Monday, May 27, 2013

Wrapping Up DC- Part 2

Wrapping Up DC- Part 2

So, the Cherry Blossom Festival was beautiful. I'm grateful to have seen the entire area be covered in the pink blossoms. Truly glorious!  But, Passport DC was by far our favorite city wide event this year, better than New Years in Old Town, better than a lot of them. I hope someone from Passport DC event group reads this post because I really can't say enough about it. We love love loved it!

Passport DC is a huge bash! Many of the foreign embassies located in DC open their doors, host tours, offer tasty treats and invite guests to participate in various artistic/cultural moments. Not all countries participate (but they should) and not all countries do a great job of it. The embassies who understand the value of public diplomacy go all out- it's obvious they are excited to have the opportunity for positive exposure.

Passport DC seems like was designed for people like us- culturally curious, diplos and just all around "embassy people". It was great to see many people being excited and involved.

It is interesting, we really could get a sense of each country by our interactions with the people working the events, in very general terms- of course. For example, the way people from a particular culture answer questions that are asked can tell you a lot. I was reminded of an important cultural difference when I asked someone in one of the embassies, "Excuse me, where is your restroom?" I noticed her body language changed dramatically. The young lady looked straight down and whispered an answer. I could tell she was essentially saying "no" but her answer started with the words "yes". She replied, "Yes, there are guest restrooms outside- at another location- very close to here". It struck me immediately that the young lady had somehow side stepped the word "no". This is a common situation in many cultures. There are places around the world where being asked a direct question puts one on the spot and it is unpleasant to be put on the spot. To have said "we don't have a guest bathroom" would have caused them to feel/look bad. So, in this case, she said "yes" and then explained that they did not have a restroom for guests without ever crossing the "no" bridge. It was like I had asked one question and she had answered a completely different one.  This was one of those suddenly "self-aware" moments when I felt like a big clumsy American who needs better manners, and yet my question was so benign that it took me half a second to recognize what I had done. I could tell she was miserable with my direct eye contact and thank goodness somehow I resisted the temptation to say, "Ok, where? Do you mean a port-a-potty or at a store?" but I did not say it. It was obvious that my initial question (asking where the restrooms are) had struck the young lady like a dart being thrown from across the room. I realize now that I should have asked her in the same indirect manner that we practiced in my Bahasa Indonesia classes. Oh yes! I should have known. Sean and I both struggled quite a bit learning how to ask a question or even reply to a question "indirectly". Most Asian countries prefer this style of communication.  The American "yes/no" question style is a bit harsh in comparison. In countries with "no" issues you should try to approach your inquiry in a way as to exclude any person or institution from any blame. See- I should  have asked, "Did a bathroom for guests find itself inside of this building?" Come to think of it, her answer would have actually made more sense if I had asked for a restroom in this "indirect" manner. Lol!
But- yes- other than nearly peeing our pants before figuring out that "outside, another building, close to here" actually meant about five blocks away (at Paradise Pizza) we thoroughly loved our day at Passport DC.

Our first embassy was the Indonesian Embassy- of course. It was the most beautiful of all of the embassies we toured. I loved chatting with local embassy staff there- I am really looking forward to living among Indonesian people. They are warm, sincere and very gentle hearted people. I genuinely like them and enjoyed talking to them.

From there we went to:Japan - They had the best displays (real humanoid robots) and made the most of this diplomatic opportunity. As you can see security was tight and the line was long but it was worth it (that's right, THIS many people and no restrooms).
The Japanese Embassy did the most to impress guests and if I were voting I would say they win!

 Ethiopian Embassy- We love Ethiopia and have many Ethiopian friends, that is why it saddens me to say that this was our least favorite of all of our embassy tours- which was heartbreaking considering how much we love and respect Ethiopia. The only time anyone spoke to us was outside where they were selling goods. This embassy SOLD hot coffee for $5 a cup (really???) when most other embassies offered small samples to guests. Frankly, my feelings were hurt for my Ethiopian born son. Not a single person spoke to him, asked him his name or showed him any form of inclusion or community.

 Bangladesh Embassy- Active, beautiful colors and interesting music. A little like an over priced market. I can't find a picture... sad because it was beautiful and interesting inside.

 Malaysian Embassy - The best food by far! We enjoyed the music, the displays and the awesome FOOD!

 Ghana - We seemed to have missed the fun but people were friendly and warm to us. By the time we got there everyone was winding down but but we got to meet a king, King Peggy. I bought the book of her amazing journey to accept the title handed down to her. She was very approachable and I could tell she was fun. A movie about her story is coming out next year starring Queen Latifah.

Pakistan- We loved the Heal Not Hate mini bus. The vibe there was quite nice and we are so glad we made it in before the event had ended. This embassy was our last stop.

I have to admit none of these photos were mine. I had taken amazing photos and for some reason they are GONE. I'll find them and replace these fine photos with ones that I actually took. Thank you to the people who took and uploaded these photos.

Toilet notes**  Everyone planning to join Passport DC needs to be prepared to go a long time between bathroom breaks- my only serious complaint about the whole thing.

Parent notes** Passport DC doesn't strike me as a kid loving event. Not that they aren't welcome because they are. I just don't think most kids will like this event unless they are old enough to be interested in other cultures, languages, and can handling standing in a long line and/or walking a good bit. Our nine year old was right on the edge of his tolerance level and he's fairly mature for his age. I think he liked it but he was over it a lot sooner than we were.

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