I just shared a positive anecdote about surrender in a culture shock situation, but it can also be a liability. A traveler has to be willing to push boundaries, to grin and bear the uncomfortable situation. However, especially during the early phases of adaptation, this flexibility makes her vulnerable, too.
The subtle culture shocks – tremors, as I called them – can define a culture in contrast. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. And sometimes “it” is something as minor as a healthy selection of peanut butter.
Likewise, a person can be defined in contrast – you are marked by your limits, notable for what you do not do. Let’s add a moral element to the food, and say that a vegetarian may identify as someone who does not bloody their mouth with the inhumane slaughter of animals. But what if the vegetarian’s host family slaughters a goat in celebration of her arrival? If she ate it, it would be a sign of respect to the family, and certainly reflects a willingness to push her boundaries. But at what point does she violate her own beliefs? And, if they are constantly in negotiation, how will she know?
I tended to know when the line is crossed – rampant sexism always gets my goat – but I had trouble knowing when to keep that goat as a pet, or when to slaughter it in public (I think this feeling of disgust means the metaphor is officially exhausted).
My question is: How and when did you learn to set boundaries when you were traveling? Which of your convictions – culturally transmitted, personal, religious, etc. – are nonnegotiable, and how do you react appropriately in situations where they are threatened? Where, and how, do you draw the line?