Friday, August 10, 2007

My "American" need for water and space

I've been going through this identity process the past year or so of determining how I am "American." I found myself in the fall starting to become very frustrated (after having done this kind of work off and on for over 15 years) dealing with the cultural differences I encounter daily in my job, whereas in the past I had usually been delighted or charmed by them. My friend Pat, who has studied and still spends time examining intercultural communication, assured me this is a very normal part of the process and helps one to establish the values, customs, ideals, etc. that are truly held dear, rather than the ones just taken for granted because that's the way everyone else seems to operate.

Now I've just returned from a trip to Amsterdam which I loved, loved, loved. There were many international tourists there, as well as locals, of course. Because I enjoyed the trip so much, the things I didn't like stood out.

One was that I was so thirsty all the time. I was when I went to China several years ago as well. I'm not a Big Gulp-swilling American, but I do like to drink lots of water with my meals, perhaps along with another beverage. In most restaurants in Amsterdam they won't give you tap water but want you to buy bottled water. If you order something like iced tea (which, unless I'm in the south, I always drink unsweetened), it comes in a teeny-tiny (albeit adorable) bottle, often carbonated and sweetened. (And I know I'm lucky to be getting iced tea at all.) I found myself ordering beer more often just because it comes in more generous portions. (Unfortunately, I will too now.)

The other thing that makes me crazy (and did in China)is being jostled or bumped without the jostler/bumper saying "excuse me" or "sorry" or "pardon" (in whatever language). Intellectually, I understand this doesn't happen everywhere, for a variety of reasons. (And I should point out, it was accompanied from time to time with an apology.) SHOULD. I understand my "bubble" and I understand that, being somewhat claustrophobic, this might bother me more than most. When it is accompanied by an apology, though, I can physically feel my agitation subside.

When my husband gets the photos loaded on our computer, I'll write about how truly fun it was. This American identity issue has really resonated for me these past several months, so I'll write about it more in other posts.