I kind of gave away the post with the title there, but I wanted to start from the end of our trip when we'd already come back to Russia.
Visiting the UK was like visiting the West for me. Sure, British and American culture are not one and the same, but when compared to Russian culture they are very similar. I even ate most of my favorite foods while in London. Yum.
I know the "smile" thing is controversial, but upon return to Russia, I realized that I had enjoyed the friendliness of Great Britain. You can analyze whether or not smiling and being friendly is "natural," but since it was instilled in me from an early age, I feel like I'm myself when I can make eye contact with strangers and greet them, or make some random comment in commiseration, or even crack a joke. Suddenly it turns out I'm not so socially awkward after all. I saw an article recently about expats who turn into introverts while abroad, but I didn't even read it since I consider myself an introvert to begin with. And yet...there is definitely a goofy side of me that doesn't come out unless I'm reeallly relaxed.
So now I'm back to the old dilemma of how exactly to be a polite and gracious individual, while living in another culture! If I behave like a friendly American, I might actually win someone over, but I wish I could be culturally-appropriate, like the young lady that came to visit today bearing a bouquet of flowers and some cakes wrapped in a box with a ribbon. What is selflessness? Does the Golden Rule transcend cultures? Is it better to be stiff and follow cultural norms, or let go and just be your clueless, bumbling self? It is so relevant to missionaries and other cross-cultural workers, as we often put passion into serving people the way we know how, acting with completely pure intentions but a moderate degree of naivete.
And the other item, the drinking water. How nice it was to just put a cup under the tap and have water to drink. Like a small wedge in my pie chart of daily stress was lifted. When I don't have drinking water with me, I worry about being thirsty suddenly, being stuck on hot public transportation or walking somewhere without water...or getting a migraine, or feeling sick to my stomach. On one of the planes we were on, we hadn't purchased water again after security, and David was thirsty already when we were boarding. He kept asking and asking for water, and we had to wait. I was more careful after that to always buy some. That is one of my hang-ups, I guess. I have to add, though...I had some intestinal troubles while traveling. So perhaps I was TOO casual about the tap water, but it was nice while it lasted!