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Why will this woman not move up in line? What is her problem?! Can she not SEE the entire foot of space between her and the person who just moved forward? If she doesn’t move in five seconds, I’m taking that space. 5. 4. 3. 2… FINALLY! Oh my gosh, woman, you don’t even know how close you just came to losing your place!

And that is a peek into the mind of someone slightly sleep deprived and massively overwhelmed.
Someone attempting to slip back into American culture after two-and-a-half years in South Asia, where even five inches of room between you and the next person in line is an indication that you no longer expect to go next.
Someone who, five minutes later, begins to reflect on the ugly situation that could’ve occurred if she’d butted in line.
Someone who was horrified to discover just how impatient she’d become.

As you may have guessed, that someone was me.

Of all the things about re-entering my home culture that have been difficult, I think one of the major ones has been re-adjusting my set of values. Re-adjusting my expectations for what “we” as a group are supposed to value. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a lot of values – most, in fact – that exist in every culture. Truth, modesty, time, relationships – they’re there in every culture. It’s just that each culture goes about ranking each value differently – put one ahead of the other.

For example, truth versus relationship. South Asian culture would rank relationship over truth – to the extent that it’s considered morally better to lie than lose a friend. Western culture, on the other hand, is more likely to say what it thinks even if that means jeopardizing a relationship.

My impatience with that woman in line was less about the foot of space she hadn’t moved into and more about conflicting ideas of how lines “are done”. We each valued something different about lines. She clearly valued the order, the predictability of a line. Knowing that she could take an extra second to fiddle with her luggage and coffee mug without losing her spot. I was still in the mode of valuing efficiency, awareness, and movement in a line – personal space be forgotten!

That’s the trouble and blessing of these in-between times. Because when I lived only in the US, I wasn’t conscious of how my birth culture ranked things – there was only “right”. In South Asia, I consciously set aside my value rankings in favor of adopting another set. And now? Now there are two competing ranking systems in my brain. Priorities are murky. I vacillate between impatience (because what I think should be happening is opposite from what everyone else is thinking) and complete indecisiveness (because I can’t remember what’s “appropriate” anymore).

It’s interesting, now, to have the occasion to consciously rank my priorities. To be aware there are two different – even opposite – ways of looking at a situation. To have the opportunity to choose what value takes first place in a given situation.

When was the last time you had two different values staring you in the face? Perhaps between what the group thought and what you thought? How did you make the decision?

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