Thursday, August 8, 2013

Amusing musings on Bhutanese culture from a chilip’s perspective.

n.b. a chilip is a westerner, likely an American

Americans wear clothing with all sorts of logos and messages displayed in every manner ranging from large print on t-shirts to subtle diminutive logos on a lapel. Americans will also tell you exactly what the message or logo means, they are aware of the messages their clothes convey. Bhutanese will tell you that they pay absolutely no attention to anything which might appear on their clothes. For them the words and logos are just another form of decoration. Looking at the photo of the t-shirt one could certainly wonder how ‘a great regent at the casuals’ is determined.
            We were attending a school cultural program and spotted a young grade school girl on stage in a musical number wearing a t-shirt with a cartoon picture of a bird standing on its head and the words ‘flip the bird’ in large letters. Of the several hundred people watching the performance I am sure we were the only two being entertained by the little girl’s attire. OK, one more in the same vein. A shirt has been spotted with a picture of a cat and the advice ‘please don’t litter, remember to spay and winter’. Every time I see a cat I now wonder how to go about wintering them.
            Upon arriving in Bhutan many of us were eager to explore, to hike in the woods and mountains. All of us were at one time or another cautioned to be careful and to watch out for beer and snacks. As with most things which sound too good to be true we all came to the realization that we were being cautioned about bear and snakes. The pronunciation of bear to rhyme with beer is so entrenched that it was seen as the correct answer on a class XII English exam.
            The school uniform is the traditional gho for men and kira for women. As a nod to the culture I wear a gho to school every day. It is a large piece of fabric which is worn a bit like a kilt. The pleats, length, etc, etc, are strictly dictated by cultural norms. It is not common to see chilips in a gho, especially if it is being worn correctly. I have learned to put mine on and then ask for help to make sure all is well before venturing out. As a result I am often asked ‘do you wear your gho yourself sir?’. They mean to be asking if I am able to put it on by myself but I am always tempted to look into my large front pocket and say yes I think I am the only one in here.
            The verb to take is used to mean to eat and to drink in daily conversation. Do you take meat? Do you take beer? Do you take chilies? would be common questions. We chilips are often asked if we take rice. The Bhutanese do not consider any of the three daily meals complete without a substantial serving of rice. So when I am asked if I take rice it makes me think of taking a prescribed medicine three times daily. I am not a very good Bhutanese in this regard, on occasion I do take rice three times in a day but often I skip it and do not take the food prescribed by Bhutanese culture.

            These observations and many more keep me smiling here in Bhutan. Often times the cultural cross connection can be frustrating but if I can remember to look for the humor I can then smile when I am being told to ‘wait here for some time’ when I was hoping to get going a bit sooner.

1 comment:

  1. Brick-Enjoy your blogs. Keep them coming. Someday they should be published.
    Thank you