23 November 2013

My Cultural Reflex

Despite these years of living out of the UnitedStates, there is still so much 'American' in me.  I love chocolate chip cookies . . . apple pie . . . and pumpkin spice lattes.  I root for the Yankees (even when they lose) . . . I, like everybody else, love Raymond . . . and I even own a pair of Crocs.  Thanksgiving is my favorite . . . I take Tylenol when I have a headache . . . and I learned to drive in a car with an automatic transmission.

No matter which visa is current, my passport is still American.

And, regrettably, so are most of my initial reactions.

Learning a new culture is like sucking on an Everlasting Gobstopper . . . only, it's got licorice in the middle . . . black licorice.

Most of the layers are sweet . . . each one tastes a little bit different . . . and just when you seem to have a handle on the current layer, a new one seeps through that you never saw coming.

And then there's the licorice.

Now, for those of you who like licorice, you'll have to get creative and imagine brussels sprouts or blood sausage or something else that invokes your gag reflex.

And that is what happens from time to time when living in a culture so different from my own . . . Nigerien Cultural Licorice triggers my American Cultural Gag Reflex . . . and I screw up . . . BIG TIME.  But every once in a while, I'm offered a surprise 'Get Out of Culture Free' Card.

Like yesterday, for example.

My assistant, B., only works with me part-time at the moment.  Which means I fly solo on Fridays.  Being that it is Orthopedic Clinic Day in the OutPatient Department, Fridays are always a little bit chaotic to begin with . . . throw in my toddler-level Hausa and we've got a real circus on our hands.

I had just come back down to the gym after seeing a patient on the surgical ward when a man came down looking for treatment.  I asked to see his paperwork, he told me he didn't have it.  I explained he'd need to go up to the records room to retrieve his outpatient chart.  He insisted that the doctor told him to come down here and see me . . . I explained that it didn't matter who sent him, I needed the documentation to understand why I'm seeing him and what has already been done for him.  He carried on for a bit longer talking about the long lines upstairs and pointing out that there was no wait down here at the gym.

Just as I repeated that he would get no treatment until I had his chart in my hands, a transporter from the OR brought a patient down who needed crutches before she was discharged home.  Being the good Hausa man that he is, he butted right into our conversation . . . which irritated me even more than I already was.

'Greetings!' he announced to both the patient and myself.  'How was everyone's sleep?'

'It was fine,' the man responded.  I stood, silent, with my arms crossed . . . I was in no mood to be greeted, and besides, this transporter had already greeted me earlier . . . twice, once in Hausa and once in French.

'And how is your tiredness?' the transporter asked us.

'There is no tiredness,' the patient said.  I, on the other hand, was growing exceedingly tired of all the formalities.

'How is the work?' the patient asked the transporter.

'I am thankful for it!' he repeated . . . as I griped to myself that I would be thankful if this man would go get his paperwork and I could get on with my work.

Fed up and impatient (like a true NewYawkuh) with all the relation and none of the task, I asked the transporter to explain to the patient that he needed to go up and collect his paperwork.

The two of them went back and forth for a bit, assuming I understood less than I actual did.  Turns out, he had heard that someone in the therapy department could help him and if he just went down there and said that the white doctor had sent him to see me he wouldn't have to pay or wait in line.

The transporter explained that he had received misinformation and sent him on his way.  But just before the patient left, the transporter turned to me and and proudly said in French 'Oh, you're Hausa isn't very good, so you didn't understand, he just came down to greet you!'

'WHAT?!?!?' I said, even more irritated than I had been.  My voice raised as I reacted, 'That's ridiculous, and not true!  We went back and forth and he refused to go get his chart---

The transporter turned his back to me cutting me off mid-sentence.

He smiled at the patient and said 'She thanks you for coming to greet her!

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