Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Glass is Half Full But It Doesn't Touch Your Lips by Madama Sebastian

Few people are born with cosmopolitan DNA. It has been documented (Wikipedia has a nice little piece on crossing cultures) that 60% of those who jump the fence in search of greener grass return to the land of their birth after realizing they prefer the hues and textures of the grass they left. It should be noted that in the city of 6 million people in Chennai, there's very little grass to even do culture comparison shopping. This is not my category as is evidenced by the fact that I'm still here.

What happens to the remaining 40% who choose life in a new country? According to Wikipedia, 10% choose cultural immersion. They adopt the habits, history and traditions of their new home. Walking the walk..or in this case, wearing the sari or churidar, eating with fingers sans forks, cooking on a 2-burner gas stove with a vegetarian bent, celebrating a multitude of misunderstood holidays, and learning at least the rudiments of a language that refuses to be properly pronounced in a foreign mouth. In the beginning, I admit I tried cultural overload in an erroneous effort to embrace change, the fascination of which wears off in about a year's time.

The last 30% of culture crossers, of which I am one, give a great deal of thought to the reasons the 60% left and at least initially attempt the full cultural dip taken by the other 10%. For me, deciding to stay in a new environment involved letting the observations sink in and allowing sufficient time to pass to absorb it all. At some point for me, the choice I made was to acknowledge but not always participate in the newer culture's ways.

I have never worn a sari. There is some trepidation about it unraveling in a public place that has kept me firmly in familiar clothes territory. I eat with a fork when I can and don't when the occasion calls for it. I do not hold a communal water bottle several inches above my open lips in order to drink because I like the certainty that the water will actually end up in my mouth. I do not celebrate holidays, new or old, in the manner in which most folks do but I am very grateful for the day off from work, a celebration of rest if you will. My advice: When in Rome...check out the Romans, respect what they do and how they do it but live your life as comfortably as you will in full knowledge of being a permanent stranger.

Crossing into a new culture is not a letting go of what you once were. Given time and thought, it is an evolution that preserves and then enhances the best of you. It is about accepting the fact that the stranger in you may forever be strange in the eyes of your new culture and being flexible enough to just get on with it anyway.


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