“I expect this to be right.”
That sentence is a bushel basket of apples filled to overflowing and placed on a hillside, a pre-holiday sale parking lot with only one spot left and three cars vying for it. In other words, it’s an accident waiting to happen.
Let’s dissect, shall we?
I — Each of us are the sum of our parts and not just anatomically. We bring experience, education, social status, generational influences, birth order, religion (or the lack thereof), personality, gender, and our culture (as in “norms” and not whether we like opera) to the table. Your preschool teacher wasn’t kidding when she told you that just like a snowflake, we are all unique. So whenever the assumption is that “my way of thinking is THE way of thinking” get ready for an Arctic blast of reality.
expect — Expectations bite us in the assumptions almost every time. When what we expect is based on the limits of our experience the shock is even greater. I am trying to expect less and experience more. Rather than expecting the frail, scared looking young woman behind the counter to be as confused as her clothing choices, I want to wait and give her the opportunity to be the expert. The waiter covered in tattoos is another chance to hear a story unfold. As I travel, I hope my expectations are few so that my surprise and wonder will be expansive.
right — In Ethiopia, you eat with injera, not cutlery. A small piece of a sometimes gray-ish, spongy roll up of a bread-like substance is pulled and each new pinch allows you to take from a communal plate of veggies or stew or whatever (sometimes it’s good not to ask) for germ free sharing. If your “right” way to eat includes a fork, you would be wrong.
We are back at cultural norms and part of the reason I am spending several weeks in my hometown rather than Houston, my home for the last 20 years. Experience changes expectations and discoveries come when you least expect it. I’ve taught classes on culture while dealing with disappointment that a participant was acting exactly the way his culture – not mine – dictated and had to get my feelings in check before delivering the next bullet point! Once my mother visited me in the fourth largest city in the US and asked where we were getting supplies for a planting project. A place about 15 min away. Where we were going for lunch ? About a 15 min drive. The museum? 15 min. Finally, she said, “Karen, everything can’t be 15 min away!” And I thought, “You’re right. Some are only 5.” But Mom expected long drives in a confusing mess of traffic. She didn’t see Houston as a collection of Greenfields (my hometown) as I had come to view it.
I don’t view culture on a continuum with a good/better/best grading system. Culture simply is. And Greenfield has its own culture. In the week I’ve been here I’ve walked to the local grocery store and found adequate substitutes for what I had grown accustomed to having on my diet, waved at everyone I passed as I’ve done my 3-4 miles per day, driven to nearby Martin (15 min away) to set up an office at the coffee shop where my sister is in her post-retirement new role as a barista and wifi is free, cheered on the local college basketball team, made a 5-course meal with ingredients purchased at the supermarket 45 min away, and attended the visitation for a friend’s mother’s funeral. Things are different here – not improved or less than – different. And before I took up residence in a new locale where I will be living in someone else’s home with another family speaking another language, I thought it best to be enveloped and challenged by my own.
I expect my decision to be just right for me.