This weekend I got chewed out by an Indonesian mother.
Granted I kind of deserved a stern talking-to because I did go in full blaze, when a more measured approach would have been adequate.
You see, I have a way of being ornery when confronted with certain triggers (namely rich people with superiority complexes and rules that I deem totally inane). This particular situation had both. In spades. And, PS, if you didn't already know this about me, when my principles get trodden upon and I feel that justice has been silted, well, watchit. (See aforementioned orneriness.)
Anyway, she left, shouting at me, "You live here. Adapt. Just adapt. Adapt, okay? Adapt." And that phrase has jammed itself into my brain.
Because you see, I like to think of myself as a "good" expat, the kind that sees locals on equal footing, the kind that doesn't abuse humans, the kind that isn't super into endless discussions of Us v. Them.
That call, Adapt. Adapt. Adapt. Well, it stung, as it was intended to, I think. And the sting comes from my insecurity, my own questioning of how far I need to adapt, and how firmly I must cling on to my native norms.
We tend to infer a great deal about someone's parental fitness by the way in which they comply to standard safety practices. North American babies spend the better part of their childhoods strapped into some form of vehicular restraining device. My own daughter drove from Northern Ontario to Southern Michigan in a super-safe infant seat, and screamed all the way. Better she scream, purple-faced and angry, than risk the small chance of a car accident. An unrestrained baby, well, that's a marker of total immorality and parental neglect. Just look a the price Britney Spears paid.
Here in Indonesia, few babies are put in car seats. Partly because cars are beyond the means of most, but also partly because here babies are held, not left sitting restrained in a seat. A purple-faced crying baby cruelly left tied down when he just wants to be held, well, that's tantamount to child abuse.
We North Americans (well, a certain breed of us anyway) banish all forms of BPA, toxic chemicals, pesticides, and screen-time brain-rot. Here, not so.
Here hands are washed vigorously, sick littles are set to the doctor at the first sign of a sneeze, and my choice to let my child ride out her illness unmediated is seen as a dubious one.
There are ways in which I absolutely have adapted to life in Indonesia. I'm okay with my kid eating white rice, and street food. I carry my toddler in a salandang. I let strangers pick her up, and pinch her cheek. I've adjusted my time clock and my child's schedule to keep pace with daily calls to prayer. I've left *some* of my aggressiveness (picked up in China, BTW, another adaptation, another country) in favour of a friendly smile, because pushiness gets you nowhere here.
Lunch on leaves. Total adaptation.
Strangers man-handling my kid. Adapted. Yeah.
Appearing in public like this = failure to adapt.
But there are other ways in which I have not adapted. I won't go around acting like we live in a caste system. I'm not following the convention of my social station and engaging a car and driver. I walk places. I take busses and taxis. I still eat Western food, most of the time. I wear shorts. I go places without my hair done. I still think like a Westerner.
I still get really angry when the rich and privileged go around acting like are better then everyone.
So, I'm just not sure, how far do I need to adapt here to be a "good" expat? Do I really need to adapt to practices and situations against which my values scream NOOOOOOOO! NOT GOOD!! Do I just silently stew, or do I say something (with a little more artfulness than I exhibited this weekend.) How far can you bend and adapt but still maintain your sense of self, your culture, your values? I'm not sure.
Do you have any insight here?
This post was kindly sponsored by 21st Century Insurance. Thanks, guys! I really dig your community activism and social media outreach.
Speaking of safety, here's a cool thing, 21st Century Insurance is running a contest to promote child safety while driving and they are giving away free car seats to creative people that can redesign the Baby on Board sign. The grand prize winner even gets $10,000 for a nursery redesign. You can find the contest here.