Monday, April 23, 2007

Develop: under-, -ing, and -ed

I experienced Malaysia as the the model of progress and as backwards little brother. Went from being impressed with its cleanliness and sense of security to noticing its litter problems and fearing pickpockets. All in a matter of two weeks. Crazy how quickly you adapt from one reality to another. Got me thinking about what is taken for granted at various stages of development:

Bathrooms

Underdeveloped countries - One of the most interesting things you'll experience. Lots of lots of stories for the folks back

Developing countries - Kind of a crapshoot. Sometimes you have to pay a few coins. Sometimes you have to pay for toilet paper. Sometimes you can sneak past without paying. Just kinda depends.

Developed countries - Bathrooms are just bathrooms, what are you talking about?

Crossing the Street

Underdeveloped countries - What an adventure!! For some reason traffic lights aren't too popular. Just kinda pick and time and go. In addition to the cars, trucks, and buses that you're used to; there are horses, dogs, bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, and all sortsa stuff zooming around. Best to do like a little kid and hold somebody's hand. Or walk next to an old lady, she's been doing this for years.

Developing countries - Jaywalk everywhere except crowded intersections where you use the crosswalk like everybody else

Developed countries - Drivers are busy talking on cell phones, fooling with their CD/DVD players, putting on makeup, eating, drinking, and other such non-driving activities. Everyone drives really fast, keeps 2-5 car lengths away from everything, and slams on their brakes and honks if anything other than a red light distracts them from their non-driving activity (there's a squirrel, some guy looks like he might be thinking about jaywalking, the car 60 feet in front of them started to merge into their lane without signaling for 45 seconds beforehand). There are accidents all the time, but nobody cares because they all have insurance.

Communication Barrier

Underdeveloped countries - Unless you're some place where you're paying in dollars, nobody speaks your language. You speak theirs. Sometimes because you are a dumb foreigner they SPEAK LOUDLY. IN SHORT SENTENCES. SO YOU UNDERSTAND. But you don't. This can either be very frustrating or very funny. I recommend going with option B. Smiling and nodding, pointing and grunting, facial and hand gestures, that's all you really need. If you have pictures of your family that's always a big hit. A map of their country is nice for you to show where you've been and where you're going.

There's a fairly high likelihood that someone will want to play the do you know game. It goes something like this:
"Sah Co-na-li"
"Yes, Sean Connery"
"Da Bi-ools"
"Yes, the Beatles"
"Mi-aw Jo-an"
"What?"
"Mi-aw Jo-an. Ba-set"
"Ah yes, Michael Jordan"
It's pretty annoying, but remember that your are making their day and doing your part to make the world a better place through cross-cultural exchanges.

Once in a while you'll get someone who speaks English and they will talk your ear off. Be prepared to offer your opinions on international politics, explain everything about your country they don't understand, and listen to their theories on everything. You'll learn a lot, and can be certain that every word you said will be repeated for friends and family for years to come.

Developing countries - Learn the basics: hello, thank you, how to order food, and numbers so you know how much stuff costs. If you ever find yourself in a situation where this is insufficient, try to smile and nod it off, and if that doesn't work just run away. Otherwise you cause drama. They are self conscious about their lack of language ability and so are you. At best this means awkwardness and mutual embarrassment. At worst it means a random person will be enlisted to translate and a large crowd will gather. The onlookers won't offer to help, nor will they joke around and lighten the mood as that is something only ignorant people who like in shanty towns do. Developing country folks just stand there transfixed, suddenly made very much aware of their worthlessness. Too economically advanced to heckle and enjoy the humor inherent in the situation yet too curious to ignore it and walk away. The whole exchange makes everyone present very insecure and for those being observed the experience can be a scarring one.

Developed countries - Everyone speaks English. If they don't, try the next person. Don't bother flipping through your pocket dictionary and mispronouncing things. Stick with hello, thank you, food, and numbers. Old people and folks who don't get out much might think your attempts to speak their language are cute, but they're not. Take that gumption and earnestness to a less developed country, they love foreigners being interested in their culture. Just speak English here. Not slang or idioms, but clearly pronounced standard English.

Buying Stuff

Underdeveloped countries - "Hello my friend!" "Okay, yes?" people will appear from everywhere. Lots of confusion that some attempt to remedy with helpful arm grabbing. Everything is offered and everything promised, a crowd of loiterers lingering about takes notice, the entire universe is focused on you and your infinite amounts of rich country money. "Okay, yes?" "My friend, my friend" Don't ever show up at the bus station unsure of the name of that city and consult your map/guidebook. Always know exactly what you want and how much it costs. Then go fight everyone who disagrees with you. If they can rip you off it means their kids won't go be bed malnourished that night, so be ready for battle. Hesitation is the weakness they pry upon, stick to the game plan and do not be deterred. Always remember that they are professionals, this is their job and despite what they tell you they won't sell anything for a price that doesn't yield a profit.

Developing countries - At first glance the myriad of touts aggressively vying for your attention may seem similar to the shopping experience in poorer nations, but then you realize they are all peddling the same thing at the same price. Occasionally someone will take advantage of your ignorance and scam you, but for the most part you pay the same as everyone else. Market forces have set the price and there are currently twice as many vendors as necessary. Attrition is inevitable, and you as the consumer decide who stays employed. Whichever $2 dinner special you choose will be equally delicious, they only difference is which food stall owner's kids will get to go to college.

Developed countries - All major credit cards are accepted

1 comment:

Jess Lynd said...

I love this post. True to both Ian wit and theory.