S.’s most recent observation about Vietnamese culture went something like this: “They have no respect for the sidewalk here!” Yes, that’s it folks–the well-traveled woman we all know and love has declared that “the sidewalk,” those elongated paths of concrete and cement that border our streets and roads, merit our “respect.” She has established “the sidewalk” as a social institution of sorts–one that deserves not only care and maintenance, but also a degree of honor, a place of prominence. a certain status, if you will.
Clearly, I make much more of this comment than it merits, but I do so to make a point–namely that I think I’m in trouble, that I think I am soon to experience a culture shock like none I ever imagined. If you know S., you’re aware that it takes a lot to ruffle her cultural feathers. She’ll eat any animal organ, consume the testicles or brain of any creature a culture requires of her. She tends to embrace the social norms of any nation or tribe she encounters, no matter how seemingly unfamiliar they may be to her. Given this fact about her, and given her sidewalk comment, fleeting as it may have been, I suspect I’m about to receive a cultural kick in the ass of sorts.
You see, I’m a cultural wimp compared to S.–a light weight in terms of travel and ability to adapt to the extreme of anything, whether it be diet, or temperature, or what-have-you. I need order and routine, my cup of Lipton tea and can of Pepsi Max, preferably both at one time, if you will, in double-fisted fashion, if at all possible.
So, you see, if S. experiences a cultural phenomenon as “pedestrian” to us as sidewalks to be strange in a place or outside her comfort zone, this tells me more about the place than it does anything about the woman I love–namely that I had better prepare myself, that I had better duck and cover or run and hide, because much of what I associate with comfort and normalcy, what I consider to be as ordinary and pedestrian as sidewalks, may be hard to come by once I step foot in this place that could become Oz to me, that may make me say, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” Oh, I have no ruby slippers. I may have to go shoe shopping.