Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Excitement of Newcomers

I have the privilege here in Bangladesh to witness the changes that occur to people as they move through the stages of Bangladeshi culture shock. I heard an acronym recently that has so far described Bangladesh for most of us, and it goes like this T.I.B. (This Is Bangladesh!). For each individual aspects of Bangladesh come with different reactions and different levels of confusion. But there are a few comments which come as a shock to even our guests from outside of North America and Europe.

The first comment from a recent arrival to Bangladesh is about the traffic. Everyone is amazed that we have lasted as long as we have. They cannot understand the system and strongly claim that they will not leave where they are staying because it is too dangerous. That of course, changes within a week or two, and people are out enjoying the streets and the joys of being out in Bangladesh.

The second comment most often heard is in regard to men and boys holding hands and placing their hands on each others shoulders. In the places from which we come, that would be assumed an act of a homosexual nature, but not in Bangladesh. It is a natural gesture between friends to walk down the street holding hands, and I must admit to having done that a few times (never initiated by me).

The third comment comes in many forms but usually involves the "disgusting" nature of Bangladeshi expulsions. Burps are often indicators of a good meal being well digested, and clearing of the lungs, throat and mouth of mucus in a very raucous manner before proceeding to spit the glob as far as humanly possible is a very common sight. And for men, it is not uncommon to see men lined up by the sewers on the sides of the road relieving themselves. This combination of normally private, or "rude" behaviours catches most newcomers off guards and they have some fearful reactions to Bangladeshis who act in such a "vulgar" manner. To be clear, in North America Bangladeshis acting in this manner would be considered vulgar and rude, but we are not in North America, and in Bangladesh that's the way they do things.

I guess that's the best explanation to newcomers to Bangladesh. That's how they do things. This is the way things work in Bangladesh. If it's got wheels, it's on the road carrying passengers as a form of public transit. If it's someone else's trash you'll find it resold in the market the next day. If you can't import it, they'll make it. T.I.B. This Is Bangladesh!


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