would be the biggest irritation to you, personally? Seriously, I’d love to know, so please answer!
Don’t worry though, your jungle-dwelling missionary friend will not annoy you in any of the ways listed above! Except speaking tonally and making comments about loving refrigerators and the novelty of turning lights on in the morning…those might happen occasionally.
Are there any items on the list that you actually wish could be part of your culture and normal behavior?
Which number would you most strongly advise that I never ever EVER do as a guest in someone’s home or church?