Thursday, September 17, 2015

Cultural Differences Part 2 (Соёлын Ялгаа 2)

Sally and I have coined the phrase “Mongolian standard time” to describe how slow things sometimes happen here. Mongolians tend to be laid back. They are never in a hurry by American standards even when they say they are in a hurry. It is not uncommon for people to arrive to a meeting a few minutes late. If someone is on time to any event then they are early.

As an American it would be easy to describe this laid back perspective as lazy, but that is not accurate. They do work hard. When it comes to schedules, they are just accommodating to the weather conditions, the travel conditions, and someone’s general mood. Mongolian Standard is difficult for an American to adjust to. It is especially difficult for those Americans that had the wherewithal to apply for the Peace Corps. I have learned to just roll with it. I make a habit of arriving on time to events so as to be early. I try not to become annoyed if someone is late in meeting me. In America this is a sign of disrespect or not caring, but here they are simply late because they are late. They are not trying to offend; rather there was something else happening that really seemed to demand their attention. It is as if everyone’s internal clock is running 10 to 30 minutes behind.
As I have adjusted, I have found Mongolian standard to be incredibly relaxing. Imagine if you will, never having to be in a hurry to anything. Imagine letting all of the stress that comes with being on time go, because no one is socially holding you accountable. The potential to view lost time as not wasted minutes, but time to do something else soothes the soul.

Another aspect of Mongolian standard is schedule planning (Төлөвлөгөө). Sometimes by American standards the schedule seems completely empty, because it has not been filled with events. With Mongolian standard and a laid back perspective, planning in the long term can be extremely difficult. There is just not an emphasis placed on goals or planning events until they are almost upon us. This can be stressful and has the potential to cause problems or possibly activities that are not as good as they could be with better planning.

Chinggis Square in UB 
Foreign policy is completely different here. In a recent speech during the summer, the Mongolian Prime Minister said that Mongolia was a pony caught between a bear and a dragon, referring to Russia and China. At the time, my fellow trainees and I decided that Mongolia was not a pony given the strength of the people; rather, they are a falcon. Still there is little a falcon can do to a bear or dragon. When Mongolia became a democracy 25 years ago, it became necessary to adopt a foreign policy that would ensure survival and diplomacy.

Partly for this reason, Mongolia was one of the first countries to declare itself a nuclear free zone. During a time when the arms race was drawing to a conclusion, Mongolia simply stated that they would have nothing to do with it. This policy generated a lot of respect from other countries including the US.

With a lack of resources, but an immensity of land, it became necessary to make treaties with both Russia and China. The purpose of these treaties were to protect Mongolia in case one of these giants invaded. In the event of an invasion, the other giant would be called upon to aid Mongolia.
The third tier of foreign policy was to reach out diplomatically to countries that would assist in trade and resources. These countries include first world developments like the US, Japan, Canada, and South Korea. However, Mongolia lacks a lot of infrastructure, so it is easy for richer countries to take advantage of Mongolian resources. For example, Canadian corporations have some rights to mining in Mongolia. By providing the infrastructure to access resources, these corporations take the vast majority of the profit from the land without returning much to Mongolia. This is one of several reasons for the decline in Mongolia’s economy.

In the US, we adopt a completely different foreign policy. It is debatable that we may have more resources than any other country in the world. We also believe ourselves to possess the most powerful military in the world. These two tiers along with some freedom of capitalism allow for a more aggressive foreign policy. The purpose of this blog post is not to debate what is right, only to point out our differences. A country that operates in what we title developing nation capacity must tackle issues of foreign policy in a completely different way.

This picture from UB illustrates Mongolia Culture.
 The clash of the new technological age and tradition.

Pride is another characteristic the Mongolian people have. They possess pride in their country, their culture, and way of life. They are incredibly proud of their land and the beauty of this country. They are proud of all the nuances of tradition from music to games to food and clothes. The culture is rich and definable. They are proud of their language and the traditional script. Pride in one’s country is a good thing.

This is not a cultural difference from America. We too are proud of our country and way of life. However, as an American something that I find myself learning as I travel abroad is that every single country in the world, every last one, is just as proud of themselves as we are. We tend to think we are the biggest, richest, most powerful country in the world. I stress the awareness that everyone loves their country as much as we do. As every person is different with different strengths and weaknesses, so are all countries unique. The assumption of superiority is disgusting to anyone who also loves their country and is not conducive to healthy diplomacy. In a land where we stress equality of people, we should be among the first to stress equality of countries.  


1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, thanks for sharing - enjoy reading all about your adventures and seeing pictures; what a great experience, so proud of you both!