It’s been almost a week in Tunisia, and living and chilling with the local people has taught me so much. I have experienced several instances of culture shock while I’m here. The social norms and etiquettes are very different back at home.
For instance, when I arrived at the airport and when the fellow local AIESECers were there to receive me, I was caught off guard by their boisterous and loud nature. Asians are generally more reserved, so imagine nearly half a dozen of them waiting for you at the airport and all of them surrounding you, welcoming you, talking loudly around you and all. I was overwhelmed.
It seems that to be reserved and quiet is an impression that you are not friendly and that something is wrong or you are not happy with something. But that is not the case at all. I really appreciate the fact that they would do anything for you to make you comfortable while at Tunisia and they welcome lots of feedback on about anything. So with that in mind, I had to up my game and be more enthusiastic, talk my mind on anything that is bothering me, keep a keen interest in them, and I do mean every single one of them you meet, and that you have to take the time to say hello, shake hands, hug and kiss on their left and right cheeks whenever they see you. In other words, I have to bring out my extrovert in me.
Talking about social conventions in Tunisia, unlike in Singapore, most of us would just say hi and do a little small talk. But in Tunisia, you have to go through a rather comprehensive process of first, smiling, saying hello, shake hands, hug, kiss them on the left and right cheeks, do small talk, and finally asking them how do you do. Imagine doing this to everyone in the room, and you realise just doing this take a significant amount of time. It’s very different back at home. They really take time to go through this social process and I am starting to appreciate this because you get a more personal contact with everyone you meet, and at the end of the day, you are good friends with them.
We have a fellow AIESECer who initially took us around town in the first few days, and whenever we went, he knew a lot of people around the city. He seems to be well connected and it was amazing seeing him going around town, to various restaurants, and cafe and seeing him talking to the owners of those establishments like old friends.
It seems like the people of Tunisia has a very strong affinity for personal, face to face contact, and they have a very close knit of social circles. It is like seeing facebook in real life, the social network is evident on the streets.
They were many other instances of culture I have experienced and I will highlight some of them in the coming days.