30 April 2011

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

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.  

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