Wednesday, October 10, 2007

An uncommon comfort, and a somewhat less elegant phase.

Well, I am going to type fast in an attempt to finish this before city power kicks off around 11. I may not make it, in which case I will post this tomorrow morning.

Today was the last day of school before fall break, so it was only a half day. I felt sorry for the teachers, because they crammed all the regular classes into the day, so everyone had about a half-hour of classes. My day was a lot like my day has been the past couple of days - long periods of little perturbation punctuated by a half-hour or hour of running all over campus because three people need something in a short period of time.

Oh, and one of the H.S. teachers was offering his students a 1/10th of 1% bonus for dressing in traditional local clothing. He and one of the other male teachers wore their 'suits', and he offered me one of his to wear also. It was pretty neat, lots of the students told me I looked good. The one strange thing is that the pants here are made one size fits all - and I mean all. I think four or five people could easily, well not easily mechanically, but space wise, easily wear the same pair of pants. I took a picture or two, I will try to put one up tomorrow when I'm not trying to beat the power change.

After school, one of the teachers had a dinner for a group of students and their friends. It was a Mystery Dinner, one of those things where the kids get a menu with cryptic lists of items, and they have to decipher and pick what they get. They had asked a number of teachers to help serve, so a number of us had agreed - there were about 12 of us helping. Most of the teachers served tables, one or two were photographers, and I volunteered with another teacher to run the kitchen. Now, I'm sure the kids were fun for the servers, but I was much happier in the kitchen. I can usually grok logistical situations, much better than trying to interact with the kids. It was fun. I went out and hung out with a few of the folks afterwards, I enjoyed that also. One of the nice things about hanging around with people who like to talk is that I don't have to... I sound much smarter the less I say (which is why I seem less and less intelligent the more you read my blog.). One of the things we talked about was how kids often rebel against their parents' social mores. I said, "Well, just look at the 20th century. The early decades were pretty conservative, then you had the Roaring Twenties, pretty 'progressive', followed by the Depression, which, admittedly, was kind of a downer, then the War, which didn't help." I got a good chuckle out of that, and I wasn't even trying for one! If I were a lesser man, I'd be overly pleased. As it is, I'm just pretty pleased.

One thing I've been struck with here recently is how there exist seemingly prescribed scripts for interaction with others. Part of it is with the locals who don't speak much English, and since I don't speak much of their language, we have a couple of basic ways to speak with each other. But I've also noticed it in phone conversations I over hear our national staff have with other nationals. There are a couple phrases that I can pretty well predict the order of during the opening phases of a conversation, it seems more regularly than English. Does anyone else notice that in a foreign culture they've spent some time in?

One more funny. I'm not entirely sure, I've been asking people and they don't think so, but I'm wondering if shaving means, in this culture, that I'm about to be married. The reason I wonder this is that one of the guards saw me today, (I haven't seen him the past couple days, I think it's been his weekend), and he said, "oh, oh, Congratulations! Congratulations!" while rubbing his chin, pointing at me, and then giving me a thumbs up. Now, I know he's not trying to insult me with the thumbs up, because our guards don't do that, they know what it means to us. And I don't know how much English he exactly knows, so I don't know if Congratulations is the word he knows for "Looks Good!", but I'm kind of worried what will happen if I don't magick myself a wife pretty soon...

Well, I've finished eating my comfort food of nan and over-carbonated, locally bottled Sprite, and it's about 11:00 P.M. I'm going to post this out so it gets online. We are to follow.

(Edit note - right as I went to post last night, City Power went off. Timing, eh? Some people have said here it gets below freezing at night, but if it does, it must warm back up pretty fast because it's definitely above freezing now.)


nln said...

I think you are just more sensitive to the similarity of all opening comments when it is another language. I used to think I could probably answer the phone pretty well in Chinese when I was in grad school because of my roommates, though I would not have really known what I was saying .. they always said pretty much the same thing. But think about it - don't you? And a receptionst/secretary would probably do so even more so: "Hello" "yes" "Yes, this is the school" "She's not here" "I'll transfer you" "Not now" etc.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. Around here the opening comments are always the same. Way more than in English. Closing comments are the same too. Maybe it is just Middle Eastern Languages? COuld be the culture....