Thursday, July 12, 2012

To Do Or Not To Do? That Is The Question

Culturally, there are some differences in practices that are acceptable in Ethiopia versus the  good ol' U.S.A. 

So far, I've learned that in Ethiopia, it IS okay to:

1) Pick your nose in public.  Yes, it's true.  Everybody does it.  In my last post, I made a statement about not picking my nose in front of the housekeeper.  But, I bet she'd be perfectly okay with it.  I'm the one that just can't do it while being watched.

2)  Relieve yourself in a public place.  Men and children urinate everywhere here.  I do mean everywhere.  Anywhere is acceptable.  Busy roadways, ditches, pastures, puddles, you name it, I bet someone has peed in it.  Now, I have not seen women doing it.  But if you are male or under the age of 16, it's perfectly fine.  I'm not even going to mention the other bodily function I've seen plenty in the pasture in front of our house.  Avert your eyes, kiddos. 

3)  Litter.  I have no idea why, but there is trash everywhere.  If children here open a piece of gum, the trash immediately gets thrown on the ground.  Adults, too. Everything from old shoes to packaging to any other trash you can think of is strewn wherever you look.  It has taken us a month to get our boys used to the idea of finding the garbage can at the transition home and throwing away the trash from the treats we bring them.

4) Put any toilet paper you use into the garbage, not the toilet.  The sewer system is so bad, it won't support throwing too much paper in, so if you actually use toilet paper (which is not available in the majority of bathrooms in public places, by the way, so bring your own in your purse, - oh, that is if the restroom has an actual toilet, a rare find) the people raised here throw it in the trash can. 

5) Beg for anything.  Anytime.  Any place.  If you will give it, people will take it. 

6) Walk down the street with your arm around your friend.  Like, as in, men walking with their male friends arm in arm or holding hands.  If you saw that in the U.S., what would your first thought be?  That's right.  Uh-huh. But here, it's a sign of friendship or "brotherhood" to walk with your arm around your friend of the same sex or holding hands with them.  Somehow I can't see Alan participating in this cultural phenomenon.

7) Take your children to a restaurant.  Yes, I know of many kid-friendly restaurants in America.  But, I also know that many are not okay with hosting children.  Lots of workers in restaurants don't like to see children coming, and a fair share of patrons would like to dine without seeing a child at the next table.  However, in Addis, restaurant workers and owners love children!  They will talk to them, offer to hold them, console them, clean up after them, and play with them.  Other families with kids have had their children come up to our table and shake our hands and tell us "Selamno (hello)".  The people are just plain friendly.  I thought we Southerners were known for our smiles and "howdy"s, but we have nothing on Ethiopians.

However, it is NOT okay to:

1) Show your shoulders or knees.  Hey, Florida peeps, guess what?  No shorts!  No tank tops!  Yup, that's right.  Even though it's very hot here almost all year, it is considered rude to show your knees or shoulders, unless you're a soccer player or working out in the gym.  I brought two tank tops, which I usually wear with a jacket over them, and a pair of shorts, which I never wear unless I'm around the house.  Who knew?  Our driver thought Alan was strange for his tendency to wear khaki shorts on a daily basis.

2) Drive out of the city at night.  Want to make your driver freak out here?  Mention the possibility of going anywhere at night that's not in downtown Addis.  Even in downtown Addis, they drive as little as possible at night.  Why?  There are bandits (yes, that's right, thieves) that will set up roadblocks in the dark and when you stop the car they rob you.  It's apparently very prevalent.  So you better time your outings correctly.

3) Throw away glass bottles.  When you purchase a drink in a bottle, whether it's coke or beer or anything else, you must return that bottle to the place you purchased the drink.  If not, they will ask about it.  If you break it, you better pay for it.  The bottles are sent to a center to be cleaned and refilled.  There may be piles of litter everywhere, but you can bet those piles do not include glass bottles.

4) Use an exorbitant amount of paper products.  What a change from American living!  At home, we already use cloth napkins most of the time and have old cleaning rags.  But, here, they are virtually nonexistent, except for the occasional paper napkin and roll of toilet paper.  All cleaning is done with rags.  Nothing disposable.  No trash bags.  No paper towels.  At many restaurants, napkins are only available upon request.  Those of you that own stock in Proctor & Gamble would be sorely disappointed. 

There you have it, folks.  I'm sure the longer I'm here, the longer the list will grow.  Isn't this information you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask? 

Today I am thankful for:  my small dry erase board, avocados, antibiotic cream, and seeing pictures of my soon-to-be-here niece's nursery (thanks, Matt and Courtney!).


  1. Hey, Dawn & Kids!
    I am so totally hooked on your blog. Ya'll jump start my day and if I don't find a fresh entry each day I keep looking for it all day long!
    Spoke with A & J at church last Sunday, both speak very highly of Ethiopia and the people there.
    Today I am thankful for my God, my families (bio, Church and work), Partakers of Grace and good plumbing - complete with toilet paper!
    Keep up the good work, I know people in Plant City are praying your family will soon be all together!

    1. Thank you, Cindy! I love hearing what other people are thankful for. Thank you for praying! Love you!

  2. How can I say this politely? I have MAJOR toilet paper issues!! I read this out loud to my husband who when I got to #4 Promptly agreed with me that I got work to on this!!! I will be drawing up blue prints to help the Ethiopian septic system in the A.M. ;)- Rachel