Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cultural Notes

I thought it would be interesting to post some of the main, though often subtle, cultural differences between PNG and the U.S. that I have noticed. Keep in mind that, of course, it's the "bad" or unpleasant things that stand out. Here’s what I’ve got:

1. Holding hands- People hold hands here if they are friends, even grown men. So, if Tess and I were New Guinean, we’d walk around holding hands (we’ve kind of been inseparable anyway!). I just can’t picture my dad and his friends holding hands- very amusing. From what I observed, though, it seems that the people don’t really hold hands in relationships, so I guess they don’t associate attraction/feelings for someone beyond friendship with holding holds. Also, homosexuality is not permitted here, so that’s definitely not what’s happening.

2. Accent- If you are curious about the accent here, it sometimes strikes me as Caribbean/Jamaican, mixed with Australian. Got that?

3. Electricity- We’ve had rolling blackouts, but they only last for about 2-5 minutes. It’s strange, though, because they don’t not happen on very hot days when the system would be strained, like you’d think. I have no idea what causes them. It slows the country down a bit, and the newspaper often writes apologies because some people don’t receive their paper when electricity goes out and the presses stop. Also, the intersections here are mainly just roundabouts. Besides being influenced by the crazy Brits and Aussies, apparently they did not have the technology and services to keep repairing the traffic signals after these blackouts, so they changed over to roundabouts.

4. Roads- I posted a picture earlier. They are bumpy and full of potholes- Atlanta ain’t got nothin’ on this country! We slow down and swerve a lot to navigate the roads. Also, you have to fly anywhere from Port Moresby (the capital) because the roads are too rough and in ill repair and often have illegal roadblocks by gangs.

5. Aussies- Most of the white people here are Australians. It has been funny because people say to me and Tess, “You look Australian, but you have a funny accent.” They are generally excited to hear we are from America, and we have encountered no hostility except this one obnoxious drunk guy who liked to imitate Southern accents.

6. Security- Security around here has been a whole new experience. Everything is fenced in, and stores look more like headquarters buildings, not stores. They don’t have windows to display their goods or anything, for fear of robbery/easy theft, I’m sure. Also, the Asian restaurant that we eat in keeps its doors locked and only opens them for patrons. Strange set-up and strange experience.

7. Handshakes- Everyone always shakes hands! Whenever friends meet up, especially men, it seems, there are handshakes all around. Also, they seem to have the longest handshakes ever!!! I’ve seen them go on through the whole conversation between the two people. Also, students often shake my hand two or three times during a conversation. I’m not big on touching others too much, so I always whip out the Purell when they leave.

8. Bags and Man Purses- Everyone here carries a bag, mainly bilum bags. They wear them all sorts of ways, but the funniest to me is with the strap around their forehead and the bag hanging down their back. Men often wear it completely around their neck. Otherwise, it’s on the shoulder or across the chest. Men also carry these woven straw bags that look more like a purse/clutch to me. Long live the man purse!

9. Heat- The heat here is unlike the heat I have felt before. It’s not as humid as Georgia, but the main difference is that you don’t get blasted with air conditioners here like you would back home. Basically, it is just some sort of ambient heat from the direct sunlight since we are so close to the equator. The logistics of it are that I sweat every time I move. It’s lovely.

10. Hair- Some of the black people here are from a certain island (can’t spell it), and they have naturally red and blonde hair! Cool!

11. Race- Race is a very interesting issue here. Even though the majority of people are black, whites seem to be afforded numerous privileges and are much more trusted. We are waved past any security checkpoint, and I think it’s just because we are white. When you go to the grocery store, blacks have to check their bags at the front, while whites just waltz right through. Additionally, at the airport, the man did not even watch the screen as my bag went through the x-ray machine. And at the Madang airport, they literally just put a “Security Clearance” sticker on my bag without even looking in it. I believe that white people are trusted because they are seen to have wealth, and therefore are less likely to steal. And maybe it’s true. Thankfully, though, I have heard of many initiatives to create opportunities to end the cycle of poverty, crime, and racism. I would love to come back and see where the country is in 10 years.

12. Shoes- Many people go barefoot here and it freaks me out. There, I said it. But seriously, there is so much trash and disease, and shoes are so cheap… I bet their feet are as tough as nails, though. As far as I’ve noticed, though, people always wear shoes into businesses, etc.

13. Prime Business Opportunities- Tess and I are convinced that the first person to open and bicycle and or scooter/motorcycle shop in PNG is going to be a millionaire! There is no “in-between” vehicle to facilitate the switch from walking to driving. No horses, no motorcycles, no bikes, etc. Strange! I really wonder why nothing has developed. Oh, I also think there is a great market for strollers, as long as they are all-terrain. People are always carrying their children, and those things get heavy! (Although there are baby bilums, bags in which you carry your baby, slung around your neck).

14. Meat- They do not cut and prepare meat as we do in the U.S. When you order it at a restaurant, it still has all the fat, bones, etc. in it. I usually have a little pile of scrap meat on my plate at the end of every meal, but some people here eat everything. I drew the line, though, when THERE WAS STILL PIG HAIR AND SKIN on my pork. Nearly threw up. I’m definitely careful to inspect all the meat before I put it in my mouth now!

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