Monday, July 7, 2008

Cultural differences

Now I have never read this book, but the title captures the feelings that I sometimes have about being in a different culture. A perfect example of this happened on Saturday.

Vilma and I were down on this boardwalk that goes along the beach, close to our apartment. We have been trying to start running/walking to get some exercise and were on our way back to the house. I saw a couple on the beach with three dogs and made a comment to Vilma about how much I love to watch dogs play because they always seem so joyful as they jump about. About 2 minutes after making this comment, we continued to watch the dogs and the owners and then saw an older woman (about 65 or so) walking towards them on the beach. The biggest dog proceeded to run and bark aggressively, jumping up on the woman and trying to bite her. The woman screamed "Help, help!" and tried to run away from the dog. The owner saw this happening and walked towards the scene, yelling at the dog but not really trying to do much. Finally he arrived and kind of shooed the dog away, but did not make any attempt to grab the dog by the collar or really do much of anything.

As this scene was unfolding, the wife or girlfriend of the man was just standing there smoking and doing nothing. Two of the dogs were involved in the attack, and the third was off on his own, not involved. These dogs tried to attack the woman like 4 times, with the male owner just shooing them away and the female owner standing there doing nothing, even when the biggest dog came over next to her.

There was another couple up on the boardwalk who yelled at the woman to grab the dog, and her reaction was to completely ignore what they were saying and just stand there smoking, pretending that she didn´t see or hear them.

Finally the older woman managed to get away, and as she was walking away the couple on the boardwalk who had been yelling at the woman saw a police car passing, called the cops over and told them what happened. As Vilma and I left the scene, the cops were actually talking to the couple (this is a minor miracle in and of itself as usually the cops do nothing) and we passed the older woman a ways up the road, told her that the cops were there dealing with the matter and she proceeded to head back down to give her side of the story to the police.

Now you may be wondering why I am writing about this, since it had a sort of happy ending. I guess I was just struck by the attitude of the dog owners and have seen many examples of this attitude here in Brazil. It is kind of like the people only think about themselves and don´t care at all about the other person´s feelings. It´s every man (or woman) for him/herself. And if you don´t take on this attitude, well you end up never getting anywhere.

I have spoken with some of my students about this kind of attitude, and they all think it is horrible and complain about it. And yet it exists and even thrives in all parts of the society here. I just can´t accept it. I hate it!

So what does one do when faced with a cultural difference that is unacceptable? I have gone through a lot of cultural diversity training because of my old life as a social worker, and yet I feel totally at a loss in trying to figure out how to deal with this. Do you just stand back and let this stuff happen and do nothing? Do you say something? Do you try to accept this as normal and just ignore when someone is doing something like this? So many questions and no answers... I guess this is part of learning how to live in another culture, but I have to say that this is definitely not a challenge that I am happy to face.

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