MY WIFE AND I lived in a hotel at one time. Eventually we moved out and found a normal home. I was shocked to come home from work the first day and find that no one had folded the end of the toilet paper into a neat little triangle for me. “We are not animals,” I remember shouting at my wife. It took some time to realize that hotel life had changed my perception of what was normal.
In the same way, Westerners who spend a long time in Asia find themselves “going native”. One English friend went back to London after several years in Vietnam. Staff at Harrods, a fancy store, told her the price of the scarf she was looking at. She laughed scornfully in their faces, offered 20 per cent, and then marched out of the shop. Only when she noticed that staff failed to follow her, reducing the price at every step, did she recall that you just don’t do that sort of thing in London.
These memories were triggered by a letter I received from reader Jo Bunker, who has been living in Hong Kong for many years. She was in turn inspired by a posting in we listed signs that you were a post-modern Asian.
“My list of signs you’ve been here too long would look like this,” she said.
- You find yourself wondering how your friends back home can possibly survive without a rice cooker;
- You seek out a Chinatown when on holiday;
- You are shocked and suspicious when someone holds a door open for you;
- You manically over-pressing the ‘door close’ button in the lift;
- You peer over people's shoulders at their account balance in the ATM queue;
- And you sneer at anyone who orders sweet and sour pork in a Chinese restaurant.
Laurie Ashton, a Canadian who moved to Sri Lanka, wrote in her blog that she knew she had lived there too long when she stopped taking pictures of water buffalos mingling with traffic.
For Westerners in general, here are 12 Signs You’ve Been in Asia Too Long.
1) You find yourself bowing slightly when you are introduced to someone.
2) You don’t think there’s anything weird about eating a tenderloin steak with a side of rice.
3) You think of a motor scooter as a family vehicle for up to nine people.
4) You own more ethnic clothes than any of your Asian friends.
5) If you find a bug in your food, you pick it out and keep eating.
6) You no longer close your eyes when the driver of your auto-rickshaw cuts in and out of lanes missing other vehicles by a millimeter.
8) When someone asks you a difficult question, you see the usefulness of responding with a South Asian head-wobble.
9) Using cutlery to eat feels weird.
10) You’re not particularly bothered when rural people defecate behind the nearest convenient bush.
11) You now really like foodstuffs you once thought weird and disgusting, like bitter melon, stinky tofu, lime pickle and stewed taro.
13) It no longer seems weird to see a stunningly overloaded vehicle.
14) You are no longer too embarrassed to admit to other Westerners that you have servants.
But next time you visit your home in the west, remember not to defecate behind the nearest convenient bush. Especially not near Harrods.