Monday, April 28, 2008

How are you today? I don't care...

My wife struggles with the issue of the standard every day "How are you?" So common in our culture. Not that she doesn't understand the question. She doesn't understand the reason. "Why do people ask if they don't care about the answer?" That's her question. In Brazil, when people ask, they expect a detailed, honest answer. But in the U.S. when you answer with anything much beyond "Fine" or "Ok," people act bored.

She has a point. Just try one day of answering that question honestly and you'll see how fast the eyes glaze over. "How are you?" "Well, actually, my cat is sick, and my car needs a new engine. And I don't know how I'm going to pay for the vet and repairs, and to top it off, I'm coming down with something..." SNORE! People will become too busy to talk really quick and avoid you the rest of the day. Okay, not most people you really know well, but any casual acquaintances you can count on it.

In the U.S. we have a habit of asking the question as politeness, not genuine concern. And for someone from a culture where genuine concern and interest is more than politeness, it is hard to understand that. Believe it or not, in some cultures people would far rather engage in a meaningful conversation than watch tv or movies. They would even rather be with other people, getting to know them, than eating or doing about anything else. In these cultures, relationships are top priority. So imagine being in a country where independence is the highest priority, and people tend to keep small circles and hold everything in.

My wife is a friendly person who longs for community. To her, when a person asks: "How are you?" It is an investment of interest. Not a polite greeting. She took it as a genuine concern. And when she discovered people's eyes glazing over during her honest answers, she was hurt. And baffled. She doesn't get why people pretend to care, when they don't. In Brazil, people who don't want to get into a conversation or care, just greet others politely with "Oi" (hi) or "Bom dia" (good day). They make no attempt to pretend interest. It's more direct and more genuine. At least to someone from a culture where relating to others is so highly valued.

To me, it's a reminder that we've lost something. Our lack of community, our independent-mindedness, tends to numb us to genuine concern and caring, and separate us from one another. We guard our inner selves like closely held military secrets, and keep our lives and problems from the prying eyes and ears of all but our closest associates. No wonder politicians and others find it so easy to divide us. We hardly know each other. It is much easier to be suspicious and distrusting of people whom we know so little about. And even harder to care about them.

For what it's worth...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blogger Approach

A friend of mine recently said: "I don't get into blogs at all. Who wants to know that you're staring at the wall, wearing green socks and bored? If you don't have more to say than that, don't waste my time." I must say, I agree with him, which is why my blogs sometimes sit months or weeks with no posts. I absolutely refuse to post such tripe. I enjoy blogging. I am a professional writer, so I enjoy writing. But I have always hoped my blog posts would not be considered tripe. You might not agree with them or find them interesting, but at least they have substance.

Ironically, it would seem my attitude clashes with much of the blogging culture. There are an awful lot of blogs out there being posted to for weeks on end with such posts, and that's why I, like my friend, don't read many blogs very often. In any case, allow me to recommend a few which I do find interesting: -- This one, written by an old friend of mine who is producing a tv show he created called Minute Man, is interesting for those who like me want to write television and film or just wonder about that lifestyle -- This one is for Grey's Anatomy fans by the writers of the show. It's always interesting, but sometimes they get a little too into themselves and over think it. -- this is my new devotional blog. I have been submitting devotions to magazines like The Upper Room and Secret Place with some success. Here is where I post ones which were not accepted for various reasons but which I still think are worthy for those who like devotions.

I will post more, but those are a few favorites for now.

You Want To Be In America, Speak English!

Talk about a culture clash! Here I am writing professionally now, more than ever before, and I have not blogged in eight months! Time flew by! I have travelled internationally several times, but no major culture clashing incidents occurred. Except this one, so here it is.

My wife recently said something that blew my mind: "You want to be in America, speak English." Now, she was referring to some Bosnians at work, who speak their language all day long. They speak English, too, but they have all these private chats amongst themselves and it was driving her crazy because she couldn't understand. My wife is a talented linguist who speaks four languages and parts of others. She loves language.

What shocked me was, my wife is an immigrant, who frequently complains about how hard it is for immigrants in the U.S. She feels she has been discriminated against in the job market and other situations. I am not always so sure it is as bad as she thinks it is, but then I am not there when the incidents happen, and it took almost a year in the U.S. for her to find a decent job, and I had to pull strings. My wife has a bachelor's degree in English and Portuguese Literature and is a trained language instructor. So don't go thinking she doesn't have skills. But she does love to chit chat, and sometimes she seems a little strange to people. They don't know how to take her. And I tend to think this had more to do with her job troubles than the fact that she's an immigrant, but who knows. She has legitimate immigration papers. She is not illegal. I do know that people are much more wary these days of immigrants because of the government crack down.

In any case, here's my immigrant wife, who is fluent in English, criticizing these other immigrants for not using English. Again, all of them actually speak English. They just like to chat with each other. Bianca told me: "All I hear all day is spreska forska ickska Bryan spreska forska ickska Bianca. So I started talking that way, too, and they asked me where I learned Russian." LOL. She was toying with them, but they thought it was a real language. Like I said, my wife has language skills.

I did find it interesting to hear this from her though, given her rants about anti-immigrant treatment in the U.S., but I don't disagree with her. You don't have to lose your cultural identity to make an effort to communicate in a place you choose to live. Without effective communication in modern society, you will have a hard time getting anything done or succeeding in any way. So I agree with her in a sense. But no one says you have to speak English all the time. Especially when your coworkers are from the same culture and speak the same language. I am sure it eases their homesickness and helps them feel connected to speak amongst themselves in their language. And I take no issue with that. I never heard them speak to customers in anything but English when I was there.

In any case, one of the issues I have seen a lot is people from other countries sticking to their own and not making the effort, and it causes problems. At the seminary I attended, the Koreans hung together so much, they could not keep up with the school work, because their English was not improving. So the school had to make rules about it, and enforce standards for language. Some might call that discriminatory, but in any country, when you attend a school, they have to teach in the native language (except for a few private school exceptions). And you must have a certain proficiency to have academic success. I see nothing wrong with that. It's why I have not studied overseas yet, because my language skills are not up to the challenge. Portuguese is my best foreign tongue, and even in Portuguese, I know I need work.

There is nothing wrong with immigrants forming a support community, of course. Good for them! Good for them for wanting to celebrate their culture and even share it with the community around them. But they cannot ignore the need to participate in the larger culture. You cannot successfully or peacefully live amongst others without respecting and appreciating the larger culture and making some effort to belong to it. Not because you want to lose your own culture, but because you now belong to more than one culture. At least while you're there.

For what it's worth...