I just had an experience where I probably annoyed someone. You see, I behaved in a possibly culturally inappropriate way. What I did, in a Sri Lankan setting, would have been friendly. In Australia however, it could have been interpreted as being pushy.

If what I did was culturally inappropriate, the victim of my faux pas would probably have forgiven me if I was obviously someone from another culture. However, I have spent the last fifteen years painstakingly learning to blend into the Australian scene. And so my cultural standing is rather ambiguous, and chances are, I was viewed as a local during the above-mentioned incident.

I didn’t realize that I’d possibly put my foot in my mouth, until a few minutes afterwards, when I tried to strike up a conversation, and said person walked away from me with the group ‘they’ were with. Now it’s highly likely that the person was simply distracted by the group. There is also a tiny chance that the person was, in a culturally appropriate way, intimating that I’d been annoying/hurtful before.

Because the person isn’t a close friend, I am not sure how, in a culturally appropriate way, to communicate to that person that I am sorry, if I had acted in a culturally inappropriate way before.

In the end, obsessing over whether I was culturally inappropriate, and if so how badly, is going to take a lot of energy. It just isn’t worth it. I will have to chalk up this incident as a possible ‘thing’ to be aware of in the future, and get on with life.

What a confusing post with a lot of ambiguity. If you have read through it to this point, I congratulate you! Of course, the confusion is intentional, to illustrate some of the cultural confusion I – and I suspect a lot of other cross-cultural people – grapple with.

Does any of this matter? Knowing how trivial the incident was, I think probably not. Ultimately it illustrates my tendency to try to be Ms Perfect, with never a social misstep – yet another TCK/CCK legacy.

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3 Responses to “A ‘faux pas’ by any other name”

  1. I can definitely relate to this. There has been numerous moments in my life where I’ve behaved or acted a certain way that would have been acceptable in a cultural setting other than the one I was currently in. But, hey, we’re humans (and culturally confused ones, at that!) so it’s totally okay for us to make these mistakes. Usually if I feel like I’ve done/said something inappropriate for the current cultural setting I’m just open about my feelings. I ask people, outright, if I did something wrong, and if I did, I apologize. I let them know where I’m coming from, my culturally evolving background, and my constant confusion at what’s right and what’s not. Of course as we get older we get slightly better at this “blending in” game, but I know these moments will always arise. Don’t let it bother you too much. :)

    P.S – I added you to my blogroll too!

  2. Hi Sindhu, you’ve given me a couple of ideas on how to manage this next time – thanks!

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