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  • appelsina7 4:50 pm on October 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: communication, , ,   

    Inquiry 

    One of the things that I have been thinking about lately is being uncomfortable. I have become comfortable here in Vietnam but there are moments when I am shaken by something I observe or something that is said. It can be as simple as learning that I can wander the city by myself, get lost for a while in the busy streets and meander my way back to an area that I know. There are some things that I will never get used to. I will never be accustomed to people throwing trash into the streets, or urinating in public. There are some cultural differences that I consider to be abrasive and learning how to respond effectively, so that I will neither offend nor feel poorly myself is an important skill to be developing. I was having dinner with some of my American study abroad group members as well as some of our roommates and three of their friends whom we had not yet met. We were getting to know the Vietnamese students, finding out what they study and what they like to do outside of school. They asked if we had boyfriends and we were answering. I was the only girl in the group with a boyfriend, so the Vietnamese students were trying to figure out why my friends weren’t in relationships. One of the Vietnamese guys, then made a comment about women needing to be in a relationship because even a weak man can protect them. I found this comment offensive, and understanding that Vietnamese culture tends to be very sexist I contained, what in the states would have been a scalding rebuke, and calmly asked him, “why does a woman needs a man to protect her and why would even a weak man be stronger than any woman?” He looked at me and smiled. I then heard one of my American friends say under her breath, “Wow this is not the time.” I was confused but let the conversation turn to other topics without an answer to my question. I wanted to know why my friend said that, so after dinner when we were walking back I asked them and they said, “it just was not the right time to be challenging the cultural norms when we were just meeting them.” Then they got defensive and walked away. I still believe that I was not challenging his beliefs by simply asking him about them. I did not say that he was wrong but only wanted to know why he thought women should be in a relationship and not be single. I wanted to know more about how Vietnamese people, as old as myself, view romantic relationships. This is why I came to Vietnam, to gain an understanding that I would not be able to, if I were to travel here on my own and for a shorter period of time. We are here to be immersed in the culture, I understand that asking questions and having discussions can be uncomfortable because it is those conversations that I find to be the most valuable. So when is it the right time to ask someone a question? Do I wait, like my friend suggested, until I know them better, to bring up the topic? I do not think I acted in a way that was offensive, I believe that it is best to ask the question when the topic is brought up naturally. If I had not said anything I would have felt more upset being left without a reason for such a statement. I don’t believe that in many of these cases that there is going to be a “right time,” if the question is controversial, no matter when you ask, people may feel uncomfortable at first but that does not mean that the questions should not be asked. I think it would be even more accusatory if I had waited for another time and asked randomly “so what are your views about the roles of men and women in a relationship?” Or if I had waited for an issue or problem to arise, so I would have to confront him directly, because of a comment that he made about me or someone else that I felt was demeaning or just plain rude. So this is one of the important issues that I have been mulling over. Let me know what you think. Have you had any similar experiences while traveling abroad?

     
    • Nancy Lowry 10:42 am on October 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Melissa – What an incredible conflict, and you wrote about it very movingly, thoughttully, respectfully, and clearly. I have no answers, but perhaps you might want to pose your questions again with the woman who commented at the table. or someone in your group that you trust. Nancy L [and Dover]

    • DougReilly 4:20 pm on October 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Melissa,
      Thanks so much for posting this, it’s very well written and thought provoking. There are no easy answers to your questions. Interhuman relations in the same culture are complex enough, let along putting a language and context between people. I think you handled the situation with thoughtfulness and care. If you met someone in the US with such attitudes, you wouldn’t pause over cultural considerations or because you just met them, necessarily. Why would it be different suddenly? This is the hard thing, balancing relativism and our innate sense of right and wrong. But I think that’s okay, cross-cultural dialogue is not always going to be smooth sailing. If it was, I don’t think either side would learn much. You’re not there to become Vietnamese, but better understand both the cultural context and the individual variations. And understanding often takes questioning or even challenging. What will the dissonance you provide as you refuse to go along with sexist ideas going to accomplish? Hard to know, but it might have been the first time anyone disagreed with the guy in question. Who knows if that will make him think…Anyway, thanks again for the post, it’s a great window into what it’s like to truly cross cultures!
      doug

    • sallyintaiwan 2:30 pm on November 3, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      So glad to hear you post this! On one hand, it’s certainly interesting to hear of the differences in ways of thinking about the roles of men and women in the family, society, and relationships. But I, like you, can’t get past being uncomfortable with certain “norms.” On the same subject, I’ve been told matter-of-factly that Taiwanese men are simply uninterested in and not attracted to “western women.” The reason for this being they are considered too independent, too stronger willed… at least that is the way it’s been put to me. I think your question was appropriate. It doesn’t sound like an attack, it sounds like an inquiry—simply a means for you understand a way of thinking a little better. I actually would have like to hear their answers!
      And by the way, I’m glad to be considered independent and strong-willed (:

  • julialeavitt 12:52 am on September 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: communication, , ,   

    communication 101 

    day one in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam began with a challenge…HUNGER. Waking up to the blazing sun, humidity, barking dog next door, and of course a growling stomach haunting FEED ME FEED ME. Being in a new country with a vastly different culture can be quite overwhelming especially when you not speak the native language.

    Unsure of whether  to go to the ATM or use our deb cards for breakfast at the Canteen outside our dorms, we decided to be a little adventurous before orientation began. Tati and I went into the cafe and quickly realized that no one spoke a word of English, so we could not simply ask “hey do you accept VISA/MasterCard?” so when all else fails UNIVERSAL SIGN LANGUAGE. well….not so universal….drawing a rectangle in the air at the cafe gave the impression of  asking for the menu….

    sooo me lynne libby and jenny go back to the Canteen…with cash…sit down and proceed to place an order, but wait we don’t know any Vietnamese yet. That’s when PICTIONARY came in handy. our waitress was very kind and understanding. she drew sketches of the nouns she was trying to describe so that we had an idea of what we were eating. that helped tremendously for the food order, but we still struggled over whether or not to drink the iced tea….ICED tea…… when i think about it i probably could have drew an iced beverage inside one of those DO NOT ENTER SIGNS and then a beverage without ice with a thumbs up or something, BUT HEY WE’RE NOT TRYING TO BE ARTISTS. we were just thirsty and hungry. so we accepted the iced tea with blocked cubes of ice instead of the manufactured ice with the whole in the center…(keep in mind that we are not supposed to drink tap water or ice unless its bottled water or manufactured/imported ice)

    we drank the tea…i had two glasses.

    • i choose to believe that i am immune to the tap water ice in Vietnam
    • i do not know yet if my convictions are true

    -i guess i’ll either find out the hard way or triumph!

    to be continued…..

     
    • Juliet Habjan Boisselle 1:46 am on September 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Snap us a shot of one of those drawings next time you are out! It would be fun to see one 🙂 and you might enjoy having it later as a memento of your early communication and language explorations.

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