LIVING ABROAD: DON’T GO NUTS

by missfootloose on September 4, 2010 · 24 comments

in And So It Goes, Culture and Customs, customs, Expat life, life abroad

The Far East is full of mysteries. I’m sure you’ve heard.  For expats and travelers this can be fun, fascinating,  frustrating, or infuriating as I discovered myself.  For two years I sojourned on the tropical island of Java, Indonesia, with the man of my dreams and our two blond daughters.

Borobudur Temple, Java. Each “bell” contains a Buddha statue. See volcanoes in the distance.

Photo by Trey Ratcliff / cc

I did not attempt to unveil the mysteries of religion, mysticism, spiritualism and other high-minded affairs, since my mind only lives on the lower plains of existence, just so you know.  Even so, in daily life, I found some mysteries to deal with.  Such as that people on Java like to pinch the cheeks of cute little kids hard, as our girls painfully discovered.  And when you’re in a car accident, logic as you know it does not apply. Let me tell you a scary tale:

CULTURE CRASH

So one day I am in traffic, in my little car.  I’m on my way home from shopping at Pasar Johar, the open market in Semarang, the town where we live.  I buy my vegetables and fruit there, and fish and meat as well (and no, we’ve never been sick).

Photo by Alan Chan / cc

I have to make one more stop at a small store along the street, so I slow down and signal my turn.  Behind me a cool kid on a motorcycle decides to pass me at the same time.  On the outside, the curbside, illegally.  Either he does not see my turn signal or he just ignores it because he is sixteen and therefore immortal.

As you will understand, disaster strikes as I turn my steering wheel.  With a horrifying bang he crashes right into the side of my car, behind where I sit in the driver’s seat.  Then he bounces over the top, bike and all, and ends up lying in the street on the other side.  My heart rate is off the charts.

People stop.  Traffic stops. The daredevil cyclist clambers to his feet, apparently unscathed except for an injured elbow, praise be to Allah.  His motorcycle is a mangled mess.

Long story short:  The hara-kiri biker and I end up at the police station, where a report is drawn up. Witnesses to the scene have confirmed that the motorcyclist was at fault, passing me on the wrong side, and that my signal was turned on.  Why did he pass me when I had my turn signal on?  He shrugs and says he didn’t believe I was going to turn.  Oh, really?

The officer in charge of our case  now suggests to me that I should pay the young man some money so he can go fix his bike, if this is even possible.  I am not sure I hear him right.

“It was not my fault!” I say.  “Why should I pay?”

The officer assures me the accident was not my fault, and that it says so in the report, so why don’t I give the boy some money so the case can be closed and I can go home?

The full shock has finally hit me and I am trembling.  The kid could have been dead, and guilty or not, I would have carried the image of his bloody corpse with me for the rest of my life.   I am enraged he did such a stupid thing and now I have to give him money?  No way!

The officer looks confused.  The kid looks confused.  Why don’t I fork over some rupiahs and be done with it?

I tell them I will not pay money. Not even a token little bit.  Absolutely definitely not.  I did not cause the accident and I will not pay!

“But the young man is poor,” the officer says.  “He needs money to help with fixing his bike.”

My husband and his colleague Jim arrive at the police station to give me aid and succor.  I pour out my story, while the hara-kiri kid watches us as he nurses his painful elbow.  More talk with the various officers who have gathered to watch the drama.  I stand aside.  I’ve had enough. I’m hot and sweaty.  I’m mad and tired.  I want to go home, have a shower and a stiff drink or two.

A while later my husband takes my arm and leads me out of the station.

“They’re letting us go?  What did you do?”

“I gave the kid some money,” my man says, cool as a cucumber.

I’m sizzling like a chili in hot oil.  “Why?” I wail.  “It wasn’t my fault!  Why should we pay him even a single rupiah!”

“It’s not a matter of who is at fault,” Jim-the-colleague tells me.  “It’s a matter of who has money.  That’s how it’s done here.  You have the money, so you pay.  That’s fair.”  He grins his American smile at me.

You’ve got to be kidding.

“And,” my husband adds, “the other logic goes that since you’re a foreigner, the accident wouldn’t have happened in the first place if you hadn’t been here.”

Of course.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?

* * *

All over the world people have different ways of thinking, of making sense of things.  I’d love to hear what you’ve come across that surprised, angered or amused you.  I’m waiting!

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

maya September 4, 2010 at 3:25 am

I love your husband’s take on the situation. I’ll have to remember it next time I am in one of those frustrating culture-clash situations.

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missfootloose September 9, 2010 at 5:39 am

Actually, it wasn’t my husband’s take on it, but what really is the stated logic of the local people. It is the same train of thought prevalent in some other Far East countries: You’re a foreigner, and this wouldn’t have happened if you wouldn’t have been here.

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Madame DeFarge September 4, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Not convinced by the logic of this. Maybe they’d rather not have our tourist dollars or foreign investment either?

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missfootloose September 9, 2010 at 5:40 am

It’s a different sort of logic, not just for foreigners, but part of the way of thinking.

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Felix September 4, 2010 at 4:29 pm

It somehow IS logical indeed… if you follow the emotional rather that the rational sense. Maybe we “westerners” (that includes me) are sometimes too much attached to our rational sense?
btw, I guess the outcome would have been the same (if not worse because of bribed “witnesses” and/or police officers) in most other developing countries, including Ghana for instance 🙂

Selamat soré,
Felix

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missfootloose September 9, 2010 at 5:42 am

I agree. And this was not a case of bribery, as you indicated, just the way things are done.

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Mara September 5, 2010 at 6:58 am

Yep, that makes sense. If you had stayed in your own country, your daughters wouldn’t have existed and in turn their cheeks never pinched!

It’s logic like this that makes the world go round I think!

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missfootloose September 9, 2010 at 5:44 am

We tend to think that logic is logic, but it is not so! Learning these sorts of things does make travel interesting, even if it is frutrating at times,

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MartyrMom September 5, 2010 at 8:45 am

Ok….some may not think this is funny but here goes…..My son is in prison for robbing banks. His rationalization??? the only ones he robbed were FDIC approved…….thereby being funded by the government should members “lose” their money. He would never dream of robbing a credit union because the credit union is “owned” by the members……in his brilliant brain is all makes sense and for some reason i sort of get it…….go figure

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missfootloose September 9, 2010 at 5:48 am

Our rationalizations aren’t always rational or logical. If your son would think just one step further he would know that the government’s money is not the government’s money at all, but the taxes paid by individual people, so he’d still be hurting people and not an anonymous institution.

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maria altobelli September 6, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Hey, your husband would also be correct if you guys lived in Mexico. We have a 1989 Econoline van that was in good condition when we moved here in 1999. It is now full of dents and dings from people running into it. Most of the time the ones causing the accident speed away.

However, one time a fellow pulled out from his parking space alongside the curb and rammed our van on the right side, locking fenders. Paul was just driving into town, calm as can be. The weird thing is that this street has traffic on it all the time. A person would have to be suicidal to pull out like that without looking. Or mighty preoccupied.

Passerbys ran over to try to heave and pull the cars apart before the police got there but no luck. Normally, you couldn’t find a cop to save your life nor would you want to. However, that day they appeared out of no where and surrounded both vehicles. They wanted to impound both cars.

Paul shouted “No blood. There’s no blood anywhere. You can’t impound a car when there’s no blood.” He waved a piece of paper. “It says right here. I have a copy of the law.” He was waving a paper with a law on it, but it was a different law involving car registration.

When one of the cops tried to get a closer look, Paul pulled out his insurance papers and shouted that his insurance would cover everything even if it wasn’t his fault.

The campesino who had caused the accident looked scared to death but Pablo kept rambling on about no blood and this grand insurance he had. The bystanders were now getting involved and getting into the act. They especially liked the part of no blood. Finally the cops decided it prudent to disappear.

The thing is we had insurance but they would have gone after the person at fault since it is a law that everyone has to have insurance but maybe only 40% of the population does. After the cops left, the campesino got a sly smile on his face and suggested they settle up right there.

Paul said, “Sure. Just give me the name of your insurance company and my agent can talk to yours.”

The fellow paled.

Paul slipped him a hundred pesos (about ten bucks) and told him to Vaya con diós – Go with God. They shook hands and went in separate directions.

Our van sports that huge dent to this day, along with the prior and later dings.

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missfootloose September 9, 2010 at 5:51 am

Maria, what a great story! And your husband sure was clever dealing with this situation. Of course, living in foreign countries you have to learn to think and deal creatively.

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Mireille September 8, 2010 at 4:49 am

As your husband said: “the other logic goes that since you’re a foreigner, the accident wouldn’t have happened in the first place if you hadn’t been here.” Happened to me exactly while we were living in Thailand!! So we ended up buying the police some Black Label whiskey. You have to laugh about it….

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missfootloose September 9, 2010 at 5:56 am

Mireille, yes I’ve heard that this way of thinking is a Far Eastern thing! You just have to be creative and learn to deal with it. Black Label whiskey does wonders the world around!

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Lady Fi September 10, 2010 at 12:22 pm

That first shot is just stunning!

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Sietske September 11, 2010 at 4:03 am

Same thing in Lebanon. A cab driver crashed into my side. His front fell off, radiator fan and all. I had not even a scratch. Yet the policeman suggested I give him some money. “Ask the insurance company”, I suggested. “He has no insurance, can’t you see? Just pay the man some money. He has no money, and you have a lot.”
I was upset by this, and took off without paying. In retrospect, I think I should have given him something. It is a mindset. In Holland, if you’re at fault, you pay. Here, the one who has, pays.

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ConnerGo September 11, 2010 at 11:08 am

Funny, this makes SO much sense to me sitting here in Havana!

Should I be worried???

(great post Karen!)

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Meri September 11, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Wow! Your family got pinched in more than one way.

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Rambles with Reese September 12, 2010 at 11:55 am

I totally agree with you about adhering to a sense of justice…but once you live in these countries, the rules that we grew up with in N.A. don’t apply.

Great stories and photos! I’m now your latest follower.

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edj October 4, 2010 at 11:40 pm

That story could have taken place in Morocco. Same suicidal young men on motorcycles, same idea that if you have money you pay it, whether or not you were at fault. I struggled with it.

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missfootloose October 5, 2010 at 7:32 am

It’s amazing in how many places the same logic prevails: the one with money pays, regardless of guilt. My experiences overseas have given me another way to look at what we call logic. It’s not an absolute 😉

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Tatter Scoops November 27, 2010 at 8:28 am

This scenario happens daily in Indonesia, especially in Jakarta where motorbikes these days are like ants and people driving their car will always be at faults for these sometimes suicidal motorbikers. Sadly, yes some people here have the mentality of thinking since you’re a ‘bule’ you have cash and therefore pay for just about everything. Sorry to hear about your experience.

As cliche as it sounds, I’m enjoying your blog and looking forward to read more about your adventures in some of these amazing places. 🙂

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Greg@Travel Finland Blog April 21, 2012 at 8:53 am

Just goes to show how different cultures deal with issues
I would probably have been in the same mindset as your husband
However when living abroad it can be far better to adapt to the situation you find yourself in
Glad it all sorted itself out
Greg@Travel Finland Blog recently posted..Tips On What To Leave At Home When Going On VacationMy Profile

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missfootloose April 21, 2012 at 10:10 am

I had some learning to do, clearly! But it’s what makes travel so interesting. Cultivating a sense of humor is essential, but at times it fails me 😉

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