Confusão Cultural

I have been searching for an easy way to get back into the swing of blogging. It's never easy to sit down and plunk out a post after a long hiatus, and I wanted something simple and light to help start the words flowing again. Then I read this article about the personal changes that resulted from one man's time spent in other cultures, and realized, 'ah, yes! I could write about that!'

So let this stand as the post to which I can refer my confused American friends when...

I touch you. All. The. Time.
If you want to talk to someone here, you usually walk up to them and grab their hand. Frequently, you don't let go until the conversation's over. If something funny happens, you clutch the hand of the person next to you and support each other as you rock back and forth in unrestrained laughter. It's not uncommon to see groups of friends walking down the road, holding hands. This whole touching thing was a difficult adjustment for me, and I used to constantly remind myself, 'you're not in America anymore. You need to touch more people!' Now, touch is a pretty normal concept for me. If I want your attention, or if I want to express my feeling of companionship with you, I touch you. Which means that...

I do not have a personal bubble. And I'm always invading yours.
Public transportation here will destroy all concepts of personal space. This carries into the way people form waiting lines, where the object is usually to stand as close to the person in front of you as is possible. And, when there are multiple seating options, you always choose the spot closest to your friends so that you can clutch each other's hands in case of hilarity. It makes me feel uncomfortable to leave space next to another person. What if they think I don't like them?

I am bossy. Oh, so bossy.
People, especially those with whom you have a close relationship, don't express politeness by saying 'please' and 'thank you' for every little thing. So when I've been speaking Portuguese for a while, I come off as overly commanding in English. Unfortunately, 'estou pedir agua' sounds much nicer than 'I want water'.

I cross roads diagonally.
And I'm still not sure why. I have rarely seen a Mozambican cross a road in a straight line, unless constrained to do so by the traffic. I don't know what's wrong with straight lines, but I have embraced diagonal street crossing in a desperate and virtually useless effort to blend in. Equally as important as diagonal crossings is the ability to saunter across the road as nonchalantly as possible, despite the traffic. I'm getting pretty good at gauging the speeds and relative distances of oncoming vehicles.

I also frequently walk in the road instead of beside it.
The first, most obvious reason for this is because the sides of the roads are often rather dirty. The other reason occurred to me one night as a friend and I were walking home after dark. I realized that the walls on either side of the road would provide great cover for muggers. Sticking to the middle means that you're less of a target...except, of course, for cars.

I don't ever fasten my seat belt.
Chappas don't have seatbelts. Neither do chopellas or buses. Privately-owned cars frequently have so many people crammed into them that the idea of safety is more of a joke than an actual concern. Accordingly, I've gotten lackadaisical about personal safety. The kids are constantly reminding me to put my seatbelt on.

I head for the shower at the first mention of a potential outing.
Cleanliness is a big deal for most people here, and it's common to shower several times a day. This is essential in the summer, when you're sweating all the time. But even during the winter, the fact that you're bathing with dirty water means that you're never actually clean, need to exchange the dirt residue on your skin for other dirt residue at frequent intervals. I feel like a filthy, sloppy, disgusting failure at civilization if I show up anywhere remotely important without having bathed first.

I use weird words.
Sometimes, surprise cannot be properly expressed without a xiiii (pronounced 'she' in a high-pitched tone). And then there's . The loose English approximation is 'already', but  is so much shorter and handier.
"Have some supper."
"Write a new blog post."
See what I mean?


Of course, I've already had quite a bit of practice at switching back and forth between Mozambican and American culture. I usually manage to walk in straight lines when Americans are around. Sometimes I remember to respect personal space. But in moments of stress? All of the new habits start popping out.

So, dear Americans, I don't know when I'll make it back to the U.S. of A, but you should consider yourselves forewarned. I will probably touch you.


  1. I've never thought about other countries customs like that before! (Possibly because I've never been overseas.) I guess there is way more to learn than just the language!
    Glad you're getting back into blogging, too. :)

    1. If I remember correctly, language is only about 10% of communication. The rest is body language, expressions, the way you say things, etc.

  2. Having spent some time with the refugees brought to America, I know exactly what you are talking about and I laughed so hard. It's so true. In one culture, men frequently sit next to each other and rest their hands on each other's thighs while they are talking. Some of the guys on the missionary team were a little surprised, to say the least.

    1. Ooh! I can imagine how awkward that would be for the poor guys.


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