Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Foreigners' Views of Different Cultures

       The compilation of stories in Tales of the Tikongs paints a vivid picture of the island society that is so deeply rooted in its indigenous past. The reader also learns about Tiko through the impressions of foreigners throughout the text who act as a point of comparison between this eclectic culture and ideas more similar to ours. Specifically, it is the tale of Old Wine in New Bottles (pg 11-17) with Hiti and Charles Edward that further highlights cultural differences that I experienced immediately upon my arrival to Spain for studying abroad. 
       It was August 28, 2013. Our group was walking off of the bus from the airport when our director pulled me aside to let me know that my original host family has been switched because of some last minute changes. I was indifferent to the idea because I knew anything I was going to experience would be new. I was then paired up with my host mother and en route to her/our home. I walk into a house full of my new family, including María’s fifteen year old daughter, twenty-seven year old son, and two female American students from Brigham Young University. This very afternoon presented me with cultural and religious differences that I had never experienced including the norms of a (Spanish) Mormon family, the one/two hour Spanish lunch, and the siesta. There was no wine, coffee or anything else in the house that is addictive, everyone had a curfew (except for me because it is not a Loyola rule), and modesty was encouraged. Along with the slight religious differences, the fact that the whole town shut down from 2pm-6pm during lunch and siesta time was a norm that took quite a while to get used to. For example, we would find restaurants that close during hours that Americans typically eat. It even took a bit to adjust to the hours that stores are opened which happened after failed shopping attempts. I have never experienced a culture that spends so much time enjoying the company of others especially coming from the view of an American who is constantly in a rush. Having family time is a value evident throughout the Spanish culture, and I believe that in America it is often an overlooked value. 
        My early weeks in Spain were brought to surface after reading the line, “‘Do you mean to say that everyone’s gone to a family feast during working hours’” (Hau’ofa 15)? This question asked by Charles Edward exhibits senses of confusion and outrage because Hiti’s family leaving work so casually is something frowned upon/not even seemingly possible in London. This passage also makes Charles seem close-minded because despite his position in a different location and culture, he is questioning their lives instead of accepting such an ancient society. Like the culture in Tiko that is based on their indigenous past, I feel it connects with Spain because of how traditional their culture is. In this sense, I kept an open mind with learning and assimilating, while Charles is essentially insulting Hiti’s family for something that they believe to be totally acceptable. The siesta and afternoon closing of stores is deeply embedded in Spanish society as is the ensuring that family is always happy in Tiko. No matter how bizarre a different set of norms can seem, they have value if they are ethical and there are beings that value it. 
        Old Wine in New Bottles shows the reader how life revolves around the family in Tiko, and although Spain is not as extreme in this sense, Charles and I have been in the same position to have to understand how the family dynamic is so important when in foreign situations. He put up a wall between him and Hiti when he took a stab at the Tiko love of family. Regardless the circumstances under which someone enters a new culture, it should be known that respect is imperative. I was at first worried that I would be judged for some of the small differences that set me apart from my Spanish Mormon family such as my decision to go out with my friends late at night, but in accepting the way of life of my Spanish family, they were accepting of me. We were able to establish a strong trust and open communication from this sense of acceptance. I spent time with my host family when I was in the house and built a relationship with them rather than shut myself off to them. 

       The Tiko society works in a manner that some may find unstable and full of ambiguity, but the tales in this book show a community that makes everything work no matter how worrisome their norms can seem to an outsider. The situation with Charles Edward and Hiti reflected my initial impressions of my early abroad experiences but then differed in open-minded versus close-mindedness to the new cultures that were in focus. Traveling into a new culture is a time to grow and expand your scale of the world but the experience can be missed with a close mind. Whether businesses close down for feasts or the family dictates day-to-day activity, I feel Charles and I would experience the new cultures in very different manners.

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