Friday, October 28, 2011

"Sir, may I enter the room, sir?"

(Aaron writing)

Respect is something that definitely expresses itself differently in Bhutan compared to the US.  I have seen this in quite a few contexts.  For example, I teach 5th graders at a primary school and the regard children have for elders and especially teachers is very much evident.  There are children who will both begin and end a sentence with "Sir." Given that it is just not something I was used to coming in, it was especially amusing to see the different usage of language to express respect, particularly how students use "Sir" as a noun.  I see this at a later stage of education as well, as a student at RTC, where our professor is not called by name, is not called by title, but is rather called, "Sir."  When he is referred to in the third person among students, it will be in contexts such as, "Sir is late today."

It is a very different usage of language from what I am accustomed to, and that extends beyond just classroom interactions.  Having never lived in a country with official royalty before, it has been new to use terms like "His Majesty" to describe the King--or, when I had the good fortune to meet him with Heather, Marijose, and Miranda--to directly refer to him as, "Your Majesty."  When I have used the term "Royal" in my life it has usually been sarcastically or in jest--such as that was a "royal screw up" (or saucier language when not being used on an official blog!)  Here, words like that take a deep, rich, and serious meaning that previously had been outside my regularly employed vocabulary.

But my own reconfiguration of respect as I have been here has been a good experience for me.  There are lines you simply do not cross in Bhutan, including (and especially) in usage of language.  I have grown used to students calling me "Sir" twice in one sentence, and using this language myself to show respect to others.  I firmly believe it is the "little things" that can provide the greatest light on the nature of people and places, and adjusting my usage of language has been one of the ways I have seen the differences between my own value system and that of my temporary host country.

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