01 April 2009

180 Degrees of Separation

It has been one week, Brian and I are officially settled in Singapore, and the differences between our former home and our new home....well, let's just say it's a whole different world!

Upon arrival, differences between the 2nd largest city in Africa and the city-state we would now live in became immediately apparent. We traversed a sea of never-ending tall buildings all the way from the airport to our new flat; impeccably manicured flora flanked all the roads; and everyone looked, well, American (except for obvious ethnic differences). In other words, this could have been any big, new city in the States with shopping galore and socio-economic differences not immediately apparent.

But not only did things look different, things seemed to work differently. Case in point. Obviously when a new tenant moves into an apartment, certain things must happen. Linens need to be changed, day-to-day norms need to be explained, and often there is a welcome package for those moving in. All of this was true for us in both Lagos and Singapore, but logistically they occurred in much different manners.

Just before leaving Lagos, I happened to be home when our roommate's new linens arrived. Others (a group of 4 or 5 to be exact) had come the day before but had not completed the job. This new group I encountered (only 3 this time) had the missing items and were required to remove others. After discussing for about 15 minutes what was needed, what had been dropped off, and what they were providing that day, I still didn't have a clear idea of exactly what had been removed, added, or left alone. I signed the "drop off" papers reluctantly, unclear as to what I was signing for...some of the items had been in our flat for months!

In Singapore, however, the handling of linens was taken care of by one person; and, upon a request for more towels, they magically appeared in our bathroom the next day (and every day that followed). To be fair...we did have to sign for the items in our apartment, but the list was the most exhaustive, accurate, yet understandable itemized list I had ever seen, accounting for everything from wall art to the dish drainer. And I haven't thought about our linens since.

As for our Lagos welcome package and learning the day-to-day norms of our living compound, this required "networking" for us to finally feel settled in. In Singapore, on the other hand, the welcome package was in our flat upon arrival, and routines and norms of our apartment complex were explained in detail to us an hour after we arrived.

In way, it's a bit like entering the twilight zone...coming from a place of inconsistency and few rules to a place where consistency and rules are king. But really, I think it's just 180 degree of cultural separation.