Cultural differences – division of conversation

14 Oct

A few nights ago we were invited to stop by our neighbor’s place for a drink. There were family and friends, and lots of really good food. The neighbor lady can cook. Gratin banane, quiches, cake. The way food is offered at local gatherings is quite familiar to me: there’s no saying no thanks I’ve had enough. In spite of this I tried to resist but came to the quick conclusion that my resistance was futile: I would eat the gratin. I would eat the quiche. The gastronomic hospitality is incredible.

The men all sat together in a circle drinking beers and rhum sec, or straight up island rum. The women sat in another circle next to them. Not so different from many gatherings I’ve been to in my life.  I was sitting smack in the middle of the two circles, Pirate on one side of me, in the men’s circle of course, and the awesome cook, hostess, and lady of the house on the other side, in the women’s circle. I guess I was the midpoint of a figure 8. The women were not drinking rum sec. Or beers.

Here’s what stood out to me: the men refused to address me directly. At first, I thought this must have been due to the language barrier – everyone was speaking Creole including Pirate – and I can’t do that yet. Yet.  I do love when a bunch of Antilles people find out that Pirate, with his blonde hair and fair skin and blue eyes, can speak perfect Creole. They are always surprised. This time they actually said, “Oh, so you can understand us then?” I always wonder, is that an innocent observation/confirmation or a ‘ok so maybe we should be careful then and what might I have said already before I understood that’ type of response? When you first meet people, you really can’t tell.

So I was really happy to sit and listen, try to pick up words and phrases, and chat with my neighbor in French. No worries. When the men began asking Pirate about me, I tried to jump in. They were right next to me, after all.  The questions were coming from the man sitting just on the other side of Pirate. He would look at me, nod his head, and go back to talking to Pirate using ‘she’ and ‘her’ while referring to me, sitting one person away.He wouldn’t look at me. He wouldn’t respond if I tried to jump in.

Simply put, I just think it’s rude. Pirate and I talked it over the next day and he noticed that I got a bit fired up, which always frightens him. I was fired up. I might still be, it’s tough to tell as I’ve already consumed two American size coffees this morning. Why did that get my knickers in such a twist? It’s not like I knew the people well and suddenly they were ignoring me. peu importe. What gets me is that I made the effort. I enjoyed the topics of the conversation. (I’m not just talking about when they were asking about me, okay?) What I didn’t enjoy was being  blatently ignored while I made sincere and repetitive efforts to communicate. They all speak French. I speak French. They just wouldn’t speak with me.

Pirate says it’s a cultural thing. Old school Creole culture apparently has the women talking with the women and the men talking with the men. Not so far really from any other old school culture or any party setting you might find yourself in today, really, is it? The difference being if I speak directly to someone, I expect a response, and normally I get one.  It doesn’t even have to be a response I like, but a response would be nice. Thing is, as my couple life moves on over time, I must admit, hangin’ with the girls is what saves me from the constant realization that yes, men really do function differently than us women. Pirate is one of the closest people to me. We love each other like crazy. I know however that when he is out there doing that thing on the waves with that fiberglass plank, he’s getting something he needs spending time with his buddies that I simply can’t provide, and it has nothing to do with my fear of waves over two feet high along with my distaste for the local beer. And when I’m spending a heavenly day with a girlfriend shopping, working out, and jumping into the (calm, protected area of the) sea, I’m getting what I need and can’t neccessarily get from Pirate.  And what I really love is that even when he doesn’t want to, Pirate responds when I speak to him. Good Pirate.

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2 Responses to “Cultural differences – division of conversation”

  1. Allen October 14, 2011 at 10:59 #

    Bless! When I read this I really felt for you. I could imagine that in some circumstances it could have been embarrassing as well as firing someone up!

    Cultural, eh? That’s something we étrangers have to accept, I suppose (being in someone else’s country.)

    But at the same time your article made me think … about manners, and tolerance, and how we should ‘get on’ with one another globally: it is a two way thing. We have to be tolerant of one another, and at the same time respect one another, and so – on the whole – I end up thinking that these men were being rude… perhaps without realising it.

    Sometimes we do things without thinking that a stranger to our culture would find it offensive. I think it works both ways in France. Possibly being the stranger makes you all the more careful not to offend. It’s a shame, I think, that it so rarely works the other way around: so often being a take it or leave it attitude.

    I think I might have sunk two American size coffees with a tot of something in them. 😉

    • Girl in Guadeloupe October 14, 2011 at 12:30 #

      It really is a great lesson on tolerance. Pirate and I discussed it at length. He assures me it was not seen as rude at all, and advises me that probably more than anything they were just not understanding why I would be trying to have a conversation with them when the ladies were all there. Perhaps, knowing myself, I sensed that and just to go up against that I stayed and tried to break down the barrier. Pirate’s other interesting take was that perhaps it was out of respect. I can’t quite wrap my head around that one, but I’m trying. I’ll tell you what though, I think I’ll just go try to talk to the girls by myself next time, because frankly, it’s not very interesting when nobody talks to you, haha!

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