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Sunday, August 08, 2010

more cultural observations

Some things about America remain constant, only I have forgotten them somewhat in 17 years.  Friendliness, for instance.  Africans are very friendly too, of course, but in Africa relationships like all of life are spiritually/physically/emotionally integrated.  A potential friend is a potential financial partner.  In America the openness seems to me (whose values were formed here) less complicated.  Yesterday a man fishing in the ocean while we flew kites at the beach came up to show us what he caught, and I found myself suspicious, forgetting that around here he was just being normal.  

Other things about America, however, have changed.  The penchant for safety and paranoia about liability, manifested in warnings on any and every thing, has escalated.  Cereal boxes warn you that the strawberries and milk pictured on the front are not included.  Ice cream bars warn you not to consume the paper wrapping or stick.  Really.  Again at the beach, a warning sign, that in case of an earthquake a tsunami could occur so one should move AWAY from the ocean towards higher ground.  As if no one would have otherwise known which direction to go.  There must be tens of thousands of these signs on the coast.  Last week I read about a woman suing google maps because she took a route that indicated crossing a road, and was hit by a car, and felt that google should have warned her.  I am not making this up.  

All of this strikes us more as we come from a place of few rules and the assumption that risk is part of life.  Of course it means that babies survive here, and life expectancy is double that in Africa.  So not all safety is bad, but there must be a balance somewhere between the two continents that is robust without being ridiculous.

The other trend I've noticed this week is of reality-TV. Perhaps because we're at Scott's parents where the TV can be seen from the kitchen where we gather.  There is an unending stream of professional videographers following people into every nook and cranny of the world, commenting and dramatizing everything about it, so that all of life becomes one great spectator extravaganza.  I have to admit it makes our pictures of life in Uganda feel like just one more titillating ten-minute escape into the plethora of electronically-accessible worlds out there.  Again, a positive, that the world is opened, that people have visual images of underwater sharks and distant arctic mountains and strenuous construction jobs.  But the fact is that everything feels less unique the more of it there is, a constant vying for attention means that experiences have to keep being more and more dramatic.

And lastly, a little cross-cultural story.  On the way to the airport, we got into the "high occupancy vehicle" lane on the airport road, a special lane on the side.  Our kids objected.  There were only 7 of us in the 7 passenger van, one per seat.  This is high occupancy they asked?  We could have squeezed in at least a half-dozen more!  


Talitha said...

Great observations. And, your kids are so cute with their perspective on high occupancy.

Melissa said...

Love the safety thing. We've noticed the opposite, coming FROM the States to Europe. For ex, there's a huge tunnel being dug right through our neighborhood, but there are (relatively) very few protective 'barriers' to keep us from wandering into the construction site or just jumping down into the hole. In the States the area would be blocked off for blocks around, but here my boys can just walk right up and take a close look at the bulldozer and cranes and dump trucks. It's fabulous!

Anonymous said...

it really is ridiculous here in america and we all buy into it! Love love love the high occupancy story!
M Underwood