Interesting Cultural Facts and Observations from Living Abroad

(by Michelle Wendler)

So after living on three different continents over the last few years and traveling pretty extensively, here are some observations.

1) Beauty is culture-specific. For example, here in Burundi, being heavy (fat, overweight) is considered beautiful. To compliment someone you tell them how fat they have gotten and describe the body parts that appear especially fat. To tell someone they are thin is a huge insult! (don’t ask me how I know this…)

2) Sealed off houses and climate control is more of an American thing. So far I haven’t stayed in one international house (hotels are different) that has climate control (like whole house heating and air conditioning). People open windows, use fans, or fire places (or portable heaters). This has very real implications in Burundi at elevation (brrrr. lately it's been getting down into the 50's F in our bedrooms at night) and in France when a heat wave strikes (sweltering).

3) Cold cereal options outside of America are: Corn flakes, and cocoa clams / flakes / balls. Basically I haven’t found many options outside of this in Europe or Africa, except Muesli, which is oatmeal with raisins or seeds mixed in.

4) Carpet is an American thing.

5) Wearing shoes inside a house is a big no no internationally. We have gotten so used to taking our shoes off when we go inside that when we were reading a book to Gabrielle the other day and it showed kids inside at the dinner table wearing shoes she couldn’t stop commenting that "they are wearing their shoes inside!“

6) Drinking a lot of water (like during meals, and carrying a water bottle or thermos around with you) is really an American thing. Here in Africa I hardly ever see people drink water…I mean I know they do….but I never ever see it. And at meals if I offer it, they will only drink after the meal is completely over but never during. In France, if you carry a water bottle around with you as you go shopping or walking you may get snide remarks like “are you a dog that needs to drink water all the time?” Oh and I should also mention that ice isn’t a European or African thing. They think it’s really unhealthy to drink something cold. 

7) Sleeping with head out of the covers (even babies and children) is not a Burundian habit. They think it’s so weird that we don’t sleep with our head under the covers. It makes since though…because that keeps them protected from mosquitos and other things that may be crawling inside the house at night. 

8) And finally, certain colors aren’t considered gender specific here in Africa. Pink, purple, red…flowers etc…men and women can wear these no problem. The brighter the better.