Call it culture shock, call it bad manners, but one thing few people will actually admit to is that sometimes we get it wrong.
Bhutan is one of the growing number of countries that use English as their language of education, and therefore our group has become very comfortable in their communication in Bhutan. However there are simply some things that have not translated. For instance it is no secret that the average non-vegetarian American is more than a little attached to their hamburgers. And it should also come as no surprise to anyone that hamburgers are in fact rare in Bhutan. However when we happen upon a menu that offers hamburgers, we often jump at the opportunity to reconnect with our American roots. But alas! In Bhutan a hamburger is exactly what is sounds like, ham and bun. And when one orders a cheeseburger, they often get cheese and bun. Needless to say, we have inserted foot-in-mouth more than once.
Don’t think the language blunders end there! In an attempt to overcome our painfully obvious chillip status, we have begun learning Dzongkha. The idea is to better understand Bhutanese culture, assimilate into society, and a more overall smooth transition into the Bhutanese inner-workings. Armed with the simple phrase, my name is Miranda, or “ngegay mi Miranda i” in Dzongkha, we set out into the bright new bilingual landscape. What we didn’t know is that if you mispronounce the first word what we are actually saying is “Will you sleep with Miranda?” Needless to say our Bhutanese friends were both mortified and hilariously amused with our new phrase.
And did it stop with language? I think by now you can guess that it did not. The Bhutanese seemed just as confused with our customs as we were with them. As it turns out a rumor went around campus that some of our parents were visiting the college. Some of our parents will in fact be coming to RTC, but not until December, so you can see how the rumor may have been started. I was not aware of this particular rumor; however there was a lot of speculation as to whose parent would be arriving on campus.
One morning, two days after Dean Williams and her friend Betsy had arrived on campus, a good friend of mine stopped me. She seemed very excited, so I naturally asked what she was up to. She explained to me that she had just met my mother.
“What?!” I responded, sure she had misspoken.
“I had no idea your mother was on campus. It must be nice to see her.” She replied.
You must understand, my mother is a lot of things, but able to stay on a plane for more than 15 hours, she is not. The likelihood that she would actually visit Bhutan is about the same as Pigs flying, which is to say, maybe, but not in this lifetime. So naturally I was confused as all get-up to hear that my mother was suddenly on campus.
“Noooo, I don’t think you saw my mother. I think Ludi’s parent are coming, but not until December”
“No, I saw her! She was with dean Williams.”
“No, I am pretty sure she was not.”
“But she was just in the dinning hall.”
“Oh yes! That isn’t my mom that is Betsy, Dean Williams’ friend. My mom is definitely still in the US.” I paused, because Betsy and I bare no resemblance to each other, “why did you think she was my mother?”
“She was feeding the dogs.”
Yes, I do feed the dogs on campus. Yes I am known as a bit of an oddball when it comes to working with dogs (no one else is crazy enough to play with the sick dogs). And yes, if my mother was here, she would feed the dogs as well. But a fondness for dogs does not a relative make, and one has to admit this was a pretty hilarious mix-up that my friend and I later laughed over.
When abroad, one expects a certain amount of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and simple cultural differences. It can be as simple as whistling at night, sleeping with ones shoes under the bed, or accidentally asking a friend to sleep with you in a foreign language. Bhutan is no exception to this rule, and our blunders have for the most part been received in good nature. But as one navigates the terrain of new countries, they should learn to accept and even cherish those awkward moments when they get ham and bun.