Every day brings a surprise. I see something on the street. Someone tells me a good story. Something out of the ordinary happens. I like the unpredictability. It adds spice to my life as an expatriate in Peru.
If I had wanted a life that was totally predictable, perhaps I would have entered a monastery. Instead, I decided to live in a foreign country with its consequent ambiguity and uncertainty.
That means that I frequently experience or observe something and I have to say, ”I don’t understand.”
Most of the time, when this happens, I shrug my shoulders and walk on. It is part of the process. I need to be patient. Little by little I keep learning about my new culture or, as some say, I keep peeling the onion.
I sometimes think to myself that living as an expatriate really requires a high tolerance of ambiguity. It is not unusual to not understand what is going on.
There is so much we don’t know.
That makes life here exciting, at least to me. It gives me the opportunity to learn.
On the other hand, for those who want to live within a structure and who love predictability, this can be pure torture. I can only imagine their pain.
Every culture has rules, but most of these are not written down. You have to learn the rules by living in the culture and, if you are lucky, having a good guide. Even so, a lot goes on that may be difficult to understand.
Then there is the question of how much do I need to understand. Being a foreigner implies some sort of freedom from the rules the natives have to follow, within some limits. They may think that I am rude by the standards of their culture, but they also excuse this because “gringos” behave that way. We are weird.
Still, I try to be as sensitive as possible. Even so, I often make cultural mistakes and for these I am generally forgiven.
So, in a way I have a free pass, something I wouldn’t have in my original culture. Unfortunately, some take excessive advantage of this and that can cause some hostility. Freedom has its limits. We have to be responsible and preserve the amused tolerance.
There are some things we really need to know. It is important to pay attention and find out what these are. We need to identify these and to change our behavior accordingly.
There is another danger. We may observe events from our own cultural filter, but must realize that this may not give us reality. We think we know and we don’t.
Misinformation and misunderstanding passed along within the expatriate community can be a danger.
All this sounds complex and difficult. And yet, it isn’t. It depends on our attitude. Curiosity, flexibility and an open mind can allow us enjoy our lives here.
Enjoy the surprises.
*Larry Pitman* has been in Peru for nine years. He has written about his experiences as an expatriate in Peru for “Peru This Week”:http://www.peruthisweek.com/blogs/larrys-latest for six years and has recently compiled his articles into a book, “Dogs of Barranco”:http://www.amazon.ca/Dogs-Barranco-Stories-American-Expatriate-ebook/dp/B00IM0IT2G.