Immigrants to Belize, especially those from developed countries, often encounter culture shock when they move to Belize. Things are really so very different from back home, be it Kansas, New York of any European country. The following is drawn from our archives and contributed by Lan Sluder.
Culture shock is what happens when everything looks about 20 degrees off kilter, when all the ways you learned were the right ways to deal with people turn out to be wrong. It is a state, someone said, of temporary madness. Usually it happens after about six months to a year in a new situation. At first, you’re excited and thrilled by the new things you’re seeing. Then, one day, you just can’t stand one more dish of stew chicken and rice and beans.
In Belize, culture shock is sometimes masked by the surface familiarity. Most Belizeans speak English, albeit a different English. They watch American television. They are big fans of the Chicago Cubs, Golden State Warriors and Lebron James. They drive big, old Buicks and Chevrolet or Japanese cars. They are now getting into Chinese cars that are flooding the car import business. They even accept U.S. currency. But, underneath the surface sameness, Belize is different, a collection of differences. Cases in point: The ancient Maya view of time, cyclical and recurring, and even the Maya view today, are grossly different from the linear way urban North Americans view time. The emerging Latino majority in Belize has social, religious and political views that are quite different from the views of the average North American, or, even of the typical Belizean Creole. A Belize Creole saying is “If crab no walk ‘e get fat, if ‘e walk too much ‘e lose claw.” Is that a cultural concept your community shares? In many cases, family connections and relationships are more important in Belize than they are in the U.S. or Canada.
Time is less important. Not wanting to disappoint, Belizeans may say “maybe” when “no” would be more accurate. Otherwise honest men may take money under the table for getting things moving. Values North Americans take for granted, such as “work hard and get ahead,” may not apply in Belize in the same way. Physical labor, especially agricultural work and service work, because of the heritage of slavery and colonialism, is sometimes viewed as demeaning among some Belize groups. A Belizean may work long hours for himself -fishing or logging can be backbreaking labor but be reluctant to do so for an employer.
Respect is important than money in Belize. If you make a pass at a friend’s girl, you may end up on the wrong end of a knife or machete. If you diss one of your employees or neighbors, you may find yourself in a bad situation on a dark night. Just when you least expect it, you may get jumped on a back street. If you say something bad about a politician or a business owner, it may come back and bite you years later. Belizeans have long memories, and they don’t take well to criticism, especially not from outsiders. On the other hand, Belizeans can be surprisingly rough and tumble in their personal relationships. They’ll say the nastiest things to each other, just run the other guy down for being stupid and a total fool, and then the next day both parties forget about it and act like they’ve been friends or cousins all their lives, which they have been. The best advice is to make as many friends in Belize as you can. Sooner or later, you’ll need them.