Sunday, July 10, 2016

Adapting to Culture--Or Not...

So last weekend I attended a Timorese backyard going away party for some expat friends who are returning to Australia. It was my first party of this sort. Everyone brought heaps of food and as people of all ages arrived, everyone mingled. But then I began to observe something that startled me. All the girls and women migrated to one side of the yard while the men and boys took seats on the other side. I was tired and not feeling very sociable and just wanted to relax with my Timorese fiancé. But I didn't want to offend anyone. I asked him if it was okay to stay where I was. He put his arm around me. I took that as a yes and stayed put. Then it was time to eat. Women first. Which is not the cultural norm. It's just the way it is amongst my peeps. I asked and was told that the norm is men first. Still I felt odd eating while my fiancé waited. The guys didn't go get food until the gals were finished. I tried not to judge, but I must admit--I was a bit bothered. And another thing was bothering me. 

One of the things I noticed right away when I moved here five months ago is that all the women and girls have gorgeous long hair that they wear pulled back in a tight bun. It's hot and humid, but none of them have short hair. I asked a young friend why that was. She just shrugged. I had been thinking of cutting my long hair because of the heat and I was tired of always wearing it "up". So over the weekend I cut it short. And when I arrived at a meeting with my Timorese friends today, my teenage girlfriends looked at me a bit shocked and kept touching my short hair. None of them said anything. No one else did either. The big test, I suppose, will come tomorrow morning when I meet up with my Timorese fiancé who was out-of-town this weekend. I'm curious how he will react. This can be a big deal to men, regardless of culture, right? I've told him many times that even though I am doing my best to adapt to this culture, I can never become a Timorese woman. Cutting my hair is just one of the many tests of this cross cultural relationship adventure. 
Three of my beautiful teenage friends

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