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August 14th, 2006

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11:20 pm - perspectives on culture
wanted this old email bit as ... a reminder of the extent to which I probe the inner workings of a culture in order to gain a better perspective on my own... and an appreciation for the person who had the time and interest to answer me:

>I'm really interested in different daily rituals between cultures, different
>mores and customs. I'm assisting a choreographer in a dance workshop that is
>building towards a performance in July and the theme is I AM HERE, about
>different cultures finding home and sharing their differences and
Me too... but I'm always aware of how much I alter the situation just by
my presence. I'll try though.

>What differences have you noticed between Laos, Ghana and Canada (especially
>movements) in these areas and others:
>getting someone's attention - do they wave at the person, call out to the
>person, go up to them and tap them on the shoulder
>people greeting and saying goodbye
Canadians are very minimalist -> you see somebody you know across the
street, you wave. Then you walk towards them. Especially if it's a long
distance, you break contact a bit as you bridge the space, and then talk
when you're in personal range.

Or if you meet, you tend to be quieter about it.

In Ghana, they're boisterous about it. If you don't say hi or good
morning to somebody that you know, they'll either be slighted, or think
that something's wrong. People yell at eachother across the streets.
It's also very common to greet people that you don't know on the street,
just randomly -> or at least they do me, the "white man". Note on this
one -> I've come to understand that, when people say "Hey, White Man",
to me, it's not a threat or an insult... it was a little disconcerting
at first though. Goodbyes, at least as in see you later, are relatively
quick by contrast.

In Laos, they're more subtle about it. It's still good to say hi to
people as you go by, but strangers don't really talk to eachother as
much. Also, they're quieter about it. Goodbyes are long and drawn out ->
you don't want to leave to quickly, or somebody might think that they
insulted you or something.

>how people pass each other on the street - look you in the eye, push through
>the crowd, let people pass them and then go by, etc
People are more likely to look you in the eye in Ghana than in Laos,
partly because it's kinda threatening in the Asian cuture to do so to
strangers. That said, I was out dancing last night, and nobody really
made much eye contact... so, go figure.

>eating rituals - offering to a shrine first, wash hands, say prayer, utensils,
>hands, take food from a common plate to put on theirs, let elders eat first?
Ghana -> restaurants will give you water and soap at the table to wash
your hands. Hands are the norm for Ghanaian food.
Lao -> fork and spoon, except the fork shouldn't touch your mouth ->
that's uncouth. Use the fork to put stuff on the spoon, eat like that.
Chopsticks are used, but only for chinese/vietnamese noodles. Hands are
used for sticky rice: pick up a bit, pack it into a ball, and dip it
into a sauce or soup. They're also used for whole foods (like fish or
chicken). Soups are often communal -> everyone eats out of the same
bowl, carrying their spoon precariously across the table from bowl to
mouth. Funnily enough, they don't tend to make a big dea lout of washing
hands before eating... some do, some don't.

>finishing a plate - do they? in China if you finish your plate the host will
>refill it because she thinks you are still hungry, in Canada, if you don't
>finish your plate the host will think you didn't like the food or will think
>you are rude to waste it
I don't know about Ghana, although I think that people generally finish
all their food, as it's poor enough. In laos, you always leave some, or
they'll definitely give you more. And, if there's no more, they'll feel
like they didn't make enough -> rarely a problem.

>in Denmark people sing before and after meetings, even board meetings is there
>more of that sort of thing?
Not that I know of.

>how do they respond to a performance - ovation, clapping, yelling?
>in a group when they have a question do they raise their hand or just call out
>the question?
Call out, no hand raising in Ghana. They don't ask many questions in
Laos -> that would be an affront to the group leader's authority. When
they do, it's generally as subtle as possible.

>do they get in lines when they are waiting for something (a very Canadian
>to do) or do they stand around in an amorphous mob and push their way to the
In Ghana they line up -> probably the British influence. In Laos, the
sometimes do, and often don't -> it's a little more chaotic in that way.

>what are the bus rides like? crowded, people hanging from the outside, people
>on top of each other, people avoided each other's eyes, people staring, people
>talking loudly, singing, do they sit next to a stranger even though they are
>many other open seats (that is our unspoken rule: don't sit next to a stranger
>unless their are no other completely empty benches on the bus)
No big rules in Ghana -> lots of talking, poeople hanging out of
windows, etc. Not a whole lot of staring. Never heard singing on the
bus. Sitting with strangers is not a big deal.
Laos -> everyone's quite quiet. No worries about sitting next to people,
although people generally get their own seats first. You would,
occasionally, even talk to them.

>same question for elevators, and park benches ---do they have park benches?
>what public do they have that we don't and vice versa
>do they have lawns? probably not --so no mowing the lawn ritual
>swimming pools?
Don't know much about all of these things. -> not a lot of any of these
things in either country, so I don't have enough data for comparison.

>how do they behave at funerals, weddings, what do they wear? are they serious,
>celebratory, do they dance, throw rice, is it in church, do they party

I went to a wedding in Laos, and it was a huge affair -> all the
relatives were lined up at the door, standing there, while everyone came
in. Probably standing for an hour. Everybody dressed in their finest,
etc. There was about 500 people who came. Everybody brought a present,
and made a contribution to help pay for the costs of the wedding at the
door. There was Karaoke, biffet style food. I was with a group of
younger people, and we left after about 1/2 hour, out the back way,
without much of a fuss -> mostly we were just there to show our faces.
I saw a funeral -> they had traditional music playing all day and well
into the night (until 2 or 3, which is very late by Lao standards). They
had an outdoor party -> less people. though.

Ghana -> apparently, the Funerals here are big partys, more along the
lines of Finnegan's wake. I have yet to see it though.

(4 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 22nd, 2006 03:07 pm (UTC)
Far from home. I tire of this place and anyway if I wanted a getaway that kept me here I could simply do it over a weekend. No, I was thinking something like visiting some of my journal buddies, a lot of which are inexplicably all from St Louis, Missouri. My sister lives in Chicago, Illinois, so assuming my car could take it, I could make it a driving expedition of about four days, two of which would be basically an all-day effort while one would be crossing state lines. It wouldn't be something I'd ever done before, that's for certain.

Oh, and since you brought it up, I only wish I had any friends who wished to share their interest in swing, tango or aerial dancing (heck, even poi makes me curious) with me. I still never really learned how to dance, making me muse at times about taking up breakdancing, which wouldn't require a partner.

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