8 Quirks I Took to America

            During my two years in Madagascar I picked up many things that are culturally normal either in Malagasy or Volunteer culture that are a little weird when done in the United States.  These things though became my norm and were hard to shake, so when I returned home on leave my friends, family, and just innocent bystanders got to witness some of the quirks I had acquired.  Here are the top eight:

1.      Pointing with my lips
Yeah you read that right.  And it’s exactly what it sounds like.  Act like your about to kiss something while your pointing your lips in the direction that you would point your finger.  Now you have a visual of what it means.  It’s a common thing to do here in Madagascar, at least in my region.  It’s most commonly used to point at things you don’t want others to see you pointing at.  But in America it just looks like you have a weird twitch or are blowing kisses to random people.

2.      Pointing with bent finger
Another pointing one.  In Madagascar there could be a tomb or sacred place in any direction and it is an offence to the ancestors to point at them.  So instead of accidentally offending the ancestors and receiving their wrath you point in any direction with a bent finger (not to be done if pointing at a person as it denotes that they are dead).  Instead of pointing with an extended index finger, you bend the finger as if about to pull the trigger of a gun and point with the knuckle.  Although not to noticeable it is a bit different.

3.      Malagasy squat
The Malagasy squat, also know as the Asian squat, is something everyone in the countryside of Madagascar does.  All of the roads and yards are red dirt.  There are no concrete sidewalks or benches.  So instead of sitting in the dirt and getting your pants dirty or muddy, you squat.  I find it a very comfortable way of sitting and was voted by my stagemates to ‘most likely to Malagasy squat in America, which I did.  But in America when you just take a squat people look at you weird and wonder what you’re doing.  Most Americans can’t do it.  Watch the video below and give it a try.
Group Malagasy Squat: July 4th Vondrozo VAC (Picture Credit: Karol)

4.      Tapping the glass
When at a restaurant in Madagascar it is common to tap your glass with your fork/spoon to get the attention of the waitress.  Although when I first came to Madagascar I couldn’t bring myself to do it, it being fairly offensive in the United States, but after a while it just becomes what you do.  The waitresses here wait for you to get their attention before coming to your table to help you and when they never look in your direction there are few options to get that attention.  But doing this in the States lead to my friends having to apologize on my behalf with a “Sorry.  He’s not from around here.”

5.      Tipping
The act of tipping as the main way someone receives their pay has always seemed weird to me.  Tipping isn’t a thing here in Madagascar.  There is the price and that’s what you pay.  Like in all other forms of work, people get paid for the service they do, not by the quality of that service.  This is what I had gotten used to.  So my friends in a few instances had to tell me, “Don’t forget to tip” and I was always curious whether I had tipped enough.  

6.      Table conversations
When volunteers get together they talk about their lives and things that happening with them and that conversation usually happens over the dinner table.  Some of the most prominent conversations revolve around poop, sickness, and worms and all while we are eating.  For us this is common place; proper etiquette is not followed.  At some point during the conversation some volunteer inevitably says “How are we going to go back to America? We can’t have these conversations there,” but I still did.  Don’t get me wrong, we live amazing lives, in an amazing country, are doing amazing things, and we talk about all that as well, but those things wouldn’t make a list about quirky things. 

Dinner: July 4th Mahabo VAC
7.      Language
Language can be beautiful, messy, and confusing, sometimes all at the same time.  I found this out when I returned to the States and tried to speak exclusively English.  Here in Madagascar volunteers always speak English to each other when we are together, but we insert certain Malagasy words into our sentences because it makes more sense or is just easier to use them than the English words.  There are some words that describe more of an idea than their English translation or are for a certain object that would take a description to translate it.  But in America people don’t know these words so I would always have to translate after saying them or put in a long awkward pause in my sentence as I found the best way to say it.  There were also just the times I completely forgot what the English word for things were.

8.      Yes/No
This was by far the most confusing for my family and friends and the hardest to try to change while I was back home.  The colloquial versions of yes and no in Madagascar are the opposite of what they are in the States.  For instance yes is ‘uh uh’ (similar to the American colloquial for no) and no is ‘uh huh’ (similar to the American yes).  You can see how this would be confusing.  Americans would hear me saying no but see me nodding yes and have no clue what I meant.  (You can read more about this and other things that became my new normal here).

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