In my perusal of myriad Peace Corps volunteer blogs, I read many posts describing puzzling cultural differences people encounter that are not serious enough to be explained in tech classes but still reinforce the gaps in experience and practice that exist between Americans and everyone else. I find them interesting – and many times entertaining – so I thought I would start a list of my own.
Just to put this in context, here are some examples of generic cultural differences that are explained to us in tech classes:
|Time is valued. It should be used productively. Schedules are kept and followed. It is rude to be late for an appointment. Deadlines are expected to be met.||Time is flexible. Schedules may be made but not followed. Meetings are often planned or canceled at the last minute. People often arrive late for appointments. Deadlines are a suggestion.|
|Change is seen as a positive challenge. Initiative and free enterprise are encouraged. Mobility is commonplace. People travel miles to work, change jobs often. Living or moving a lengthy distance from one’s family is not unusual.||Change is often seen as risky and stressful. New things are regarded with suspicion and uncertainty. Traditions are positive and celebrated. Moving far from one’s family is only done when required to obtain work.|
|The “American Dream” is defined by the ability to affect one’s destiny.||Events in one’s life are often linked to fate and superstition.|
|Social and business environments tend to be informal and relaxed. People usually address each other by first name.||Directness and informality are highly dependent on context and familiarity. In business and educational environments, people are usually addressed by title.|
|Independence is highly regarded. Most young adults and families establish their own households as soon as they can afford to do so.||Family is centralized when possible. Many young families live with parents and the youngest child usually stays with them all of his or her life.|
|People’s sense of identity comes from their accomplishments.||People’s sense of identity comes primarily from the group/s to which they belong. (Ethnic, religious, class, education, economic, etc.)|
|Privacy is a positive condition and personal space is valued.||Isolation indicates depression. People prefer to spend time in one another’s company.|
So the above is probably relatively self-evident to anyone with a passing knowledge of Soviet-era mentality and ethnic groups that have tended to live in agrarian communities. But then there are things that one runs across that are not so easily understood or maybe they relate to the above attitudes and views but one must dig through the surface oddity to grasp the connection.
So here’s one:
Everyone uses these brooms in Moldova. Both women and men use them in the city, in the villages, in their homes and offices and schools to sweep the floors, inside and out. I watched a woman at the center I will be working at spend an hour – literally – hunched over like a peripatetic question mark sweeping the grounds where the children would play. My question? Why oh why wouldn’t one lengthen the stalk so it would be possible to sweep in an erect position? Why bend over in a way that must become uncomfortable after 10 or 15 minutes when you sweep the floor every day? I wanted to grab the damn thing and tie it to a branch or pole and show her how much easier the task could be. Someone could make a fortune marketing American brooms here.
Or not. Perhaps this fits in with their keeping with “tradition” and “change is suspicious” view. This is the broom that their grandmothers (bunica) and grandfathers (bunici,) and theirs before them, used. But I just can’t help but think that if I had an Aerican broom, I could SHOW them how pleasurable (relatively speaking) an activity sweeping could be. And the job would get done much faster. Leaving them more time to spend in each other’s company and perhaps the ability to get to the meeting on time…