4. Rules Blurers

Rules are rules. Well… we are not that Aristotelian in that matter. And that’s the second most mentioned issue when it comes to cultural shock. To us rules are more like clouds: we can see different forms in them, they come and go with the wind, they might look perfect sometimes but they still get between us and sunshine, and they are far away up there moving much slower than reality down here. Our relationship with rules can go from a small, decent, pragmatic and necessary flexibility to a 100% mafia approach. I’m talking about both behavioral not written rules, and the Law. We might be more attached to the former. I think it has a historical explanation, and a mix of factors as education, real and perceived impunity, a pretty unpredictable reality with not much linear outcomes. The thing is we might be creating more unpredictability this way. In some areas, and for some visitors it might seem edgy, adventurous, free, much fun, or sometimes tiring, crazy or dangerous, depending on their age and background, how structured is their own mindset and culture, and their concrete experiences here. And it is, again, all about balance: while a too structured life may feel lifeless and too predictable, too much unpredictability is stressful and some structure is needed at least as the basis from which to take off.

So, here comes the beauty of intercultural experiences: you are invited to join us, and enjoy your unpredictability rush, and feel a little wild, and also to bring and share your own mindset towards rules. It is ok if you are taking a walk with your Argentine friend and suddenly Argie is across the street staring at you with a clear “What’s wrong with you?” expression, ’cause Argie automatically crossed when realizing cars weren’t coming that fast and you automatically stopped when seeing the “don’t walk” sign. You can keep respecting traffic signs and other rules. In order to learn from each other, we need to still be each other at some point. And it might be not just automatic for you but reasonably safer. Sometimes. Because you need to remember that some Argie drivers will not stop at red lights. So it is not all about just sticking to the rules, but to handle this double standard of respecting basic rules yourself / not expecting anybody else to necessarily do it. That’s how daily unpredictability feels. It’s like a dance where a dancer is following a choreography and the other one might improvise at any moment. It can be tiring sometimes, even a mess, but it can also be lively and challenging, bring up unexpected beautiful moves, develop creativity and adaptive skills, and enrich the dance and both dancers.

Of course unpredictability is not just made of a no-rules mindset. It has to do with politics and economics, climate change,  human limitations, life. Too much of it is unlivable. Too little is unrealistic and not even desirable. The thing is that our attachment to, and detachment from, rules and structures can contribute to one extreme or the other.

I guess the difference is that we here tend to see rules only as restrictive instead as a basic common platform that can free as from some worries. We could make some space in our minds and spirits if we could walk more relaxed instead of extremely attentive to a totally unpredictable traffic. But I don’t want our improvisation muscle to weaken due to unchallenging circumstances. Am I asking for too much? Noooooo. I’m just inviting you and everybody to share inter-cultural experiences, with open minds and hearts, so we can all be who we are but enriched, refreshed and awakened.

Share your questions and thoughts miguialoreta@gmail.com

2. Unicorns & Cultural Shock

Perhaps it’s a bit too much to talk about shock. I’m not sure we, or you, are that shocking. I guess it depends on each person’s openness and willingness to share, communicate, maybe learn something. But besides all the over stated uniqueness of each and every of us, and besides the global unicorn culture that we seem to be sharing lately, yep, we’ve got cultures. Ways of doing, thinking, bonding,  joking, working, seeing ourselves. We might have lots of different standards for lots of things. And some unexpected similarities that can also feel shocking. One could even question if shock itself is necessarily something bad or hard, or refreshing and enriching, or both, or just a regular part of life. And then find, again, that it depends on the person and some cultural standards. That said, I’m not 100%  for cultural relativism. I mean: we Argentines (some not all) tend to drive a bit chaotically and even pass red lights, and that’s a bad one, pretty unkind and unsafe. And we, not all but many, tend to stop and take time and patience to give anybody (specially foreigners) detailed directions, clearly and nicely. That’s a good one.
My general Guia Loreta on Cultural Shock would be:
  • Try to learn something before visiting, but do not try to anticipate everything. That is just not possible, realistic, or fun.
  • Once here (or anywhere): There can always be a gap between expectations and reality (while traveling as in life), and that doesn’t need to be a problem: walk that distance gracefully, enjoy it, look around, feel the fertile soil it’s made of.
  • Ask as many questions as you need, do not assume things, apologize if locals find some questions rude, and don’t take it personally if they find them funny.
  • Be also open to answer all kinds of questions and feel free to make it clear if you don’t want to talk about something or if you find something uncomfortable.
  • Special note for those beautiful people that have been taught to be nice and end up trying too hard to avoid hurting anybody’s feelings:  you certainly do not have to subject yourself to things you find awful or unfair or aggressive or whatever. It is ok if some differences do not fit you. Respect begins with healthy self-respect and has to be mutual.
  • I guess it sums up to know that we might have some differences and similarities, and that to adjust doesn’t mean to ignore them, neither judge them or rank them, but to be open, respectful and reciprocal, and try to learn from the best of each other, and to be aware of your own culture and be able to put it in perspective (don’t assume it as natural, or perfect or universal or eternal or sacred). And this goes both for travelers and for locals receiving visitors or immigrants or whatever intercultural experience life could bring.
Intercultural experiences can always be enriching and refreshing, but I get why we talk about shock: all the positive side doesn’t mean the whole thing  will be a perfect picnic. There will be awkward, weird, uncomfortable and funny moments, and exactly there is the core, the real intercultural thing, the questioning and re-thinking, the learning, the mind opener, the experience. At that intersection you can learn about yourself, your own culture and the other one.
You can send me your questions and thoughts right now to miguialoreta@gmail.com