Here in Haiti, we drive on the right side of the road - as in the US. And you would have to be living under a rock to not know that in the UK they drive on the opposite side of the road.
While I was living in the UK, I drove on quite a few occasions. I have to tell you, the first time that I drove in the UK on the opposite side in a small, manual car, I was nervous. How would I do? Would I be able to stay in my lane? What about those crazy roundabouts? Would I hit someone!?!? (actually happened while I was a passenger with a person unfamiliar with driving on the opposite side.) But I took to it like a fish to water.
I must admit though. I am not as comfortable with driving on the left side of the road as I am on the right side. When I am driving on the right side, I relax. It is like second nature for me. I don't have to concentrate so hard on making sure I stay in the lanes; my reaction time is much quicker. It is "home" for me.
This does not meant that I do not enjoy driving on the opposite side of the road. Rather, I find it very enjoying, even if I am not as comfortable or feel a little out of place. It is a bit of a challenge, one which I relish and look forward to becoming fluent in.
|The BF (who learned to drive on the left side of the road) with our weeny rental car in Scotland.|
We shared driving on the left-hand side of the road.
I was talking to the BF this morning and realised that this is an analogy for my personal interactions with cultures. Living and working here in Haiti, with a plethora of different cultures and nationalities represented, I have been able to get to know, love and hang out with people from all over the globe.
I love it. I am able to learn so much about people and places that are unfamiliar to me ("how are you" in Sierra Leonean Krio, growing up in 1-room houses in South Asia, the politics of washing your dog in Uganda, the proper way to have a dinner party in Lebanon). But while all of this is interesting and great to learn / discuss / hypothesise about future visits to these locations, I often feel unable to contribute to the conversation and there is a small part of me that feels out of place.
Last night, I went out to dinner with some American and Australian colleagues. And it was good. We laughed, talked the politics of vegemite / marmite, debated on the best water-saving technique, and reminisced about family pets. It was easy. It fit.
For me, hanging out with US / Oz / Western individuals is like driving on the right side of the road. It's second nature. I don't have to think about it.
Spending time with those from non-Western cultures is different. It doesn't fit. I am not as comfortable. But I still revel in it.
And just as with driving on the left-hand side of the road, I look forward to the day when there is no difference between Western and Non-Western to me. Just friends, colleagues and sharing life experiences.