Long term cultural differences and anticipating the assumed obvious

17 May

After three years (what the hell when did that happen?!) in Guadeloupe, I’ve become accustomed to many things I was definitely struggling with in the beginning.  There are some mannerisms woven into the culture here that I’ll just never get used to. When I was little, there was this ‘joke’ we all thought was sooo funny. Why? We were kids, so of course we thought it was funny because it was annoying.  It goes like this:

I ask you, “Do you know what time it is?”

You answer, “Yes.”

I am obliged to say, “Can you tell me what time it is?”

You answer, “Yes.”

I have to think a little and then ask you, “Will you tell me what time it is please?”

Then you tell me.

That feeling of exasperation in anticipation of what you think is the obvious is something I can’t shake here, in terms of certain interactions. I go to the bank because my ATM card is expired. I say that I have not received my new one in the mail. (As everyone assured me I would, and that mon dieu there must be a problem and il faut le regler tout de suite.)

The nice young lady says, “Oh? When did it expire?”

I am thinking: Does that matter? It’s expired. Shit. Maybe I did that thing where I read the dates backwards because the French write them day first, or is it month first. Shit. Maybe I’m wrong.

I say,”Fin Avril 2012″.

She takes my card. She reads it. She keeps an absolutely blank expression. Stone. She says, “It’s here, your card.”

I say, “Does it normally get mailed to the home address?”

She answers, “No, no it’s here. Your card is here.”

Me: “Oui, that’s very good, mais normalement is it sent to my house, or do I just know to come get it here next time?”

Her: “Oui, Oui, it’s here.”


I take my card and thank her, and ask how I activate it, because I know she won’t tell me. That’s something I would expect elsewhere, but not here. If you want to know, you need to ask. Especially when you think you shouldn’t have to ask, you’d better frickin’ ask.

“You need to use it in a distributeur and enter your code or it won’t work. Don’t try and go use it in a store if you haven’t done that because it won’t work.”

I go right outside the bank to the distributeur, which is, of course, broken. I go back inside. Does she have a list of distributeurs that I could look at since this one is broken, and was also broken one week ago when I came by and nobody including myself noticed that my card was expired and that was why it had been denied in a number of stores making my day very difficult?

“Uh…there’s one in Le Moule (far) and in Grand Camp (so much traffic, such a small place, dense, confusing) and uh…”

Will the distributeur here be fixed soon?

“….ouehhhhh…..bien sure…….j’imagine…..”

Sigh. I forgot to ask if she couldn’t just activate it using her handy computer. That’s the thing. It’s probably entirely possible. Even easy to do. But if I don’t ask, I’ll never, ever know.


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