Whenever we come into a new society and new surroundings, we feel confused and unsure.
I felt like that when I went to the countryside for the first time. There seemed to be so many rules.
The new situation
There were certain places in the houses where I could sit, and others where I couldn’t. Someone introduced me to the whole family, and when the mother of the home brought food, I didn’t know when to take what, and how to eat with my fingers, and it was new to me to wait until they had prayed…
Reclaiming order and orientation
In my confusion I was looking for order and took my own culture and socialisation as a standard. That way I could compare. I quickly figured that life in Kenya is really complicated and somewhat backwards because all of these traditional rules.
I shared my experience in exactly that way. But today I know that when comparing, we tend to see our own way of doing things as more logic and efficient. My own lifestyle became a norm.
Also, we tend to explain people’s way of doing things with their “culture”, while often we forget that economic reasons drive action in the same way.
A simplifying view on things enables us to cope with new stuff. But eventually it makes us value our own ability higher than it actually is.
Downgrading other tourists
Especially backpackers and volunteers tend to go even one step further in this thinking and despise other tourists, forgetting that they are enjoying the same privileges as them. They describe them as living a life that is not authentic, not really helping the locals.
We seem to know better. Hopefully by now you realise when you start taking your own background as the norm. It’s okay. It helps. But be aware of it, and watch how quickly it can turn into the know-it-all syndrome.