Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Mea Aganu'u (Cultural Things)

I think it's high time for me to write something for the website. I just haven't felt motivated to sit at a computer or haven't found enough time to write something good. So here goes.

I don't have a specific story to tell or any particularly interesting experiences to write about but I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the many cultural rules, habits, and quirks that have taken some time to adjust to but are now so much a part of my everyday life that I hardly notice I've made an adjustment. Some interesting rules/customs:

  • It is rude to walk and eat or drink at the same time. If you purchase a snack or drink at a store in town it is customary that you take it with you to wherever you're going before opening it or to sit down somewhere (under a tree, on a bench, etc.) and take a little break.

  • It is rude to drink or eat on the bus unless it is a long bus ride that it is going out into the villages and the driver has stopped somewhere so that every passenger who wants to can purchase their own snack.

  • If you pack your own lunch for work you most likely will only eat a bite or two of it. It is expected that you will share whatever food you brought with everyone who is around you.

  • It is extremely rude to be seen walking outside on Sundays unless you are on your way to or from church. If you wish to go anywhere you should go by a vehicle.

  • It is rude for women to where their hair down during the day, especially in the village. In Apia, it's not such a big deal.

  • It is rude to stand in a room when others are sitting down, especially if they are older than you.

  • When sitting on the floor it is customary to sit cross legged. If you must stretch your legs out you must not point your feet in the direction of another person. You can extend them towards a wall or doorway where no one else is sitting. Or you may cover your legs with a woven mat.

  • When talking to someone that is older than you, it is impolite to make eye-contact.

  • When you visit someone's house or attend a meeting you will almost always be served food. It is very rude to refuse the food. Even if you just ate and are full, you should at least eat a bite of what is served.

  • When food is served, you must wait for the highest ranking person to begin eating before you eat. People who have a high chief title and people who are older than you will eat first. If it is a meal time in a family the father will eat first.

  • In some families, the older men in the family will eat alone at the table. Then the mother and older women will eat. Than the children will eat last. It is the young boys who will be the servers while everyone is eating. They re-fill drinks, take dishes away, and bring the bowl of water to wash hands after eating.

  • Every meeting, every workshop, and every school day will begin and end with a christian prayer. There is absolutely no division between church and state here.

There of course are a million more things that make up the cultural customs of this country, but this is sampling that might give more insight into my day to day life. It can be quite rigid at times to follow the fa'a Samoa (Samoan way) but most of it, if not all of the rules have to do with respect; respect for your elders, guests, and people