I’ve been around a bit, and have fallen into culture gaps all over the world. I’m not on about unusual food, or strange accents, or vehicles on the wrong side of the road, or money you don’t fully understand, or alien architecture, or sacred cows eating your beachbag. I’m talking about the things that really make you go ‘What the hell?’
So in India, Goa to be precise. In a bar. Now the Goans love tricks, puzzles, games, and general fun and playtime. If the barman is in the middle of a game of cat’s cradle with another customer, you’re going to have to wait for a bit for a drink. My wife had been playing cat’s cradle for a while, when the barman said to me, ‘Do you know any tricks?’
Now I happen to know a real corker involving a paper boat. You know how to make a paper boat, don’t you? Everyone does. Everybody in the world.
So I got a sheet of paper (standard A4, which gave me a mild case of cultural vertigo, for some reason), and made a boat. Then I had to tell the tale. I held the boat in the air, and made it do gentle rocking motions.
‘This is the good ship Juliette, sailing along under a clear sunny sky. Then! A storm appears from nowhere!’
Thunder and wind noises, made the boat rock wildly.
‘Suddenly, a huge wave ripped off the bows!’
Tore front of boat off.
‘And the storm got worse, and the stern was ripped away!’
Thunder and wind noises, tore the back of the boat off.
‘Then a really huge wave took the mast away!’
Tore off the central pyramid about a third the way down.
‘And the good ship Juliette sank, and all the crew were lost.’
Hands under the table, and unfolded the remaining paper, which still had the main horizontal crease in it.
‘And the storm blew itself out, and ships came to search for survivors. But all they ever found was the captain’s tee shirt…’
Open up on the table, and the remaining piece I’d torn bits off looked remarkably like a tee shirt or an undershirt as you may say.
Barman went apeshit.
‘That’s really good. I like that. Do it again.’
I made another boat, started off.
‘There’s a boat sailing along, there’s a storm…’
Matey boy was incensed.
‘No. Stop. You must tell the story properly.’
So the good ship Juliette, blah blah blah…
‘Fantastic. I’m going to do this for the boys later on! I’d better practice.’
He made a paper boat, told the tale in great detail, ripped off the stem and the stern and the mast, put his hands below the table, fiddled about…
‘… was the captain’s tee shirt!’
Didn’t look anything like a tee shirt I could recognise. More like one of those things that children bring home from playschool.
‘Duncan, I don’t understand! What did I do wrong?’
‘Nothing I could see. Have another go.’
Full tale again, still the loss of stem and stern and mast, flatten out the result…
Still looked more like a doily.
Do you know what? Goans do not make paper boats as you and I do. They don’t. The boats look the same in every respect, but they are completely different.
That’s what you call a culture gap.