The Mark of the Jandal

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Unified Theory of Human Interaction in Samoa Part 1

_People Watching_

One of my pass times is people watching. I'm not referring to staring at
someone on the beach and thinking to myself: is that third nipple or a mole.
I'm thinking more along the lines of going to Wal-Mart at 3 a.m., and
contemplating on why the gentleman in plaid seems to be basing his sock
purchases on what they smell like. I also like watching people interact, their
word choices, how they respond to seeing someone sniffing socks in Wal-Mart,
etc. So living in Samoa has given me many people watching opportunities, and
I'm currently working on my _Unified Theory of Human Interaction in Samoa_

_Hippy Preparation: Remove Brain & Soak in a Vinegar and Cilantro Marinade_

During training, they prepared us for the differences between our culture and
that of Samoa. Like much of the hippy brainwashing this was done with skits
where volunteers and trainers would act out small little roles. After the
acting, we would talk about what happened, how it made us feel, if it reminded
us of that time when the bus driver took us home from school to his place...
umm, I mean what was said and what was actually meant. We laughed at these skits
partially from the absurdity of it, but some of it was nervous laughter
because we knew we were going to have to deal with this at some point.

Here's an example dialog between a volunteer (Pat), and his or her (gotta
remember that there are at least two genders) Samoan Counterpart (Tasi).

Pat: Malo tasi
Tasi: Malo pat
Pat: I understand you taught the year 13 physics class last year.
Tasi: Uhh, Yeah.
Pat: I was wondering if I could get copies of the course material you used.
Tasi: Oh, sure. I'll get that tomorrow.

Pat: Malo tasi
Tasi: Malo pat
Pat: So, do you have that course material.
Tasi: Oh, I was very busy yesterday, and I couldn't get it together. See it's
at my aunts house and she moved to Savai'i. I'm going there in a couple weeks
and I can get it for you then.

Two weeks later, Tasi still doesn't have the notes.

_Yes Means No_

Now, this is an example of "yes means no". Tasi is saying "Sure I'll do what
you want" but when he really means is "no". There are several reasons why Tasi
would say yes when he really means no. Perhaps he lost the material (or likely
never really had it in an organized fashion that would be useful to anyone but
him to begin with). It's possible that he playing some sort of dominance game
where he has something you want and he derives some importance from
withholding it from you. It could be any number of reasons.

This one example is characteristic of the passive/aggressive nature of
Samoan culture -- at least when people are sober. I'm going to spend the
rest of this post discussing the implications of this type of behavior on
someone who is, as I've been accused of on occasion, of being direct. In
the Peace Corps we have a name for "talking about how things make you
feel", we call it "processing".

There are parts of me that react differently to passive-aggressive behavior.
Part of me finds it curious, like a black box. I push something into it, look
at what comes out, and try to make some kind of correlation between the two.
There is also the part of me that wants to get stuff done. This part of me
isn't really entertained, and it can become quite challenging at times to deal
with this. Take the scenario above. This more or less happened to me the first
semester I was here. Because of the previous three months of hand holding, I
knew more or less that I wasn't getting squat from my Tasi. I also knew that I
was going to have to deal with this person in the future, and I wanted to
establish a precedent (precedents are a whole other post) that I'm going to
keep asking so he should just tell me the truth to begin with.

So with the assumption that I would get nothing from him after I asked for
the first time for some material, I kept asking for it. First it was, "I'll
get it together for you", which led to "I think I have it at home", which
was followed up by "I forgot, but I'll look tonight", but eventually we got
to "I taught that class for the first time last year, and I just made
everything up on the fly". That whole process took about two weeks. By that
time I'd already found what I needed on the Internet. The final answer was
a little reassuring though. Since I've come here to do curriculum
development, I'd feel pretty silly if he already had everything I needed.
Though I really just wanted what he used to give me an idea of the level at
which I was supposed to be teaching.

Of course, this type of behavior is pervasive. You call up a car rental agency
because your friend is coming in for a visit and you want to pick him up at
the air port. They confirm your car reservation for tomorrow (that you made a
month in advance), you show up and they tell you the person with your car
decided they needed it for an extra day. Why didn't they call you and tell
you? Well, that might upset you. It's much better to come there expecting a
car and be told that you're out of luck. What, that doesn't make sense to you?

How does someone who prefers direct answers deal with this? One might cope by
depending as little as humanly possible on other people. In ones spare time
one might try to figure out how this current system came to pass. In training,
the hippy herders said that Samoans just want to make people happy. That
translates into "they will tell you what they think you want to hear even if
it's not true" (98% Christian here folks). What they never mentioned was "why"
this was: Why would people be so concerned with happiness to the exclusion of
truth. I speculate that it's directly related to the passive-aggressive nature
of the people, and I think it's related to a culture that developed under some
unique circumstances.



  • Interesting. In France, your "tasi" would have answered your curriculum request with "it does not exist" If a French person does not, at that particular moment, have what you are requesting "it does not exist."

    Take this example that happened to us. "Hello Tourist office customer service person - i'm looking for this book on cycling in Corsica, I'm told it is for sale here at your tourist office here on Corsica" "No, cycling in Corsica book? It does not exist" "Um, OK, well, do you happen to have any information on cycling in these beautiful mountains of Corsica" "No, there is no cycling in Corsica" Note: Corsica is known in the South of France for it's great cycling and the book was found at another shop in town.

    By Blogger Caged Squirrel, at 8:58 AM  

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