Living in a different cultural context, the topic of unwanted attention comes up a lot. We talk about what happens when you’re too nice or when people are too bold. But at some point, does all attention from strangers become unwanted?
Admittedly, in Jamaica, many of the men I encounter do spout out some inappropriate comment about the way I look (always great!) or ask whether I’m married or single within seconds of spotting me. This is not an uncommon experience for people here, local or foreign. As a result, I’ve sensed a change in myself and in some of my friends that I’m not quite sure I like.
I occasionally ignore people or pretend to not understand what they’re saying to avoid saying something unkind in reply. On a couple of bad days, I’ve lashed out at people who wouldn’t leave me alone, saying things like “gwan nuh” (go on now) or “lef wi nuh!” (leave us alone). Sometimes it’s warranted, like when strangers verbally harass you, but other times it’s because I just don’t want to talk to anyone about anything.
Who is this person? I’ve joked with friends about how socially inept this would make us back in the US. I picture myself in a bar, yelling at or mean mugging a dude who asks me for my name.
Sure, I may find myself engaged in a conversation that I don’t enjoy (so I walk away with a few “no’s”). But I might instead make friends with my elderly neighbor and get invited to play dominoes with him at the corner shop on my walk home from school, all because I said “hello.” Win some, lose some.
There is, of course, a balance that must be struck. Not everyone is a friend. Likewise, not everyone is out to get something from you.
While the context I am in has changed somewhat dramatically, I’m glad to be conscious and aware of the values I hold dear, enough so that I can hold onto them.
Also, everyone has their own level of social comfort and their own set of personal values. I am not trying to say that everyone should adopt this way of thinking. I merely hope to make the point that cultural context can change our behaviors, but that we need not lose ourselves in order to successfully live within that new context.
That being said, it is key to stay safe and to trust your instincts. I’m in no way suggesting that anyone start hanging out with the guy who’s known for making drunken threats about giving you a Jamaican baby.
Have a great day, bredren an sistren!