Funny how fast you can adjust to a new culture. It’s the little things…the things that you think are interesting and different at first but that you pick up without even noticing. It could be a way of speaking or an expected behavior. It seems completely normal until you return home, and then it stands out again.
In China, there were several of these things. One was the short, almost staccato sounds that people make as if to communicate, “I’m listening, go on.” Usually, I would say something like “uh huh” or “mhmm” to show somebody that I’m listening, but in China, it sounded more like “uh” or “mm.” It’s almost short enough to make the speaker want to hurry up with what they’re saying while still acknowledging what they’re saying. I apparently picked up this habit during my 8 days abroad; as I listened to stories of events during my absence at home, my family immediately noticed this new habit of mine!
The other (possibly more humorous) behavior I acquired was an aversion to eating anything that has touched the table at a meal. During our first lunch in China, I dropped a sweet potato on the table (my skills with chopsticks were minimal at this point) and started to pick it up with my chopsticks. My friend immediately stopped me with a warning about how dirty the tabletops can be in restaurants. After hearing her description, I let any dropped food remain on the table, no matter what it was!
Tonight, I went to dinner with my family for my youngest brother’s birthday, and when a french fry fell onto the table and my brother went to pick it up, I quickly stopped him without even thinking. Everyone looked at me with a puzzled expression; I had to explain the reason behind my sudden outburst. We laughed afterward, but it made me think about a society’s expectations that people speak and act in a certain way. How often do we judge someone simply because they don’t follow the behavioral norms? Even after I got home from the restaurant, I’m thinking back to times when I may have made someone feel uncomfortable for something they said or did that was different from my expectations.
I want to be more culturally sensitive, more respectful of differences, more open to diversity–celebrating differences rather than criticizing them!
Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for creating a place for writers to share their work all month long and hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!