Cultural Adaptation Meets Laundry
by Phil Martin
A funny things happens when you are in a foreign culture and everything is new to you. One of them being, it is much easier to assume that everyone is taking advantage of you. Here’s a short story to demonstrate.
In our building of over 100 apartments, there is one small area on the roof to hang laundry. In the wintertime, clothes dry slowly as the sun is sparse and the humidity is still high. The result is that the weekends are filled with not so subtle competition for drying spots. A few weeks after we moved in, Sara had an unpleasant experience while trying to hang some shirts. An older lady got angry and yelled at Sara in Chinese for several minutes. At this point, we still aren’t sure what upset her.
Since then, we’ve had a little chip on our shoulder when it comes to the roof. Earlier this month when we hung our sheets out to dry early on a Saturday morning. As we came back later in the afternoon we found our fitted sheet missing. Oh, the nerve of these people. We furiously rode the elevator as fast as we could (turns out it doesn’t speed up) and reported the mystery of the sheet thief to the security guard. He graciously spent the next few hours reviewing the security tapes from the entire morning. The goal? Catch the criminal mastermind who pilfered our beloved sheet.
As It turned out, we had not securely fastened our sheet and it blew away in a gust of wind. Our pride was a little hurt to discover our first assumption to be unfair. Our neighbors were not taking advantage of us. It surprised me that it was so easy to believe the worst about the people that we are trying to reach. I guess the lesson here is that we need to be extra patient. Always assuming that it is our lack of understanding that is causing the problem.