28 April, 2015

I am a Triangle

People who live cross-culturally for any significant length of time end up living in "in-between" land. Here's a metaphorical story that helps explain: http://thriveconnection.com/2014/03/18/triangle/.

I've had some "triangle" experiences just in the last two days. 
On the outside we look Australian
(or Western at least), but on the inside
it is a different story. Sometimes I
wonder if it wouldn't be more helpful
to have a sign, or costume...

Yesterday dashed to the shops before I picked up our soon-to-be 10 y.o. from school. I forgot my glasses. So I ended up walking around indoors in my sunglasses and felt odd. Japanese people don't wear sunglasses very much. I've been given two explanations for that: their eyes are stronger (dark brown eyes vs my hazel/green eyes) or sunglasses have been associated with shady characters in the past. It doesn't stop me wearing them when I need to, but indoors feels very odd. 

Today on the train my phone rang. I hesitated to answer it because in Japan it is very rude to talk on the phone in a train. I don't know what is acceptable here, but I feel uncomfortable when people talk loudly around me on their phones, be it on the train or bus, or just in the shopping centre. I feel like I'm eavesdropping on their conversation.

I also ate on a bus. I don't know if that is acceptable here either. I rarely take buses in Japan, but I know that it is frowned upon on a train. In fact it can be hard to find somewhere to eat take-away food in Japan, because you aren't supposed to walk and eat either!

So you can see that I'm not 100% Australian anymore. Neither am I Japanese. For some things I don't instinctively know how to do the acceptable thing in either culture.

There are three layers of culture that help explain what it's like to be an insider:
  • Formal policies, systems, and practices (artifacts; the highly visual stuff that is obvious to both insiders and outsiders; the official “talk” that may or may not match the “walk”)
  • Informal practices and symbolic actions – “the way we do things around here” (the norms that insiders intuitively follow and outsiders only discover when they accidentally break them; the “walk”/actions that symbolize what is really valued – may differ wildly from the official “talk”)
  • Beliefs, values, and attitudes – deep-seated understandings and assumptions shared by insiders that are buried well below consciousness.                                                      (From http://genuineevaluation.com/culture-insiders-and-outsiders-insights-and-genuine-evaluation/)
When you are a "cultural insider", you instinctively know how to act. "Cultural outsiders" are often guessing from what they can observe. In our cases in Australia, we are a mixed bag. We grew up here, so some things are instinctive, or at least we try to behave in a way that we remember being appropriate in Australia. This is tempered by what we see around us as well as informed by our experiences in Japan. It can be difficult, especially when we encounter a situation that we've faced more often in Japan than in Australia over the last 14 years or if it is something that's changed radically over the last 14 years (because culture does change). You can see how it can be difficult, even after 10 months of being back here.

The other day I sat on a picnic rug with friends. I instinctively kept my shoe-clad feet clear of the rug, just as we do in Japan. Then after a while I noticed that no one else was. I sneaked my feet onto the mat, but felt mixed about that. Relief that it was okay and I didn't have to take them off, but uncomfortable as well. Because I come from an "in-between land" now.

I am thankful to be able to have this triangulation to my character now. It means that we can relate to more people. It means that we don't stick out so much in Japan. It means that we better understand the perspective of others who are outsiders (even if they aren't from Japan).

If you've seen us, have we appeared totally Australian, or have there been oddities that you've wondered about?

No comments: