Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Lime & Other Cultural Questions

In my country we serve a piece of lime one of two ways. Either it's served in a wedge, like with fish, or in a slice, like when it comes with a cold beer. Here in Sri Lanka when a lovely plate of fruit is served it comes with a tiny piece of lime that seems to have been thinly shaved off the fruit. Would you call this stingy?

Fruit, limes and all, are plentiful in Sri Lanka. And my genial gentle hosts are all generous to boot. So why can't they give me a bigger piece of lime? Should I complain? Stamp my foot? Kvetch to trip advisor? 

Apt questions I suppose but then, why would I expect a piece of lime to be served the way it is in my country? Do I expect the rain to fall in gentle rivulets? Do I expect a less salty Indian Ocean? Sidewalks without potholes? Exhaust-free buses? This is not my place. I'm a visitor here. 

Cultural exchange I think has one principle at rock bottom. That is, accept people and the culture you are visiting at face value. Janet is an expert at this, in large part because of her medical practice where she meets all kinds of people. Not to get all preachy but I think at the heart of accepting people at face value is empathy, something I'm afraid most of us are a bit short of. 

If I can empathize with the people I interact with I can stop expecting things of them. I can assume that the slice of lime I'm given is an expression of generosity and graciousness, the same as I would provide for a welcome guest. I can have a lot more fun because I can get rid of the misconception that people are cheating me, shortchanging me, or trying to do something that's not nice to me. 

I think foreigners in Sri Lanka have a hard time with this, especially if they are here for a short time. Letting people open up to you, give you their best smile, and try to get to know you is one of the nicest experiences.  

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