Thursday, March 08, 2007

Only Men Get Married in Bangladesh
March 6, 2007

Each of my Bangla lessons starts with a typical local dialog. The conversation illustrates new words taught in the lesson and demonstrates a bit of the local culture. In today’s lesson, a foreigner went to visit a Bangladeshi’s home. My teacher, Amina, said that today’s lesson was a “culture shock” lesson.

Culture shock item number one was that the Bangladeshi asked the foreigner what his salary was. Apparently this is a very normal question. My American friends and I always joke that we are becoming Bangladeshi because we have started asking each other the price of everything. Here if you are out, even talking to strangers, and you mention that you just bought something, their first question will always be, “what did it cost?” In a city where you are always looking for the best deal, this has actually become quite normal. Now even the foreigners readily talk about how much they paid for certain items. By telling the price we are either a) bragging to our friends that we were successful in our negotiation and got a good deal or b) we are asking our friends if they think that we got ripped off. Often we think it is “a” but then we discover it is really “b” when we find out that someone saw a better deal somewhere else – this especially happens when we discuss prices with Bangladeshis.

Another interesting cultural difference is that Bangladeshis always state their salary by their monthly income instead of their annual income like we do in the U.S.

Cultural shock item number two, which was not really a shock for me at this point since I have been here for almost five months already, is that if you are single, everybody asks you why you are not married. At least during this lesson I learned how to say, “Because I have not found a suitable man yet!”

Culture shock item number three, and this really was a shock to me, is that only men get married! There are active and passive forms of the verb “to marry” in Bangla and only men use the active form. Women are married by someone. My feminist hackles definitely bristled when I learned that one!

I think that learning languages is very interesting because how different thoughts and concepts are formed and verbalized provides a fascinating window into the culture. The fact that men marry and women are selected and married by the men definitely reflects the male-dominated nature of their society. The fact that more women are starting to use the active form of the verb “to marry” (I asked my Bangla teacher about it), however, indicates a new shift in the male-female dynamics.

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