Having been eased into the culture for almost a week here now, it’s cool noticing things I learned about in Cross-Cultural at AU and seeing them play out in front of me. The first thing I noticed was the Eastern orientation to time.
We studied monochromic vs polychromic cultures and how important time was. (Good summary here: http://mgmtblog.com/?p=60) In the West, our lives are run by the clock. We have an agenda, set goals, and do one thing, finish it, and move on to the next. In polychromic cultures however, the focus is not on efficiency or promptness but on relationship. We’ll spend hours at meals just to sit and talk, and there is no stress about how quickly it all gets done or what’s next, because our focus is on the present and the people we are with. I have noticed this simply in the use of cell phones: in the States, everyone will have phones out in the margins of life- in between events, in transit, even at meals- we’re always focused on being on to the next task. But here, we’ll leave phones at home and just stare out a window, talk to a stranger, or go in depth with a teammate. It often makes for inefficiency, but I am loving the ability to enjoy the relational time and let go of my need to check the time.
Another thing we studied is high context vs low context societies. Low context, like America, means you have high content. Explicitly stating what you feel or want. High context societies, like most in the East, rely on context to decipher meaning rather than explicit content. I noticed this in our Nepali lessons when we asked our teacher how to say “I do not like x food” and he told us you don’t really say that… there is a desire to please here that plays into the words they will use or the way they see time, valuing relationships, honor and respect over efficiency.
Unfortunately, this also plays into girls being trafficked in Nepal. Family honor is the ultimate authority so girls will obey if their parents sell them. Standing up for yourself, I have learned, is a Western value that they don’t have here to the same extent. We grow up hearing we can be and do whatever we want and we should stand up for our rights, but girls here might obey a trafficker just because of ingrained respect for authority that they’ve always known. Another sad factor is their view of justice. The pervasive value of karma, the belief that you get what you deserve, creates a subtle but real culture of victim blaming. If a girl is trafficked, she is getting what was coming to her. If a 3 or 4 year old is abused, she is paying for sins of a past life. Of course, Nepalis don’t want girls to be trafficked and are very eager to fight this injustice, but it can be a source of blame and shame for victims and their families that is hard to undo.
In my class, we had so many exaggerated stereotypes and enactment activities of “east vs. west” but it’s been interesting to see a lot of them come true. When entering someone’s home, taking off my shoes, sitting on the ground and eating rice with their family, I can’t help but smile and think of my classmates.
Christian, feminist, idealist, wife, poet, abolitionist, dreamer, adventurer.