limba si cultura
After going out for pizza last night with Darin and a few of our Romanian friends, several of us entered in to conversation about Romanian culture. One asked the question of us, "Besides language, what is the hardest thing about living here?" Darin answered well concerning lack of community, which I could have mentioned myself, but as I thought of it, a different answer occurred to me. "Learning Romanian culture," I said, "is much harder than learning language, since there really aren't any books from which to learn it." They were puzzled a bit about this and asked for examples.
This is a difficult thing to describe to people in the culture that stresses you out because you really don't know exactly what it is that's different; it's just everything. Our friends do not have a good understanding of American culture, and we definitely do not have a good understanding of theirs (and I doubt I ever shall completely).
I began to think of examples to give them.
...I don't understand why people have cookouts right off the shoulder of major highways, wearing their thong bikinis and Speedos.
...I don't understand why I can be at the grocery checkout with four people behind me and the lady tells me my sack of flour is busted. She asks me if I want to go and get another on (on the far far end of the large store), and I say yes. I really hurry because I know all those people waiting will be angry. I get back and it seems that no one is frustrated in the least. They seem to be standing patiently. No one minds waiting in lines here. Meanwhile, out on the road somewhere, Darin will be driving through town. He will stop at a traffic light. When it turns green he will be yawning, say, or looking at a billboard. If his pedal is not to the metal within .4375 seconds, people will be honking and screaming at him. I think we are consistently impatient in the States.
...I do not understand the concept of reciprocation that seems to prevail here, which says that if I am invited to your house, I must bring something with me and/or I must invite you over to my house (even at great expense) in the near future.
There were others. But it seemed like our friends had answers, justifications, for all of these. What I was finding difficult to express at the time, though, was that I do not really know protocol for any situation, which is incredibly tiring and stressful. When I go to someone's house, I don't know what is an appropriate length of time to stay, what you do when there is a lull in the conversation, whether to take my shoes off at the door or not, what to do if they insist that I keep my shoes on. I don't know what is funny to them, what I should laugh at, what I should do if I think they said something they thought was funny but I just didn't get. I don't know whether it is polite to ask ages or inquire after children or whether to bring up sex, politics, and religion.
It may not be that things are all that different here, it is just that I don't know whether they are or not, and it is difficult to ask, I have found, because most of us have not thought deeply about our cultural practices.