The Art of the Shrug

We Americans, we want things our way. We want the waiter to read our minds and fill up my empty glass of Coke but don't come around when I'm in the middle of a sentence but why did you bring me A1 when I clearly want Heinz 57 but go away but come back oh the waiter sucked so hard so, bad dog, no tip. And we want the stoplight to be green, and if it's not sometimes we cuss at it, because that makes it turn green. And we want products to be high quality and low price, except the products we sell, which we want to be low quality and high price, and if it's not my way, then you are an idiot and where is your manager I want to talk to her.

"I see you shrugging, and I think it's awesome."
We Americans really ought to learn the art of the shrug. Especially abroad, where our culture and values and economics are not part and parcel of the rules people play by. The art of the shrug is simple and can be summarized in three easy steps:

1. Other person acts in way I do not want them to OR other society operates in way I do not want it to.
2. I want to swear or berate someone or stomp my feet or otherwise demand adherence to my cultural norms
3. Instead, I shrug and move on with life.

There are plenty of oddities to shrug at when you're overseas, and if you don't shrug enough, you could find yourself making a scene in a shop or restaurant, yelling in English at someone who doesn't speak English, surrounded by other horrified people who don't speak English, and guess who looks stupid in that scenario? You. Don't lose your gasket. Keep it on tight. Practice the shrug.

I walk into an internet provider shop in a big mall. The dude behind the counter is messing with his phone. I ask about internet packages, and after he's listed them off I say they're all pretty expensive. He points at a competitor's shop across the way. "They're way cheaper," he says. "Better deals too." Wha-?  This is what no commission sounds like, I guess.

After I've filled out the paperwork, the sales guy hands me my router and sim card. I hand him my credit card. "Cash only," he says. Wha-? What year is it again? Am I not in the biggest mall I've ever seen, anywhere? I head to the ATM. Broken. A quarter-mile down the corridor another ATM is out of service as well. I walk another half-mile through the mall and find two more broken ATMs. Wha-? Where do you get cash in this cash-only economy?

I look around absently like a guy who has no cash and who really needs some to buy a stupid internet package so he can use VOIP to call the lady in Washington who says he owes a thousand bucks for a health insurance policy from back in 2009 that he didn't know he had.

A plain-clothes Filipino guy ambles up and announces he can fix the ATM. I'm like, Okay guy. Let's see it. He produces a key, unlocks the machine, and pulls it open. I'm impressed. He reaches inside and starts fiddling with stuff, then he jerks his hand out like a reverse lightning strike and shouts in pain. This is what getting electrocuted looks and sounds like. Another guy standing around laughs and says, "Good for your heart!" The Filipino guy smiles and sticks his hands back in the machine for another few hundred volts. I'm okay with this. His lack of neurological dexterity is really none of my concern so long as he makes cash start flowing pretty soon.

Ten minutes later I'm back in the internet provider shop, paying for my internet service just before the shop closes at noon for prayer. The guy takes my money, passes me my router and sim, and says, "Next time you're around, stop in for your receipt." Wha-? And for a final wha-?, as I'm leaving he's like, "God willing, your internet will turn on in six hours. As soon as I'm back after prayers I'll turn it on, God willing."

God willing, I won't punch you in the face, internet guy. God willing, I'll just shrug and smile at how weird it was that it took me three hours to buy a router.