March 28, 2010

Mismatched pasts, cultural barriers uncover too much sometimes

What makes the Internet interesting also can make it frustrating.

Blossoming friendships with someones from other countries crash into barriers of culture and time zones. The relationships force me to confront regrets I don't realize I harbor until a simple statement or question reveals what was buried. The exchanges force a new definition of common sense.

The novelty of differences is intoxicating, inspiring rounds and rounds of questions and answers. The gratification of finding shared interests, thoughts and favorite books/movie/art erases caution of telling too much. The separation of miles, no countries even, quickens what is said, what is shared, what is revealed sometimes unknowingly.

Frustrations pile up

But I am frustrated - that we are on different time zones, mostly, and that we have these other lives from before, from now and forever more. So when I want to spend time questioning, finishing a conversation, explaining, suddenly it is past someone's bedtime or it is someone's work day or time for someone's family or friends.

I am surprised by what I believe is normal or common sense or that everyone knows raises questions and needs for explanation. A Brownie point, the SuperBowl, a CSO or so many other things confuse and toss us into silence or search engines or a soliloquy. Even the switching of clocks to "save/gain" daylight time occurs differently in different countries. Who knew.

But what is asked or misunderstood when I say something makes me examine my beliefs and my life. The conversations make me realize what I don't know about life in Egypt or Australia or Switzerland or the Netherlands or .... Indeed, I thought I had no regrets but I am learning that I do.

Actions louder then knowledge

I also show that knowing is not enough. I earned certifications that say I'm qualified to help others understand and acknowledge diversity in the workplace, school or community and spent hours of leading classes to help others respect the differences of culture.

Yet I fail to remember the basics of male-female relationships in the other countries until it is too late. I ask for hugs between people who do not. I seek explanations in a culture that forbids such requests. I stumble into social norms with the wrong set of words, explanations, even questions.

USA all the way

A simple conversation with one person - exchanging lists of the 10 places we want to see - pulls out pride and regret.

I am stunned that with two people the idea of visiting the United States, much less my state, never was considered. There is so much beauty in places like the Grand Canyon, the redwood forests of California, and the forests of Michigan. The uniqueness of some of our cities, the variety of music and even the mishmash of regional foods surely deserve some time in a world tour.

As I share my list, I recognize how impossible some stops on my dream list will be now. The regrets are painful because even though I strongly believe you can do anything you want I am also realizing that I'm not going to climb any mountains without some major medical advances. The some day has turned into never as I filled days with work instead of play, instead of travel, instead of dreams.

Simple joy, complex need

What also is hard for me is to realize what joy I get out of someone acknowledging that I can make them laugh just through words. I cannot believe that I still need acknowledgment and wonder how I let my confidence slip away.

Equally hard is seeing the trail of typos and misused words. Even though I know some of the verbal miscues are a result of multiple sclerosis, I do not like it. I crave perfection, even in casual times. I do not wear the title of the Typo Queen proudly.

Nor do I like how much time becomes available when I break bones in my foot. It allows too much conversation. Pain pills lower self-imposed barriers and I fear sharing too much unfiltered, knowing that I am very, very, very good at is pushing people away. I am especially good at frightening off people I let come close.

What you lose

I forget sometimes that no one sees the glint in my eyes or the smile on my face when I chat or text or email.

I forget that the intimacy of knowledge hides how short the relationships have been, even what the relationships are.

I forget how one-dimensional online relationships can be and how the isolation of black-and-white creates its own misunderstandings that cannot be erased because the miles forbid face-to-face confrontation, understanding, resolution.

Different expectations

Without remembering all that, I blurt out what's on my mind and retreat. Only later do I see how the words could be misunderstood. Only later do I realize what the retreat - a time for me to confront/understand/hold what I've just learned about myself, a normal practice for me to process findings - is to someone else - a slammed door, a shield, and a reason to retreat permanently.

The last words hang in cyberspace. The stories never get endings. The Ugly American striks again.


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