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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Culture Shock... from my home to yours.

Moving is always an adventure. There are always adjustments. You learn to adapt. Unlike traveling, which is a temporary condition, your changes are long term, involving years instead of days.It was OK that in England you couldn't get warm water, only cold and hot, because each has it's own faucet. It was temporary and kind of charming in that scalding your hands kind of way. Driving, shopping,cooking,the toilet scene...you just never really know what you are in store for until you are in it.

Japan was yen,left side driving, crazy toilets that were a little better than a hole in the floor or technical,mechanical wonders for toilet seats with 15 settings (depending on where you are). Oh, and pushing...that's right, pushing. It is okay to gently nudge the back of someone when moving through a crowd. I found it annoying at first, but then realized that everyone around me was doing it to each other. It was just the thing they do, nothing personal and no aggressive intent. They liked to touch my kids too, Japanese, Thais,and Arabs alike. They feel compelled to touch my kids. A little weird, but I try not to be too neurotic. They just love babies.

There are perks too. Japanese have vending machines everywhere. City, tourist site,shopping areas,rice pattys on the side of the road... there stands a vending machine for your convenience. Vending machines full of delightful drinks both hot and cold. The amazing part is that there is no litter. None. They just wouldn't dream of tossing their trash on the ground. And let us not forget the beer vending machines. Can you imagine that little treasure as a teenager? Good Japanese beer cold and waiting right there in public places. Japanese have the right idea.

Bahrain is a whole different ball game. They litter like fiends. They do have one thing down right. Food delivery is everywhere. From nice Thai and Indian places to McDonalds and Dairy Queen. They all deliver. The driving is a different story. Like pushing in Japan, smashing the shit out of someone's car seems to be an acceptable means of getting your way behind the wheel. Signs, pavement markings,traffic signals, seat belts, and child restraints are all suggestions...for the weak. Everything is Insha'Allah, God's will. Therefore, if you do crash, it was all in the master plan and no one's fault.If your kid goes through the windshield? God's Will. That would be great if us Yanks had a separate set of roadways to drive on, but we don't. So, on your toes behind the wheel at all times. Never drink and drive. You need your wits about you.

Separation of Church and state? Not happening in Bahrain. If you are seen eating or drinking in public during in Ramadan before the sun sets, you can be arrested. Even if you are not Muslim this applies.More likely you are probably going to just be publicly bitched out for being an insensitive Western infidel. Unlike our small towns of America that are under attack for Nativity Scenes in public places and the ACLU working to ban church bells, Bahrain is a Muslim nation. If you forget, wait a couple of hours and the Mosques will start ringing out the call to prayer on every other corner. The American kids at our American DODEA school don't get Easter Sunday off, but The Prophet's birthday instead. Mine get Easter Sunday off, because mine will be in church with their parents that day, but it will be an absence from school.

Now...about the toilets. It is great in the homes. There are more toilets than bedrooms most of the time.None of that weak,water saving flushers either. Whabammy! Good, solid, hope-you-didn't-drop-an-earring-all-drains-lead-to-the-ocean-Finding-Nemo flush! All heads are including either a bidet or a sprayer. You know those sprayers that you find on American kitchen sinks? yes...and high powered. You gotta watch yourself in the summer. The water tanks are exposed on the roof and there is only hot water and hotter water in the summer. No such thing as a cold shower or a cold cycle in the laundry, so keep that in mind before you open up with the sprayer on your behind.The showers aren't enclosed most of the time, either. You are just OUT THERE. The bathroom ends up soaked including that fresh roll of toilet paper you just put out. There are no outlets. Too dangerous with 220V. I found it kind of liberating, though, after a while. I can clean the walls and the floor at the same time as I wash my hair. Just make sure you have a good, solid bath mat. Dangerous business once the wash is over.

Public toilets are a whole other thing. That spraying can get out of hand. Most big places have toilet paper. However, the old school method is the sprayer. So you can walk into a stall and have it soaked down from some over zealous washer. Mix the water on the floor with whatever horrid matter is on the floor of a public toilet and you get the willies even walking in there. One of these days, I am just going to take that sprayer and open fire on the person washing their hands. "That's for wrecking the head jackass!psshhhhhhh." If you are really unlucky, no TP or merely a box of 59 Cent tissues. So you learn to take wipes and TP in your purse.

Grocery shopping is always a little scary at first. Going from English to Metric, Dollars to Dinar, dealing with labels that you can't read. I bought generic pledge the other day. Wait, no I didn't, I bought air freshener! It was next to the pledge, same can shape, I just grabbed it. The sneaky buggers tricked me. So, now I have another air freshener and no furniture polish. That's OK though, It actually humored me a little when I started spraying it on the table and it immediately evaporated. Took me a second to figure it out and I had to chuckle at myself. It plainly said air freshener on the can amidst all the Arabic writing.

Negotiating. Nothing is negotiable in Japan. Fixed prices with none of the "screw the gringo" type behavior. Bahrain, everything is negotiable. Negotiating is not my forte. I stink at it, they smell my weakness. You have to do it, though. They really are charging you more than a local to see if you will pay it. They expect a little haggling. One of the great lines from the movie A Christmas Story is "my old man loved to bargain like an Arab trader". I never fully understood that line until now.

It may sound like I am complaining. I am and I am not. I know from experience that some of these funny little cultural differences will be looked back on with laughter and fondness. It is the craziness that makes it an adventure. You learn to roll with it.

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