Wrestling With Cultural Difference


August 21, 2010 by David Gillaspie

 (visit http://news.airtreks.com)

If you are planning a trip to a foreign land, say Spain, here is a list of things you won’t need.

1. Rosetta Stone language software.

Face it, if you really wanted to learn another language you would have started sooner, like birth.  Or high school.  The younger the better.  If you’re counting on learning how to say ‘where’s the bathroom’ a day before leaving, forget it.  Besides, it’s not bano, its aesos.

2. Health Insurance.

Health care in Spain is free.  If you need to see a doctor, make an appointment, then be ready to wait a week.  If you need to see a doctor right away, go to the nearest emergency room.  Don’t worry about a language barrier.  In emergency room admitting you’ll see the cold-eyed fish as you see in America.  And the same endless forms. 

You could come in a knife in your neck and still have to answer whether you had mumps as a kid before anyone can look at you.

2a. Doubts.

If you need medical attention, leave doubt at the doorstep.  Once you get into the system with a problem, leave it to them to track it down.  They want an arterial blood sample from your wrist?  They want to run bags of IV’s through a permanent tap stuck in your arm?  They’ll do what it takes, don’t worry. 

If you’ve never had blood taken from the same area you check your pulse, now you will.  You might want to ask what’s running into your arm, but don’t.  Just like America, these are doctors dammit, and they don’t need inane questions about how they do their jobs. 

3. Trust.

If you are admitted to a hospital, you gotta believe.  What’s the big deal if visitors smoke in a room with patients on oxygen?  Nothing.  A man may die across the hall and be wheeled past your door with his family mourning in his wake, but it won’t affect your care.  These things happen.  People are there to help.

When the family of a woman sharing your room roughs her up because she won’t respond to them, call a nurse and watch them do the same thing.  It’s good to be man-handled in a hospital bed.  You get better faster.  You do something faster.

4. Hope.

Doctors in Spain don’t work the weekends so don’t get sick on a weekend.  It’s that simple.  If you are in the hospital over a weekend, enjoy the screaming, the smoke, and the wet spot on the floor that won’t go away. 

If you have a condition you’ve been treated for in the past, and you’re not getting the expected meds in a Spanish hospital, it’s probably the weekend.  Or sometime between two in the afternoon and seven o’clock at night when the whole country shuts down every day.  If you survive, you’ll start to understand.

5. Understanding.

Why does a hospital cafeteria need three beer taps?  So the doctors don’t have to run out for a beer before surgery. 

Why do so many people in scrubs stand out front smoking while patients and visitors flow by them?  At least they’re not in an oxygen room. 

Why won’t the woman at the information desk tell you about the wifi, or weefee?  You showed her a laptop and waved your arms around.  It should be enough.  But you didn’t do it in espanol and she scowls.

6.  Dignity.

Say you’ve got a doctor’s note for oxygen when you get out of the hospital.  How do you get it?  Send a family member.  If they end up at a veterinarian clinic instead of an oxygen place, they’ll be asked what kind of dog you are.  There’s no good answer.

If you’ve got a lower digestion problem that needs mechanical assistance, send a family member to the farmacia.  When they come back with a fleets enema don’t ask them how they mimed that communication across.  

The greatest cultural difference to wrestle with is the idea of cultural differences.  We’re all the same the world ’round.  Any perceived difference is really no more than your lack of culture.  In Spain, as in all of Europe, they know the importance of taking the time to live fully.  It is your job to learn what that means.

It may mean trusting the waiter who won’t give you a menu with prices because he wants to tell you what things are and how much they cost in Spanish to help you with the language.

It may mean sitting at a table next to one with a german shepard under it.  There’s nothing wrong with that, just don’t look it in the eye, which is the same advice guide books explain about being approached by gypsies bearing rosemary.  If another dog gets too close and the dog fight eruption under the table lifts it off the ground, relax.  It happens in the best of places.

Most of all remember you are the rube, the fish out of water gasping like a flounder on its last breath.  You are different, not them, and you have to find a way.

The respect you show will determine the outcome you seek.  If someone offends you, move on until you find help.  Don’t argue, you won’t win, unless you call being ignored a win. 

You don’t have to go far to be ignored.


2 thoughts on “Wrestling With Cultural Difference

  1. David Gillaspie says:

    Thanks Jack. I’ve learned new rules for life after visiting Spain and they seem worth passing along.

    1. Take an afternoon nap.

    2. Wave your arms around more when you talk.

    3. Put on a happy face.

  2. Jack says:

    Nice one Dave !

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