Saturday, May 16, 2009

Culture Shock

When I first met the Tongans, as I stated before, I thought they were either black or Hawaiian. So I had a lot of misconceptions about them.

One of the peculiarities that I have actually observed in the culture of white people (or a lot of them) is that they are fascinated by the Polynesians. Given that the Polynesian boys make good football players, it elevates them in peoples eyes to a strange kind of wonder and reverence that I have observed in some.

In a lot of instances, when Sam has been about doing regular things, like going into the store to buy french bread. People stop to talk to him in breathless wonder mistaking him for a BYU football player.

He and his cousin were in the store the other day when this happened. They held a long conversation with these girls (which Sam told me about later) pretending to be football players from many years ago (they told them they played in 94' so that the girls wouldn't catch them by asking their names... as if they were current players).

I usually roll my eyes when Sam tells me about these things.

One of the peculiarities with Tongans is that they like to joke around like this. It used to drive me crazy!! Sam would tell me with all seriousness that he had lost all of our money, or that he had been in an accident.

Once when Sam brought some New Zealand sausages, which he boiled and ate with "Siamene," or "Top Raman," (cheap wheat flour noodles). I was eating one of the sausages which were very good, when Sam said in a dead serious voice "did you know those were made out of Kangaroo?" I stopped in mid bite and looked at him, "your kidding me?" He assured me he was serious. Though I didn't believe him, I could not eat another bite of the sausages. Maybe that was his plan...

I really hate being put on like that.

A few instances of culture shock stick out in my mind.

I went with Senita and her mother once to visit Sam's grandparents (before I knew Sam). They lived in a tiny house on a hill, hidden from view from most of the world.

In fact I they have lived in several homes like this since I have known them, and they often stay with relatives, with us for about 6 months.

One of the things that struck me about their home, was that it despite the minute size and absence of possessions, they kept it very clean and orderly. There was an enormous clock on one wall that was in the shape of part of a mans watch. They had hung very lacy curtains in the windows, there was tapa cloth on the floor (a plastic version) and everyone sat on plastic chairs (like you would find at a municipal building).

I could feel the differentness between us very strongly, plus I knew they didn't like me. Both feelings have disappeared over the years.

They were boiling some type of meat on the stove and taro root in another pot. In fact sometimes when I have visited Tongan homes a distinct stench will eminate from them... this when they are cooking horse meat. (Yuck!!)

Some other instances involve the first time that I went to a Tongan eating, which I neglected to tell before. Near the end of the event, my neighbors suddenly started collecting food in styrofoam containers. They filled them to overflowing, and looked about for more.

I felt that they were committing an enormous faux pas and was embarrassed about the whole thing. I was used to pot lucks where everyone brought home their own leftovers and dishes. Plus I was also used to lady club meetings that I had gone to with my grandmother.

I later learned that they always do this, they expect you to take home as much food as you can carry and that they are insulted if you don't.

A few peculiarities of Tongans that I have observed are that they have this culture of what's mine is yours and what's yours is mine. It was very bad living next to them because the daughters were klepto's and stole all sorts of stuff from us. Stole to us, borrowed to them.

In fact just yesterday someone from Sam's rugby team took off with his sandals. The usual things that get lifted are CD's, clothing (like shirts, shorts, and shoes), basically any thing left lying around, though there are some limits over here.

This is a real annoyance to me at times, though I haven't had to deal with it as much as my sister in law who had a lot of the relatives living with her at one point.

Another thing that is interesting is that in Tonga, they have very bad record keeping habits. Sam really doesn't know when his birthday is, and like I said I could still be a Lavulavu (though we had to change the name because of his uncle with the same last name... did some shady stuff and got a bad reputation).

Sam was baptised three times because they kept loosing the record, and even when he got over here they couldn't track it down in the church system.

There is also a big tension between Sam and I over corporal punishment. In Tonga, they smacked, beat and hit each other.

If someone didn't show up for a family function they would be hit, Sam was beat once in the middle of the night because his Aunt had told his uncle that he had stolen money from the store till.

He has told me about skipping school once and being caught by the police which smacked their behinds until they were raw and didn't want to sit down.

In fact when we were first married, we showed up late to a family birthday party for his brothers little girl (who had turned one, and first birthday's are a big deal to Tongans).

I saw his uncle breaking off a branch of the tree and Sam didn't want to get out of the car, so we backed out and came by another route. In fact Sam let me out with the kids and returned later.

In fact almost every day Sam and I clash over the difference between American child rearing and Tongan. He sees the example of my parents and the poor attitude of my sibling over helping out and other things as a failure of different methods of parenting.

I am still fighting to do things another way, a way that involves limits and time outs (he's caught on recently and Roxie has found herself sitting on the floor crying until she said sorry just a few days ago, plus she gets her nose on the wall when she is naughty).

When we go to family things, or events at the Tongan ward, I usually end up sitting alone. Or I did until I made better friends with the other ladies. That is because, the men hang around together helping with the food, doing odd tasks and helping to clean up.

I was hurt by this for a long time, sitting alone, until I finally figured out what was going on. Basically I felt insecure surrounded by Tongan ladies who I felt were judging me (and they probably were), but now that I know more of them I am more at ease at these kinds of things.

A peculiarity about the prisons in Tonga is that they do not lock in the prisoners. In fact during the day they hop over the fence and go work with their family's then they return at night. Sometimes people stay at the prison to eat, just because they want to.

Well, I guess that is enough "Culture Shock" for one day. I will write another time.

Ofa atu'

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