My American friends, where would you prefer buy your fish? Would you choose the outdoor market where it’s 90+ degrees and fish are piled on a table, no ice or refrigeration, flies landing on them from time to time? Or would you prefer the neighborhood grocery where the fish have been cleaned, fileted, and kept on ice in a refrigerated display case? Easy, right?
As I walked through the outdoor market, I remarked to my Filipino friends that most Americans would be so uncomfortable with the idea of buying an unrefrigerated whole fish from a hot, wet outdoor market where the fish lay out in the hot sun. They were surprised. “We wouldn’t like to buy a fish in an American grocery store. When the fish is cut apart and on ice, you have no way of knowing how fresh it is. Here we can see the fish and know that it was caught today.”
So there you have it- a classic example of cultural perspective. I love it when my basic assumptions get turned upside down, and it happens all the time when I travel. Here are a few more:
• We passed a place that does cremations. I asked if cremation was common here. My host said, “Only the very rich can afford to be cremated.” Totally surprised. In this incredibly crowded city, I assumed that only the very rich could afford to be buried and that the masses would forced to have their ashes burned. And it’s such a highly Catholic country that I assumed cremation wouldn’t be popular. Shows what I know!
• We were out in a beautiful province, small mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There were some huge, beautiful houses built on the hillside with amazing ocean views. My host said, “Yes, they’re probably owned by politicians or foreigners.” Hmmmm…. In the U.S. politicians are typically not rich and foreigners are often very poor, sometimes doing the lowest wage jobs that most American citizens would avoid. Guess I was assuming doctors or lawyers.
• It’s hot and sunny here and almost no Filipinos wear sunglasses and very few wear hats. Surprising. How do they deal with the heat, you ask? Many of them carry umbrellas to block the sun. Never thought of that!
One of the great joys of foreign travel: assumptions up in flames.