Thursday, June 24, 2010

Things I Do That Make Me Strange

One thing I have realized wholehearted while living in Guatemala is that behind the many differences in behavior and attitudes in the 6.8 billion or so of our species on the planet, there exists very legitimate logic, at least to someone; that logic simply may not be clear when you're in the majority looking at the small minority. It took being in the miniscule minority for me to take a look around and realize this simple reality, and, what's more, that not everything I do may be immediately logical to those around me. In my defense, I present the following:

Things I Do That Make Me Strange**:

**I should note that strange is not necessarily perceived as all good or all bad to the folks around me. Just different, is the definite thing.

Exist with light hair, light skin, light eyes, and at least six inches of height over the average person. I try to slouch as much as I can, but generally there isn't much to do about this one.

Live in Guatemala as a single, childless, family-less, 24-year-old woman. I think Peace Corps might have been suspicious if I showed up to staging with a baby swaddled on my back. Although I would have gotten points for effort at pre-country integration.

Wear pants, although not stylish ones, and sneakers, not stylish ones, all the time. I am thinking physical and mental comfort, here; although traje and fancy-sandals are the typical for women here... we'll see - maybe for special occasions?

Wear a sombrero whenever there is a lot of sun out. In the local culture only men wear a wide-brimmed hat. Younger women sometimes wear baseball hats, but the coverage just doesn’t do it for me. Skin cancer! Please! You do see the occasional dame with an umbrella, but I feel even more out of place. I already wear pants. Might as well go full-dude.

Re-use my plastic bags and refuse plastic bags religiously in stores and markets and in the plaza. I also get weird looks for this in upstate New York, though.

Hoard my trash for recycling. What, do you want me to throw it in the river like everybody else?

Express my opinion outright, thus inciting several hours of conversation from those around me beating around the bush until I give them the secret cue that I actually meant what I said. This is one of the finer points of US and Guatemalan cultural differences: direct vs. indirect communication. More related to this one:

Make random comments about things that amuse me, and generally prattle on more than the average person.

Unintentionally state the obvious, despite it being slightly controversial or uncomfortable.

Ask an incredible number of clarifying (or perhaps what seem like prying) questions, due to the massive sense of confusion when a conversation is left completely unfinished. In the beginning I thought everyone else psychically knew what was going on, but I now realize that it’s mostly that don’t let the state of confusion or uncertainty bother them. The bottom line is: Whatever. We'll figure it out when we need to figure it out.

Eat food in front of people without offering them any/skip meals and snack all day. I am actually finding this more and more inexcusable myself. See upcoming post about sharing! It’s one of my favorite things here.

Not have the 3,000-some bus routes of Guatemala automatically memorized. I think the government downloads this info into every Guatemalan’s brain at birth.

And, obviously, I only speak Spanish.

Yet if they only knew all the stuff I keep hidden about myself! And I’m sure, if I only knew all the stuff they think is strange about me, but that they politely hide!

So needless to say, it’s been interesting trying to adapt to life here; starting out conservatively to be safe, adapting as I could, opening up as I got a better sense of which differences could be deal-breakers and which ones just make me a charming weirdo foreigner. After three months here I've adapted successfully in about 1,000 different little ways; but I've also realized that there are about 500,000 other ways that I'll never be able to. But I embrace the best case scenario; cheers to being the "weird" but friendly foreigner.

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