March 30, 2009

Chicken stratching

Yesterday I offended myself, and it was the right thing to do.

Here's the scenario. I am in line at KFC to order chicken pieces to-go for our Sunday lunch. Wait, let me rephrase that: I am in mob at KFC. There are no lines here. Everyone pushes against the counter, chest to back, elbowing and grunting their way to the front. It seems a bit (in my American opinion) inefficient, to say the least. But, when you enter in to another culture, you are not to judge that culture based on your own. What you might consider to be completely rude is fine by them, and what you are doing is probably repulsing them.

So, back to the scenario. I pick a place in the mob behind three young girls who are ordering enough chicken and ice cream cones for an entire family reunion. If I move, however, I run the risk of being pushed further to the back. So I hold my ground, patiently waiting. In a moment, a woman who, in hindsight I am thinking might have just wanted an extra dipping sauce, began shouldering her way to the counter. I am pregnant, I am hungry, I have been waiting here for 10 minutes, and your shouldering stops here (was what I was thinking at the time). I blocked her out with a firm hip and forearm movement.

As I continued to wait, my blood pressure a little higher, and my cheeks flushed from my very un-American behavior, I try to assure myself that I am only doing what needs to be done to function in my present environment. Finally, the girls receive their order, and now they must back through the crowd carrying three trays of food and drinks. My only option is to back away from them and let them out. As soon as I do, a man about my father's age comes barreling in from the side to take his place at the counter...MY counter. Not on your life mister. I don't even think. I am acting out of animal instincts. I lunge forward, grip his arm firmly, and shove him out of the way.

His reaction? He let out a "Whoaah!"...shocked and somewhat impressed, I think, that this crazy weiguoren (foreigner) gave him a run for his money. I may have even endeared myself to him in some strange way. But I was not feeling very endearing. I was embarrassed, completely flushed, and could have been shaking. That is not how an American behaves at KFC. But I am not in America anymore.

I've been told that not too long ago, this country was starving. People had to push their way to the front before the food was gone. They learned to live that way. I have no idea what it is like to be starving. Often we say, when dinner is taking too long to cook, "Man, I'm starving." We throw that word around like it is nothing. We don't understand. If I were to judge their ways based on my own life experience, I would make a complete fool of myself.

So as we drove away in our three-wheeler, a bag of chicken bobbling along in the basket, Daniel reassured me that I did the right thing. If I had not done what I did, I would have spent the rest of the day offended by that man. As it were, I was only offended by myself, which is much easier to get over. I can take it. I signed up to come here, after all. He did not ask me to come. He does not deserve my contempt.

But he did deserve a good shove:) Happy days in Asia.