Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Things I must stop doing when I leave Bangladesh

1. Eating like someone is about to take my food away from me. I keep trying to get myself to slow down, and like, you know, chew my food. But I’ve definitely adopted the local style of eating as if in an eating contest. The faster the better.

2. Following on from No 1…I must stop eating like a pig. My table manners are now (almost) officially non-existent. I think it the (when out in public) eating with my hands thing. Hunched over while shovelling food, hand to mouth, does wear on the old colonial style table manners. I hadn’t really noticed how bad it had become until I was joined here in Moanoghar by another (non-VSO) foreign volunteer (Phil, from England, retired teacher working in the school). I actually get a bit embarrassed now and try to correct my table manners half way through a meal with him. This is not always successful. And no, eating with fellow VSO volunteers does nothing to highlight my bad table manners. After a certain amount of time here, all VSO vols end up eat like pigs. Having said that, I do now acutely realise how culturally biased the concept to table manners are. Surely there are more important things to teach our children in the west than ‘elbows off the table’?

3. Slurping my tea. Again, I blame the locals for this… It’s how tea is drunk here. It’s literally *sluuurp* and *gulp* followed by a little *aah* before the next sip. Sips come in rapid succession until all the tea has been slurped away. I’ve always been a secret tea-slurper (convinced it results in an all-round more pleasurable and tasty tea drinking experience) and Bangladesh has brought out the worst slurper in me.

4. Asking personal questions, to virtual strangers. The words ‘Are you Muslim or Hindu?’ often cross my lips. See, the religion dictates the greetings (As-Salamu Alaykum vs Nomaskar), and I want to use the right one. It’s easy with indigenous people as it’s Nomaskar all the way, but I struggle with the Bengalis. I now know the religion of every Bengali in Rangamati (ok, not quite, there are a LOT of Bengalis here. Separate issue). Another example of my personal-question-asking-problem: In Khagrachari district this weekend, there was a Bengali looking women, a friend of the (indigenous) people I was staying with, who had an indigenous looking child. My brain simply could not compute. I had to ask. Turns out her mother is Tripura (indigenous) and her father Bengali (a Barua, who are Bengali Buddhists). So she turned out Bengali looking, then married a Chakma, and now has a very indigenous looking child. In the British world, my questions would probably have been offensive (and potentially racist?), but here, no problem. Such information is well and truly open to public scrutiny.

This list should not be considered a definitive list of my acculturation* , and I’m sure it will grow (enormously) as I spend more time thinking about it, and about my reintegration back into polite society. But right now everything I do feels normal, it’s what everyone else is doing here.

* acculuration: cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture; also : a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact (thanks http://www.merriam-webster.com)

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2 Comments»

  Cive in India wrote @

On my walk to school recently a young Indian guy drew level with me. His conversation went like this:
“Country?”
“You with family?”
“Married?”
“Why no married? No like sex?”

Damn him! I can just see that slipping out at Tesco’s checkout 😉

  estellevisagie wrote @

Ha ha. Yes, we must be careful to not pick up too much of the local questioning style. Interesting you mention sex, I had a similar (ish) thing today. Will blog about it now.


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