Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Don't be a jack-ass."

In cross-cultural dialogue, someone is [almost always/at some point] a jack-ass.

They do something that is just totally not okay. That is defensive, offensive, and other "sive" words. No way around it.

I was the lovely "j.a." last night.

Robbie and I were at the Grange Fair. The night was perfect. I ran happily into Barb Baldner's arms, the first time I'd seen my beloved mentor in over a year. We ate fried food. We gawked at Barb's grand prize winning cake. A country music concert got us two stepping around the grass.

At the end of the night, we were looking for the tent where Barb and her family were visiting ("visiting" as in chatting, as in spending time together). S10 something row. It was dark, we weren't sure where we were.

 I guess we looked particularly confused. Particularly vulnerable. Or, more accurately, I felt particularly vulnerable.

An old man suddenly shuffled past our elbows. "Excuse me" he stopped us, a small hand reaching out towards us. "Excuse me," he said again, because my face had suddenly transformed into a scowl of "don't f with me" and I pulled away from Robbie and moved quickly down the gravel drive.

Robbie stopped. The old man continued. "You look lost. Can I help you find something?" Robbie thanked him and got directions.

I stood chagrined, the idiot look of a scolded dog. Robbie shook his head, laughing at bit as he scolded me, "Dana, chill you, it isn't Bulgaria. You don't have to be a jack-ass. You're safe."

See, in moments of fear this past year, I learned a scowl that would put the must disgruntled Baba to shame. I used it to put off people I didn't want near me: the aggressive beggar, the forceful vendor, the man who chose out of hundreds of benches to sit down next to me and lean towards me to start a conversation. It was my default walking face, my "I belong here; I'm not a foreigner and helpless and open to abuse. I speak the language but you'll never learn that it's a lie because you won't get close enough to talk."

So this tactic is particularly, shall we say, off putting. It was useful at times. But perhaps it was not the greatest for making new friends.

In a moment of being lost in another type of foreign country (rural PA crammed into one fair ground), it sprang to my face. And I was horribly rude to a kind old man who wanted to help us, whose gesture towards us was merely an expression of goodwill and gently catching our attention.

Opa. facepalm.


1 comment:

Chelsea Cooper said...

That was totally me when I came back from France! A friend and I was sitting on a lawn in State College and some guys in a car yelled garbled words out the window at us. I instantly put on a stony face and averted my eyes, but she called back to them with a smile. That's when I realized they weren't cat-calling us...they were her *friends.* Not quite as embarrassing as your experience, but I so understand how easy it is to use knee-jerk reactions when they're no longer needed. Thank goodness for friends who can cover for us in our cross-cultural confusion!