WHY THESE CRAZY FOREIGNERS DOING SO MANY CRAZY FOREIGN THINGS?
Why do they drive on the wrong side of the road? Eat heads of goats? Sacrifice their children? Use spoons instead of forks? Walk backwards up hills? Laugh at the sky knowingly?
I really don't know, sarcastic and all-knowing Western person ...
Well you see, I have been tempted to write a post along these lines. Mexico, where I have been living for the past year, is fairly Westernized so there's less opportunity for culture shock. Still, somewhere around the four to six month period when I stopped staying here for myself and started staying for my boyfriend, I began to have flashes of rage against the country I didn't exactly want to be in.
I started thinking things like:
- Why do Mexicans love foreigners when they first meet them and then promptly disappear into the abyss?
- Why do Mexicans never think I'm able to speak Spanish?
- Why do people need to try to kill me when they get on the subway?
- I HATE THE NOISE POLLUTION. SO MUCH GARBAGE. WHY NO RECYCLING.
- Please stop cat-calling me, I will kill you with my eyes.
... I could continue but then I'd just be adding to the cacophony. The underlying assumption to all this bullshit is that WESTERNERS DO IT RIGHT and everyone else got the message mixed up somewhere down the line.
When I stayed at a spiritual retreat in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala we did karma yoga one Saturday morning. This involved picking up trash in town. The organizer told us to examine our feelings around the trash. Were we filled with condescension? i.e. oh my God people pick up your trash already ew.
Driving through Honduras later, seeing the trash heaped in the ditches and littered through the dry fields, I sadly had the same feeling. Except that poor countries don't have municipal systems to collect trash. Less wealthy people don't have time, education, or resources to get rid of their trash. I personally don't like trash everywhere but who am I to say Hondurans should feel the same way?
It's easy to make similar snap judgments. A Belizian guy rides a bicycle holding a baby freestyle in one arm. A Mexican shouts into his cell phone while furiously weaving through traffic. You probably have a few of your own. While it may come down to whether a state should enforce safety or certain regulations, the first judgement should still never be they do it wrong. Because the comparison is inevitably to some first world system that is assumed to be the blanket gold standard.
Also, it makes me feel dirty just to think:
- Those crazy Mexicans...
- Of course that's happening, I'm in South America after all...
- This could only happen in China...
Because each and every Mexican is exactly the same, right? They all subscribe to the exact same Mexican-ness, impressed in them from an early diet of tequila and exposure to mariachi? Just like every American is a carbon copy of another American (those gun-toting, ignorant Americans!). NO.
So for me to get huffy that Mexico City is an evil breeding ground of noise (*cough* it is *cough*) should not be about that all Mexicans delight in soul bleeding noise pollution. Or that every Mexican enjoys tormenting me by eye-fucking me on the street. It happens, but it's not some God-given trait.
This whole thing could be more eloquent. I'm merely coming at it having experienced (experiencing) expat burn-out and the nastiness it can cause. But us-against-them paranoia, while mildly entertaining, isn't helpful in the least. It's actually insulting.