Culture is a funny thing. Certain actions or behaviors become socially “normal” to us and we no longer really think about them, we just do them because that’s just how things are. The perfect place to see varying cultural norms (particularly ones regarding to space, time, and lines) is in the airport.
Yesterday when I was getting ready to board my flight from Jakarta to Dubai, I was surrounded by mass chaos. Everyone piled into the waiting area and sat as close to each other as possible. Once boarding began, 90 minutes late, everyone disregarded the person calling the boarding regions and rushed the gate en mass–forming a giant glob of people all trying to enter the plane at the same time.
Fast forward 15 hours when I was sitting at my gate with Europeans in Dubai getting ready to board my flight for Madrid. Everyone was sitting down and spread throughout the whole waiting area. When the Emirates people called passengers to board based on their boarding regions, people stayed sitting until their region was called. Once their region was called, they formed an orderly line to enter the plane, ahead of schedule.
Without consciously thinking about the situation, I was taken aback by how bizarre the orderliness of boarding the boarding in Dubai was. I felt out of place without the mass craziness around me. It seemed strange that people would stick to lines and board ahead of schedule. Crazy to think that four months ago I would have felt more at home in the orderliness, but now it just feels odd.
The funniest part about the whole experience was that I hadn’t even realized how much I had adapted to the Indonesian norms of space, time, and lines until I felt out of place in what I had previously considered “normal.” At the time, I didn’t fully realize that the Jakarta airport experience was chaotic, because that’s just how things are in Indonesia. I guess it’s a good sign that I am adapting to the way life works there, because that’s home for the next two years. Who knows, maybe in six months I won’t even like straight lines anymore.