Saturday, May 08, 2010

Culture Shock

Jet lag is lousy. Its effects were on display this morning when all the Californians were up and about at 6:30, 9:30 to them, while I was still bleary-eyed by 8:30, 7:30 to me. Hopefully by Monday or Tuesday we’ll have synchronized our watches. In the mean time I’ve felt a bunch of other shocks to the system since I arrived here, some cultural some not. I talked about a sort of “decompression chamber” in the captions of yesterday’s photos, but that feeling applies to far more than Taco Bell and Starbucks.

Humidity. For some reason, Hawai’i is far less humid than Samoa. Part of this may be because of the ubiquity of air conditioning here; everywhere we go it seems to be on full blast. But even walking around outside, sweating and stickiness don’t seem so inevitable. It’s been windy and cool. My skin, which has adapted to the Samoan climate, is all ashy and parched. My hair is straw-like. My eyes are red and scratchy.

Eating and Drinking while Standing. These things are taboo in Samoa. I ordered an iced latte at Starbucks tonight and slurped it on the walk home. No one cared, but it felt dirty nonetheless.

No One Speaks Samoan. I don’t have a lot of conversations in Samoan in Apia, but in certain gestures and interactions I always default to Samoan. When I go running and I go between people walking together, I’m quick with a tulou. Approaching a shop employee behind a store counter, I’m used to offering a hearty “Mālō!” In fact most pleasantries like please and thank you and goodbye are gutturally Samoan. In Samoa, these small gestures allow me to say, “I’m familiar enough with my Samoan that you don’t have to treat me like a run-of-the-mill palagi even though the rest of our conversation will be held in English.” Here I still feel inclined to share such courtesies, but this isn’t Samoa. And I have to go out of my way to not speak Samoan.

So Many People. Even in crowded Apia, the great majority of my life in Samoa is solitary. There are kids at school and other shoppers at Farmer Joe, but rarely do crowds in Samoa compare to crowds here. Standing outside Costco today, I left my mom and dad to go stand in an out-of-the-way corner. I did it without thinking, and it took me a moment or two to realize it was my subconscious dying to get away from the crowd.

Tap Water. So gross! I’ve spent the last year and a half filtering well water with what essentially amounts to an über-Brita. As much as Apian water has potential to make me sick, it tastes pretty darn pure. I had a glass of Honolulu tap water today, and I was a little repulsed. No offense to Honolulu—my family couldn’t taste any problem—I think the Peace Corps has counter-intuitively made me a water snob.

But with all this, I’m having a great time.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Foot Locker has a huge USC T-shirt selection. Way to go, Foot Locker.

Ala Wai at night.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It takes a while for the 'Samoan' to get out of your system once you get back to the states. Heck, even 2 years later when I walk between people I say (in my head) 'tolou' and bow a little bit. Think of your trip to Hawaii as a microversion of what life will be like once you fully return to Western Civilization.