Am I becoming a bad Mauritian?

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A guy walked up to me last time in the mall while I was doing my shopping. He wanted to sell me something. Usually, my Mauritian instinct would make me sit through it and with a polite smile. But, I caught myself cutting him off by bluntly saying that “I am not interested”. I was shocked by the words that came out of my mouth. And, the fact that I did not have that embarrassed smile that Mauritians have when they have to say something negative.

Truth be told, Mauritians have a high context culture. We do not say directly what is on our mind. Especially, if it is negative. As a result, a large amount of our communication is done in a non-verbal manner. You can learn a lot from our gestures, pauses and facial expressions. Do not dare to be too direct or you will be considered as being offensively blunt. Most of the times, when Mauritians are directly saying something not nice be sure that they have some issues with you…(But again, there are a few exceptions.) Being Mauritian means reading between the lines and interpreting facial expressions.

I remember making plans with some of my Mauritians friends. We were supposed to go out, but no one was in the mood. Instead of cancelling the plan, we just stopped talking about the plan and talked about other things. This was a hint that no one wanted to go out. At some point, one of just asked: “so what happened to our plan?” To which, a friend responded: “this is typical Mauritian behavior. No one wants to be the want to say that he does not want to come”.

Six months that I am living in Canada and I can feel myself changing. After all, you cannot go abroad and expect that your host country’s culture will not rub off on you. I am getting used to the fast paced life. I always use the left side of the escalator because I want to be quick and I am always standing up ready to leave before the bus stops.

Yet, I always catch myself thinking that my reintegration in Mauritius will not be easy. Since, this kind of attitude is not very “common” in my home country. I am sure that if I do this, I will be told: “bis la pas pou arrete meme là mamazelle? Kifer ou presse coumsa?” (Isn’t the bus going to stop anyway miss? Why are you in such a hurry?). While in Canada, people always seem to be in a hurry, Mauritians have a more “relaxed” approach toward life. In fact, Mauritians have a very laid back attitude. But, that does not mean that we are lazy. Far from it! Just blame it on the fact that we are a polychronic culture.

We have a very different notion of time…Punctuality is not one of our traits. In fact, we are poor timekeepers. If you are scheduling a meeting with someone, expect them anywhere between fifteen minutes and half an hour late. Except, if it is a business meeting then they will make it a point to be on time. Every time I schedule a meeting with my Mauritian friends who are in Canada, I always expect some of them to be late. And I am sure to hear them say “I’m still on Mauritian time”. This basically suggests that it is a normal thing.

But to people from other cultures, this might be quite irritating. My friend from Quebec is always texting me to confirm the time when we have to meet. “Make sure you come on time”, she stresses. Last time, we were waiting for one of our Mauritian friends and she just remarked: “considering he’s Mauritian, I expect to wait for him for at least two hours”. It is not rudeness, I guess it is just a cultural thing.

Though I still make my black Mauritian tea every morning, my approach toward life and my way of thinking have changed. I noticed it every time I think individually instead of collectively. Or talk about money…Last time when I talked about making some money to my aunt and I was quickly rebuked. “Money is not everything in life,” she said. I had almost forgotten that it is indecent to talk about money in Mauritius and we do not put a price on everything we do for someone. Or otherwise, people will label you as being “money-minded”. “Li mari content casse ça” (He really loves money). I used to feel very uncomfortable when people talk openly about money in Canada. But, I got used to it.

Sometimes, I wonder if I will forget my Mauritian culture. Will I become one of those Mauritians who after living abroad for a long time pretend that they can no longer speak in French or creole? Will I be one of those expats who can no longer identify themselves with the Mauritian culture? I have been reading about reversal culture shock just like I read about culture shock before coming to Canada. I always wonder how the trip back home will be. Will I have to adjust to my own country again? If you have ever experience reversal culture shock, by all means leave your experience in the comment section below. I am very interested to hear about your experience. If you wonder how your trip back home will be, do not forget to share your thoughts too ;).

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Toronto I love you

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Dear Toronto,

You and I might never have met. Truth be told, you were never my first choice in the first place. You were the guy I found interesting but never dared to make the first move…The guy I kept checking out but kept at bay.

Because, it was a minefield. You were the epitome of the unknown. Too far, too cold…I kept finding excuses to convince myself that it would never work. I had been flirting with Australia and Germany for a while. And Germany’s European charm gave him the upper hand.

Though the language was a barrier, it was quickly put in the back burner. If I had to learn German to get closer to Germany, I was willing to. Hell knows I was determined to learn German and hell I did! Ich spreche Deutsch (I speak German).

Yet, you kept making goo-goo eyes. And, it didn’t help that everyone kept talking about you. Apparently, you weren’t that bad. My friend told me that once I would get to know you, I would have a change of heart. Before I knew it, you were asking me to come over. So, I looked at Germany and bide him goodbye. “Tschüss”, I said.

The first time we met, I was thrown off balance. You seemed cold, unsympathetic and constantly in a hurry. And you didn’t understand why I stiffened every time you hugged me. I on the other hand couldn’t comprehend why kissing on the cheek made you uncomfortable. Certain of your ways annoyed me. I felt like I had rushed in a relationship. I hated you with such a passion but I was stuck with you for a year.

If we were to cohabit, it would be better if I didn’t have any ill feeling. So, I decided to try to see eye to eye. I stiffened less when you hugged me and observed you on the sly. I learned that you weren’t as cold as I thought you were. If I smile at you, you would smile back at me. If I asked for help, you would help me out. You were growing on me.

I relished every time you held the door for me. I liked the fact that you respect my space. I appreciated that you did not honk when you saw me walking the street in shorts. I loved that I could leave my friend’s house at 9 pm and return home alone. I love the fact that you make me feel safe even when I am alone.

It warms my heart every time you say “hi” to your driver and thank him when you arrive at your destination. I like it when you tell me “take care” every time I tell you “have a nice day”. What can I say? I love politeness. I have always find this attractive. I admire the fact that you give equal opportunities to disabled people. It gives me hope in humanity when I see how you treat and protect your dogs.

It turned out that I had so much to learn from you. Provided that I gave you a chance. Thank you for this beautiful adventure. Thank you for all these beautiful people I met and those I have yet to meet.

P.S do let me know what you love about your host country in the comment section below if you are living abroad ;). I am all ears :).

To hug or not to hug?

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Greetings have never been so awkward to me until I came to  Canada. See, back in my home-country, we are not used to hugging. When you meet someone, you have three options:

  1. Shake hands
  2. Kiss on the cheek (We call this “faire la bise”. But men don’t give each other the cheek kiss.)
  3. Or simply say hi.

The first option is only applicable in the business environment. Kissing on the cheek is only with your close ones and saying hi is meant for acquaintances. Now, imagine my surprise when a friend informed me before landing that Canadians are “very fond of hugging”. Did that mean that I was to hug everyone to say hi?

To avoid any public embarrassment, I remember asking a friend of mine how I was supposed to greet her the first time we met. We had been chatting before I came and it was the first time that we were finally meeting. “I guess we say hi”, she said eyeing me as if I was the most bizarre thing she had ever encountered.

Three months have passed but the greetings have not become any less awkward. I always dread the encounters, waiting for the other person to make the first move. My mind always races with the appropriate greeting gesture. Should it be a hug or a mere handshake?

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During five seconds, I stand by and wait for the other person to take the lead. All while, asking myself whether it is not that apparent that I really don’t know how to deal with it. I smile but I am mentally telling myself that “this is definitely awkward”. And I still do not know on which level of relationship the hug falls.

Plus, there are so many kind of hugs. Quick hugs, friendly hugs, loving and romantic hugs. Sometimes it is a side hug. Other times, it is a hug accompanied by a pat on the back or swaying back and forth and sometimes there is a lot of distance between the two people. And I really don’t know which one to choose or how to react.

Blame it on the fact that it is not a Mauritian culture to hug. We just don’t hug to say hi. Period. Not with friends, not with colleagues and definitely not with casual acquaintances If you do something like that in my country, people will be perplexed and might just stare at you. Or out of politeness reciprocate it all while thinking that this is weird.

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Or, in the worst case scenario, think that you are trying to get close fast. As in the romantic sense…Literally and figuratively! Hugging is considered as something very intimate.

I might not be used to hugs but the handshakes are not any better. Especially when greeting someone of my age. I always have the urge to ask: “Are we doing business? Is this some kind of company meeting?” Honestly, I find the handshakes very frigid. And it gives me the impression that the other person is very cold.

Anyway, I am slowly but definitely adapting. So, just hug me already! Just the other day, I hugged all my friends goodbye. I guess that I am progressing! Someday, I will definitely become a pro in hugs. Now if you want to share your thoughts and feelings about this post or want to share your experiences about dealing with new greetings when abroad, feel free to comment below.