Daily Archives: January 18, 2009

Randy-Author on clashing cultures

      It took a long time to get everyone set.   He had us stand just so and he knew what he wanted.   He had in his mind an idea of how a photograph of his family and us should look; some private concept of formality and perfection.   We never would’ve been so precise; he was not satisfied until the feet of his two sons were pointing out, just so.

      While we arranged for a bargain flight out of Djakarta, our Indonesian host had opened his home to us, allowing us no more than a passing glimpse of him and his family.   Throughout Indonesia, this had been the case; everywhere we went people provided us with food and shelter.

      Rejecting these offers would’ve been rude and misunderstood.   Often, in rural areas, we would be summoned or ushered to the village leader’s office or home.   There we would be put on public display (how it felt), generally in a room full of men with children and women peering through the windows.   Then, after our passports were passed around to everyone in the room for inspection, there would almost always be a long debate, sometimes heated, over who would take us in for the night.   (Our passports took such a beating that we requested a letter of passage from the US Embassy and that seemed to suffice.)

      We were both thankful and annoyed.   That, I’m sure, eschewed our perception.   Sometimes we were gracious and sometimes not.   It would be easy to attribute our reactions to fatigue and shock, as in culture shock.

      I think the differences went beyond this.   As much as anything else, it was related to our Djakarta host’s insistence, for the photo, that his sons’ feet be pointing out.   But the two cultures represented here will always be different, or let’s hope so; he needed the picture to be just so, which perhaps his culture dictated and ours did not, at least to that degree.   When traveling it is best to savor these differences, even when (let’s personalize it)…even when it rubs you the wrong way.   It should be taken as simply part of the experience, one of the main reasons I think for traveling.   It is something you better accept, or you better travel in a bubble.   That’s also okay for there’s no legitimate way of traveling, but if you’re not “easy,” you can lose the point of it.   And miss out.

Randy Ford 


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