Anticipating Culture Differences

The trip to El Salvador is bound to be full of surprises, particularly to someone like me who hasn’t been out of the country before (aside from a weekend in Toronto five years ago). We’re doing our best to prepare ourselves physically and psychologically for what we’ll experience, from reading books to watching brief documentaries about Salvadorian culture.I knew there would be differences between America and El Salvador in terms of traditions and social norms, but it’s the little things that I’ve found add up fast.

One thing I didn’t think of until I read materials from the Center for Global Education is due to a different sense of modesty than many have in America, I’ll need to wear long pants when in public to fit in culturally. Am I to be denied the convenience of wearing shorts in 100-degree-plus-humidity days near the equator just to respect the native culture? Well, let’s just say Land’s End just got a few bucks from me for some new lightweight cotton canvas khakis. New culture, here I come (with pants)!

All that said, one never knows where the differences between American and Salvadorian culture will lie. Here’s a quick example of a surprise thwarted by an email sent by Professor Chris Smith this morning:

Filed under “A Mundane Matter:”
A student asked me about the suggestion about bringing kleenex and that she was going to bring biodegradable toilet paper. I think that is a great idea for all kinds of reasons. Just so no one is surprised, you cannot put any kind of paper in the toilets of El Salvador, Guatemala, etc. So, all paper will go in waste baskets. This takes a little getting used to for many of us, so I just thought it was fair to let you know that this is the situation. Believe me, they are great about emptying the waste baskets pretty constantly.
See you soon,

I can tell you right now, that’s one surprise I’m glad I’m aware of before I get to El Salvador. Add biodegradable toilet paper to the packing list? Check.

Later this week I’ll post my reaction to some of the books we’ve been assigned to read prior to going on the trip. In the meantime, if you have tips on the “little things” I can expect, please tell me in the comments.


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