Every Saturday we’re in Palembang, Raj and I do an hour-long radio show called “Smart Up your Life.” The US Embassy in Jakarta sponsors the program, and they pick a weekly topic and send us a five-minute long sketch we play on the air.
Except for the English Library (which you’ll hear about soon), this has been my favorite Palembang activity. People actually listen, and it gives them a chance to listen to native speakers talking. Instead of focusing on grammar or structure, we talk about cultural differences between Indonesia and the US.
We have topics like:
Usually, the Indonesian host asks us a few questions, and then Raj and I discuss different aspects of the main topic. Listeners can call in or text their questions during the show. And they’re very specific—How many people do most Americans kiss before they get married? Why don’t Americans like to make small talk with people on the street like Indonesians do? How important is religion in the daily life of an American?
Luckily, Raj and I almost always agree. Sure, our audience is people who already speak at least basic English (and thus tend to be a little more open-minded), but it feels really great to actually explain the differences in our cultures. So often, we have to gloss over things and we don’t really get to talk about it.
Are Indonesians being rude when they walk up to strangers and ask where they live? Definitely not. But neither are Americans who don’t feel comfortable answering a question like that.
I’m also surprised at how many cultural norms I obey in America without even thinking of it. “What do you call your mom’s sister?” In my case, Aunt Pam. “But isn’t it rude to address your elder by his or her first name?” Well, yes, but it’s ok if you put “aunt” or “uncle” in front of it.
“How well do you have to know someone before it’s ok to ask his/her salary?” Hmm… never? Raj and I agreed that we wouldn’t even ask our own parents’ salaries.
“If people are fat, why can’t we just call them fat? Why do Americans call people tall or short or thin… but not fat?” That’s very rude in America, even though it’s really normal in Indonesia.
We’re always careful to explain that we don’t think one way is better than the other, just that as we meet new people and try to learn more about the world, we have a responsibility to be sensitive to other cultures.
The show is the one time a week when Raj and I see each other—the one fluent English conversation we have with anyone in person most weeks. We get Pizza Hut and JCo doughnuts. This week we treated ourselves to a whole box of jPops as a grand finale. Yum.