#11 Explaining local culture to locals
This guest post was written by T.A.P. and submitted by David Fox. Mr. Fox has not provided us with any twitter or blog links.
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It only takes one or two international postings before the Expat Aid Worker becomes an expert on cultural acquisition.
Once expert status has been attained, the Expat Aid Worker, upon arriving at a new posting, even in a country or continent they have never visited, can typically master the local culture within five to ten days. The process is accelerated by their voracious pre-deployment reading of numerous books about the local culture written by other Expat Aid Workers.
Initially their expert cultural understanding is tested in Socratic-style gatherings composed exclusively of other expat aid workers. Here these scholarly nomads will struggle to demonstrate the depths and superiority of their nuanced understanding of local customs. All such discussions take place at a high-end café where a cup of coffee costs roughly the average local’s daily salary.
In the first weeks, their expert understanding is supplemented by attending a traditional wedding, eating street food, taking their picture with a street child who they wish they could adopt (but can’t because of their nomadic lifestyle), an inappropriate sexual relationship with a local (“Going Native” coming soon…), and making a few local friends, usually part of the wealthy elite.
Once armed with both book and street smarts, less than a month after arriving the Expat Aid Worker is competent to provide what is perhaps the most under-appreciated service in the entire Expat Aid Worker toolkit: Explaining the layered and intricate nuances of local culture to local people.
Expat aid workers will tell locals that because they live in the capital city of Bubashastan, they don’t actually live in or know the real Bubashastan, which the expat aid worker does because of a recent 3-day trip to a small village in a remote province. The Expat Aid Worker will then relish explaining a practice that is as irrelevant as it is obscure, such as how villagers slaughter goats with a curved knife instead of a straight knife because of the influence of the northern herdsmen of the Zozambakzai tribe, a mortal enemy of the Totsemenzai tribe.
For Expat Aid Workers it is an honor and a privilege to share their extensive learning and knowledge about local customs with the local people. It makes them feel one with the people to understand the local culture better than the locals do themselves.
See also Blending In.