Culture Doesn’t Differ but Rhyme. Expat Life for Dummies. Part 1.

Ante Scriptum: some of you have pointed out that sometimes my writings seem to contain grammatical and/or spelling errors or the meaning or the impact of a message simply doesn’t shine through. In order to attend to this problemito, I will put my humour in italics. Occasionally though, I will forget to do this. In that case, just rely, will you, on the old school instinct that you all know me. It’s a micro blog, after all, counting with a readership of roughly a dozen, lovely, yous. Yes, most probably all my readers know me in person. Thank you. Yours truly.

Let us forget, for a moment, about the good old cultural differences we expats so love to talk about. Yes, yet another water town, yet another cultural difference. Enough now. There are countless superficial and profound phenomena in human interactions that are universal. We all react in similar ways to certain situations in any given community. We smile and laugh when we are embarrassed and when we are delighted and cry when it gets emotional. Yep, we all cry at one point. (Even tough guys who never look at explosions, remember?). Ok, this was no news to anybody, so all quiet on the global front.

It is well known that we all just want to feel comfortable, avoid conflict and live in our DIY harmonious society. We all want to find some kind of balance between work and leisure, we all love to travel and love to learn about alien rituals. We all love to try different flavours, dare (or at least read about) exotic spices and edible insects, experience the world around, and far and wide, through a formidable diversity in our daily, and at times special/ceremonial, interactions. Ooh, aren’t we all so keen.

There are also some of us, global nomads, who, consciously/subconsciously set out to (re)create a little bit of the good ol’ home feeling abroad and ginger up their hippy adventure with a pinch of warm comfort. You know, some little precious luxuries to feel snug: clean running water, spider-free living room and insulation.

Humans. Alas. I guess landlords, tent lords, yurt lords, everywhere in the world, might want to talk you into renting an attractive looking place even if it comes with a few sneaky benefits. At the same time, they might of course stealthily intend to hide the fact that the flat is basking in mildew or the hot water in the bathroom is as whimsical as it gets. Bueno, no complaint about that one yet, while it is 36 degrees outside, I really don’t yet mind having a shower in cold water.

But then again, what is it that makes people cheat? Would I, in fact, run into the same scams in Sidney or Vancouver? Manila? Samoa Islands? Was it yet another miscommunication, some loss in translation, might I have not pronounced mei jun (霉病) properly before signing the one-year contract? Nah. Interestingly enough, I was accompanied by my Chinese boyfriend and we pretended it was him who was looking for a flat to rent. Only at the very end did I start speaking and asking about the conditions.

Some friends, more experienced in a Chinese context, say that one (from the “outside”) will never really belong. Never. Belong. Let me put never under my magnifying glass first: during my studies of anthropology, never have I come across a case when the writer believed they’d ever fully belong. Never would they’ve wanted to get lost in their chosen community so much so that they themselves would totally get absolved in it. They instead glorified the exciting limbo (luxury?) between being in and out at the same time.

This belong is also a fascinating one. Belong, meaning completely assimilate? To become fully accepted thus one is allowed to witness more private/intimate/exclusive/secret ceremonies, rites, blunders? Belong, meaning that I’m not looked upon as a clown, a white monkey, who has no clue how given society works? Nor understands local slang, therefore smiles when one’s called whatnot.

Bueno, I’ll cut the flower language and be more exact. Yes, father, I have sinned. However I try (and at times well, pretend, to be honest) to be the ideal citizen of the world (in the Socratic, Kantian and/or/yes Neo-Cuntean senses), I cannot help but wonder. Sure, I am angry at myself, for continually forgetting about the local code of conduct but then, with the same breath, I regret my slacking off by not being myself and instead be so ready to rip off my cultural lense in order to adjust asap and be a model localite. Should I be the fine, subtle and subdued girl who quietly and politely waits for her flat to get fixed one day in the distant future or could I please be a little bit more assertive, bang on the table at once and demand the value for my money?

So, cocoon or not cocoon? Back around January I was raving about the revelation of finding myself in the midst of an immensely different world and yet I feeling comfortable in it. A totally alien community that, however annoying it feels sometimes, appears to embrace me in some peculiar yet very snug way. Now the dilemma has seeped into another type of current. Are there really so many differences between the West and China? How much am I capable to stretch and how much should I adjust?

Sounds like a tough one? Nouh. It’s just weary to run in circles, trying to understand whether I was tricked again because of my gullibility in general or because I happen to find myself tripping in yet another culturally indecipherable dark matter.

You see, I was in Hungary last month. On a bus, when buying a ticket, I got a torn 500 Forint note that was later accepted nowhere, of course. A few months preceding this, in another corner of the planet, by the Huangpu River, I found myself being buffooned by Mr. cab driver who ripped me off with a fake 100 kuai note. Plus he was so clever I even thanked him gratefully when I got out! But I’d also been given change back in obsolete French francs by Madrileño taxizens. So, what’s the moral of the story? That the universal pursuit of petty moneymaking is a kick in the butt and as far as my personal experience goes, human traits do not differ but they do rhyme.*

(*A tribute to Mark Twain’s quote: History does not repeat itself but it does rhyme)

Post scriptum: anybody has an idea how to tackle house mould, please rescue.

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