Being the land of migrants, Oz invites various cultures to congregate, and unavoidably, to clash. We all know how to cook snags on the barbie, to snatch a beer when 5 o’clock comes by or to celebrate new year’s eve. Our “modern Australian” cuisine is a reflection of the melting pot Oz has become: asparagus from northern Europe, leek from Egypt, eggplant from India, zucchini from Italy, bamboo shoots from China, but yet they are familiar to our tongue in more layers than one. I am sure there are plenty of aha moment when different cultures meet up and produce the best bits of every world, and that’s how we got here.
But what happen when they don’t? Like when I stir fry sambal belacan with broccoli – taste bad and frankly… wrong… (kids don’t try that at home, even if someone does it in Masterchef). I’m talking about specific practices that clash and make us uncomfortable, like what happen when you have a burqa-clad woman sitting next to you on the train; or the one thing that have, time and time again, made me uneasy: saying goodbyes. I think this custom deserves one entire post on it, and that will be this post.
Why so hard?
Ninety-five percent of the time, I have no problem with saying goodbyes. I have adapted my goodbyes to suit the other party. This is because, back from where I came from, saying goodbye was as simple as waving your hand accompanied with “dadaaaag” – Indonesian don’t even bother saying “let’s meet again in the future” like how the Japanese do it with their “mata ne!”. The word “dadaaaag” doesn’t mean a thing; it’s just a random noise we like to use to extend the waving session as the two groups take separate directions. No bodily touch in the procession, usually a quick and fail-proof exit.
The majority of Asian cultures dictate hugging and kissing to only be shared within the family circle, and to maybe the exception of close friends. Naturally then, handshakes became the next step after hand waving, especially if a guy needs to say bye to a girl, or vice-versa. A business colleague relationship has always followed this rule regardless how often the group spends time outside office hours. Note that when I grew up in Indo, I hardly feel the need to hug my girl-friends despite how relaxed I felt towards them and I never had to hug/kiss my guy friends, unless they got upgraded to a different status (kaching!). But that had to change when I entered the lengthy and complicated world of western goodbyes.
I remembered my constant discomfort on kissing people’s cheek in the first few months I came to Oz. To start off, it made the goodbyes a lot more staged and requiring more thoughts than I ever had to allocate for. My point is, waving and handshakes allow delayed reaction from the opposite party to be smoothly integrated into the bye-bye proceeding. To respond to a spontaneous wave or handshake, he or she can decide to wave/shake back as slow as half a minute later, and that’s fine because it does not impose your bodily existence towards the other person at all. This is very different to have someone’s body or mouth lunging towards you within a split second, demanding a mirrored response immediately – whether or not we have agreed on what the goodbye ‘protocol’ is.
Nevertheless, I found cheek to cheek hugs between girlfriends to be the easiest to master, and this includes the variety of lips-to-cheek, cheek-to-cheek, as well as the multiple cheek kisses of the European versions. Overtime, cheek kissing male became pretty straightforward, under one condition: I know that I’m expected to cheek kiss at the end of the conversation. That gave me enough time to have a short think about how to do it – yes I am slow at this, coupled with the fact that height difference does increase the level of difficulties.
I devised an adaptation algorithm that, as I’ve mentioned, worked 95% of the time. I wait for some signals first (if they don’t initiate, I would default back happily to waves and handshakes), but I then prepare myself to do the following:
- If Asian male: do a wave/handshake – I do not want to make them uncomfortable;
- If Asian female: do a wave if I’m not too close to her (for the same reason as #1), otherwise, treat as if she is under rule #3;
- If Westerner (gender doesn’t matter): do a cheek-kiss variety.
Now, what do I do if I need to say goodbye with a banana male? By definition they would look like they fit into rule #1, but I should have prepared under rule #3. Yah, this caught me by surprise ! Recently I had had this awkward moment repeated to me thanks to a banana. He tried cheek-to-cheek hug, and I did the unwanted kiss pose. My almost-healed-hug-wound reopened, and the painful memories of past failed huggies rushed in.
It is time to revise the algo.