I'm reminded of Thomas Balmès' documentary Babies. The film follows four babies, from four different parts of the world: two from urban environments and two from rural environments, but all four grow up to be healthy children despite different standards of living (the scene with the rooster walking around one of the babies' sleeping areas seriously freaked me out when I saw it in the trailer). I would recommend seeing it if you haven't.
Anyway, I shared some of my experiences living in South Korea that struck me when I first arrived. I remember walking into my first Korean bathroom and seeing a drain in the floor.
"Honey, look at this."
"What is it?"
"It's a... it looks like a drain?"
"Why is that there?"
"I don't know."
We didn't know it right then (how could we have?), but keeping our bathroom floor dry was to become an intense daily battle. In the first month, we put on our thinking caps and did everything we could to reduce moisture--I think my wife and I even found some flexible rubber tubing that we stuck onto the edge of the tub because although our apartment happened to have a shower curtain (thank you, former waegukin resident!), the tub was not designed in such a way as to prevent water from running off the back of the shower wall and onto the floor. Looking back, I have no idea how my wife found this, but when your wife finds adhesive rubber tubing that might fix your ridiculous water problem, you don't ask questions! I can remember getting extremely frustrated every time I thought I had thwarted another invasion of the pernicious water droplets, only to step into a small pool with my socks later on.
As we visited other Koreans' apartments and subsequently used their bathrooms, I noticed they were extremely wet, but down on the floor at the entrance, there was a pair of bathroom slippers. I remember there were also these small raised platforms in front of the sink and toilet that provided some safety during high tides (right after a shower). I thought to myself, "Hmmm... they don't really seem bothered by all this excess moisture."
Looking back at this now, I realize Koreans probably don't consider this "excess moisture" to be excess moisture. They probably consider it the way a bathroom is, and now that I live in a two-bedroom apartment and clean two bathrooms each week (except when my wife grants me a reprieve), I think, "Man, this would be so much easier if I could just grab the shower head and just blast it all around here and wash everything down the drain!" (actually, I'll have to credit my wife with this revelation, since while talking to her about my discussion in class, she pointed out the practicality of hosing down the bathroom).
Then the Saudis chimed in and said how weird it was that Americans don't have drains in every room of a house.
Student: "I never see Americans really mop their floors."
Me: "What do you mean? In Saudi Arabia, you have a drain in every room?"
Student: "Yes. Most homes have them in every room."
Student: "So that is why I say, I never see Americans really mop their floors."
Me: "Well, in America, we do mop our floors. We use some cleaning products, and then we usually let it dry."
Student: "Yeah, but to me, this is not enough."
They explained that having a drain in every floor makes it possible to really mop the daylights out of the floors and rinse it all down with fresh clean water.
I started thinking, "Hmm, now that I think about it, it is kind of gross that in America, we just let the mop water sit there until it evaporates." This to me is the beauty of cross-cultural interaction--by interacting with people from other parts of the world, you see things in a new way, and you re-evaluate what you thought your whole life to be the best way to do something. I think living abroad really helps you think outside the box and see solutions where you might not have noticed them.
(I also think it's funny that a conversation about something as mundane as floor drains can get so heated. Every semester, I learn one more thing that makes America different from my students' home countries, and every time I think I've taken an inventory of everything that might surprise them, I find out something new!)
Is there anything you've noticed in your travels that really struck you? Have you implemented any of them back in your home country?