I just got back from accompanying a pale and sickly friend of mine here in India while he was getting an UltraSound at a small lab. The waiting area was packed out with people, and, as expected, everyone there seemed perfectly “o.k.” with their surroundings. To my eyes, it looked like overcrowding, lack of order, and violations of all kinds of health standards. My friend had come in an ambulance (a mini-mini van), and now the driver, an obvious bi-vocational, was busy drawing blood from grimacing patients (no gloves). Remember, I’m the only one concerned about any of this, which is always my clue that I’m running up against cultural differences.
Things like “how long should I expect to wait?” “What kind of comfort should be there for us in the waiting room?” “Is the equipment in good, working order?” These are questions that all of us in the room were thinking about, but I was probably coming up with all the wrong answers! They expected longer waits. They expected less room and uncomfortable chairs. Can I learn to really try to see it all through the eyes of the local people? What are THEY concerned about, angry about, happy about? When, through personal friendships I discover the answers, what can I learn from it all? Should I allow it to shape me? To change me? How much?! I want an experience that is much more than ‘holding my breath as long as I can, then getting back to something familiar’. No; I want to connect with people, and see what they see. I’m not saying that “everything is right or good” just because I find it here! But I’m also leery of considering everything “wrong or bad” when it doesn’t align with “back home”.
I will be able to make SOME changes; others, I may not be able to, and perhaps shouldn’t try to. Let’s just think about the “water cooler” there in the waiting room at the lab. There was the standard plastic cup sitting there; the plastic cup that all locals know is to be shared among all, taking care to pour the water from the cup into your mouth without touching the cup to your lips.
People coughing and hacking all around were finding refreshment, grabbing the cup, taking a drink, then generously returning the cup. Next in line: pick it up and repeat. These cup-grabbing-water-drinking folks are all dealing with some sort of challenging health issue. They’re tired. They’re bored. They’re waiting. When they see that water cooler, and the cup that makes the water available to them, they feel relief: “Ah, good! Some clean drinking water!” When I see it, I feel NO relief at all; I feel fear. “Oh no! What kind of germs and sickness are being passed around the waiting room?!” I don’t really feel fear for MYSELF, for I have already assigned that cup as “out of bounds” for me; not an option! Too risky. I didn’t take a drink, nor do I plan on “learning how” to take a drink in those circumstances. But I felt terrible about the sharing of sickness through sharing the cup.
We’re all in the same boat there at the lab: we’re all hot; we’re all bored; we’re all thinking that a drink of water would be nice. And we all see the same thing: the drinking water and the shared cup. But we sure don’t feel the same about it, do we?
What do YOU think?
How do you know when your “outsider view” is something that must be changed, or must NOT be changed? How do you find out what’s really behind people’s behavior? How do you get past the very superficial, knee-jerk reactions that most expats suffer from? Got some good stories? Some good answers? THEN LEAVE A COMMENT HERE, AND START A CONVERSATION. (And… sign up for email alerts in the upper right column. Thanks.)