Thursday, September 25, 2014

Culture Shock

{A reflection on life in a foreign country}

So... or should I drop one of my favorite Spanish phrases here...(entonces)...for those of you who are unaware, I have been hanging out in Guadalajara, Mexico for the last month.

Just for fun, and because this is my last full week in Guadalajara and also the last time I will be blogging from here, I thought it would be entertaining to share with you some of my own personal moments of culture shock. Now, I would consider myself to be cultured to SOME degree and I very much enjoy traveling to foreign places and being exposed to new people and language and culture...but even still, there are just some things that catch you off guard when you venture outside of your borders...or out of your little bubble. And I mean...I didn't even cross an ocean! These are our neighbors for goodness sakes! But I'll get around to that topic a little bit later...

#1 Microwaves. I mean when you only visit a foreign country for a short time, it's unlikely that you will have an encounter with something like... say... a microwave. But...when you prolong your stay and end up subbing in a school and thus eating lunch in a teacher's lounge, you may find yourself face to face with a microwave. Now, I know this should be obvious, but when I went to heat my food I won't lie, I spent a few moments staring at the buttons in confusion. After a few seconds I was able to register that I was in Mexico where they speak Spanish and OBVIOUSLY wherever there were words, EVEN ON MICROWAVES, they would be written in Spanish. So, for future reference and to avoid looking like a fool in a Mexican teacher's lounge. you should probably be familiar with the Spanish words for start, pause, cancel...and well whatever other words they are putting on microwaves these days. 

#2 My first morning in Mexico, I was pleasantly surprised to wake up to the sound of birds. Except for the fact that I momentarily panicked and wondered if I was waking up in the middle of a jungle...I mean seriously. Even the birds sound different here! They are all tropical and Amazon Jungle like and stuff!

#3 I have yet to figure out how to tell them that I want fruit with my omelette INSTEAD of salad. Every time I try to use the Spanish I know to communicate this...they just further describe the salad to me and I end up agreeing to just have the salad. Aye. 

#4 Also. No matter how many times I try to emphasize the words CON HIELO after I ask for a bottle of water...I still end up with room temperature water. People just aren't so into ice water here. Which is odd to me considering how hot it is most of the time. 

#5 I decided it would be an "experience" to get my hair cut in a foreign country. Why in the world I feel the need to create these "experiences" I will never know...but anyways I really did need one and I mean the price was right. So Suz and I went. I mean. Let me tell you something people. I learned the basics about how to talk about hair in high school Spanish...but not enough to make me feel safe while a man stood very close to my head with a pair of scissors. Even having Suzy explain what I wanted to him was nerve-racking because I mean you don't actually know what's being said or if he is understanding. THAT'S the moment I realized I really did only know basic Spanish and I truly was a foreigner. 

#6 Trying to understand this language is proving MUCH more difficult than I EVER imagined. I mean..I thought English was tricky. AYE!!!! Like for example. It's ALWAYS paraguas. Paraguas is the Spanish word for umbrella...singular OR plural. WHAT!? That "s" is forever throwing me off. 

#7 High school Spanish books only take you so far. Seriously. And I mean when you start whipping out that stuff you just sound like an American...and I mean I already have the blonde hair working against me. Then you start speaking all proper text book Spanish. Talk about entertaining for the people of Mexico. Guess that's what I'm here for jaja (that's the Spanish spelling of haha just so you know )

#8 I bought crayons one day hoping to have a box of "Spanish" crayons. I was disappointed to see they were just like ours with the colors listed first in English, then Spanish, and then French :( I mean they could at least move the Spanish name to the top here huh!?

#9 Last Saturday I was attempting to read the paper and some other magazines around the house in Spanish. I had a good laugh reading some news from the U.S.  dealing with a situation at "La Casa Blanca" THE WHITE HOUSE! I mean of course I knew the Spanish words for that but I just never put it together...which made me think about the movie Casablanca...I mean I have never seen it...but is it about a white house? Is it about THE White House? I mean it makes sense that it would be La Casa Blanca...but you never can tell what things they will translate into Spanish here and which they will just continue referring to in English. 

#10 This is a little funny from last year, but I was SO entertained by an advertisement billboard for McDonalds advertising the McPollo (McChicken) now THAT is Spanglish if I have ever seen it! 

#11 It's amazing how brave I can be with my Spanish speaking when it comes down to life and death needing coffee. I have learned the verbs push and pull (labeled on the doors) and how to oder from the nice people at Starbucks. I started out simple...but I have now advanced to ordering soy pumpkin spice lattes and other more complicated beverages. Every time I leave with a drink tasting like I expect, I consider it a victory. But even walking into a place that seems so familiar and experiencing everything there in a different language and built around a different culture is surreal...and BRILLIANT on their part.

#12 The internet and those who run it are very creepy people and they know where you are at ALL times. And once they figure it out, they ruin all your fun. Can't watch ANY U.S. shows online here or even listen to Spotify because my current country doesn't match that in my profile silly. Why can't we all just share online shows! Then we would have so much to talk about!


Now for my little rant about my frustrations with America...or should I say the U.S.?  

Let's start there. One of the reasons that people around the world, and especially in Mexico aren't always so fond of us is because we somehow have this idea that we are the most important people in the world and the rest of the world revolves around us and our culture and our language. AYE! For starters...we refer to ourselves as Americans. This really irks our neighbors to the south because the last time they checked we ALL (Canada, the United States, AND Mexico...and I mean Central America for that matter) are part of a greater continent called North AMERICA. Making everyone who lives there...AMERICAN! But somehow we are the only ones typically referred to as Americans. This only adds to our appearance of self centeredness. 
And then there is this whole thing with language. We (being U.S. citizens) visit a place like Mexico, or anywhere really and generally expect that someone or maybe everyone should be able to speak enough English to communicate with us. FALSE. Their country...their language! And believe me when I say, they LOVE it when you make attempts at learning their language despite how awful you might be at it. And how hypocritical of us really. When people show up in our country, we dislike that they refuse to learn our language and expect us to make adjustments for them...but then we go elsewhere and expect that everyone should speak English. WHY? Because we think it's different somehow. We are all big and powerful and important and so therefore everyone, everywhere should speak our language and communicate with us.   

And I mean...the sad part to me, is that they have accepted this language idea of sorts. Seriously. It's such a challenge to learn Spanish here because pretty much everyone speaks decent English. This is so because they start learning English along with Spanish at the very beginning of their education. Not only does this make them able to communicate with their neighbors to the north, it also introduces them to a culture other than their own which expands their world view. 

One of my biggest pet peeves with U.S. education is that we don't usually introduce another language (seriously anyways) until high school. It's proven that younger kids absorb language faster and hold onto it longer. Why don't we see a need for this in our schools! The lack of exposure to other languages prevents exposure to other cultures and creates this limited world view and inadvertently a mindset that learning another language or about another people or culture isn't really necessary. In fact, in my high school, students were only required to take TWO years of foreign language! Okay. I will give you the fat that English is a widely used language and necessary for a lot of people to know. But I mean...Mexico is our neighbor! Shouldn't we care about knowing their culture and at least being familiar with their language! It is such a rich, beautiful culture with so much history and tradition. It is so annoying to me how much they know about our language, history, culture, geography, laws, government, etc. and how foolish and ignorant I always feel here in comparison because I honestly know very little about here. For example, I had no idea how many states were in Mexico! I'm pretty sure anyone I asked here would know how many states were in the US and who our president is. ANY random person off the street! On the contrary, I'm pretty sure that hardly ANYONE (educated or not) in the U.S. would know off hand how many states were in Mexico (or that Mexico was even divided into states) let alone the name of their president. 

I understand that it's not really our fault as US citizens, it is sadly just the way that we are raised. The way news and history and education is presented to us. We are just a product of our society and our environment...which is sadly a rather self-centered and ignorant one. Perhaps you don't see how this language business matters, but I am convinced that language=culture. When you learn a language, you simultaneously learn a culture. Not introducing students to another language is simultaneously not introducing them to other culture. And leaving the country it's easy to see that everyone else in the world knows more about the rest of the world than we do. Even the news. Here's an example. I was in Mexico for hurricane season this year. I honestly always thought that the Pacific Ocean just wasn't affected as much by hurricanes because you really never hear about them on the west coast of the US. But do you know why that is!? Because every year, the west coast of Mexico is taking all the hurricane hits in the Pacific before they make it up to our west coast. This year several coastal towns in Mexico were badly affected by hurricanes. I spoke with my mom and she had heard NOTHING about them. Only those that were near Baja California...I wonder why...OH because we only hear about the news that affects us! Maybe we hear about things happening around the world, but pay careful attention because most of the time it's only because those events have something to do with us. 

Okay. I know I said that would be a short rant...but sometimes I get carried away with this stuff. As someone called to be a missionary, it hurts my heart to realize that I have grown up in a culture of ignorance and selfishness and I want desperately to change the rest of the World's view and generalization of our people whenever and wherever I can. For goodness sakes, the next time you your eyes! Absorb everything because there is so much to see and learn and experience and I PROMISE it will enrich your life! Get to know your neighbors across the street AND across the borders! This world could be a much less scary place if we would get out of our bubbles and start seeing and hearing each other and realizing that we aren't all that different....and that we have an awful lot to learn from each other. And the learning and experiencing goes BOTH ways! 

Now here's a link to a fun little video for you to enjoy about some of my Mexican experiences this year :) Gosh darn file was too big to put in the actual blog. I promise if you get a chance to check it out you will have a good laugh!

Love and hugs one last time from Guadalajara,

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