“Morning-o!” I called out to friends in front of the County Health Department building.

“You are busy with work?” someone called after me.

“Small small,” I replied; a very West African response which – like adding “o” to the ends of words, I’ve taken to doing. I’m not sure what feeds my inclination to not just adopt but ingest the norms of the places I live. Be it the expression “right right true true” from my time at FAMU or the slight curtsy and holding the elbow of my outstretched arm when handing someone something from South Africa (a sign of respect); it is something I find myself doing unconsciously – a sort of habit that sneaks up on me.

Maybe it is a survival instinct of my nomadic upbringing, a desire to try to seem less foreign; or a malleable aspect of my mannerisms, porous even, that absorbs the world around me and wears it like others wear the newest styles. Probably some hybrid of the two…

I don’t adopt everything. While in South Africa I would kneel before my host father to present him a basin of water to wash his hands, retreat, kneel to present his food, retreat, kneel to retrieve his dishes. While I never felt it was intended to subjugate me (and it prevented my arthritic host mother from having to do it), it still isn’t something that I felt the need to pack up and bring home – much as the men in my life might enjoy it.

Still, there are things that trail me no matter where I go…if I’m distracted and ask the time I will probably ask in sotho, “ke nako mang?”…

Ironically, all the things I do to make myself more at home wherever I am become the things that stand out the most once removed from their cultural or geographic context. No matter…I’ll keep traveling and see what nuances I pick up next.

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1 Comment on culture hoard

  1. Teresa says:

    to me it is the best way to compliment the country where you are a guest by adopting at least some of the language. i tend to do my best, even if i just get quizzical looks and smiles. i’ve learned to laugh at myself along with them.
    once i asked several spanish speaking friends if they adopted the lisp of the “s” while visiting spain, and they looked at me like it was an offensive question and answered a resounding, “no.” one asked me if, when i visit england, i adopt a british accent. i thought for a split second, and said in a clipped inflection, “a bit! i tended to run around saying, ‘mind the gap, mind the gap!'”
    it’s not like i overtly TRY to take up the local language, but i do tend to wander that way. i suppose for the short time i’m there it’s the best way to help me infuse (and enjoy) myself.

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