Whenever you move somewhere new you will probably experience a degree of culture shock – I experienced it moving to Scotland to a small extent – but the further away from your own culture you travel, the greater the shock. Brunian culture is very laid back, and initially I found this very frustrating although it is now something I have come to love about living here. I think that this laid back attitude can be shown through the word for ‘can’ – boleh. This one word has many different meanings:
Can? – A question
Can – Yes I can!
Can – Maybe I can?
Can – I can’t, but maybe someone else can?
Can – There’s no way that I or anyone else here can, but I’m sure that someone in the world can.
Can – There’s no way I can, but I’ll try anyway.
Can – I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’ll do something.
And this doesn’t cover all of the possible meanings. Of course, there’s no way of knowing which of these responses you’re getting when someone replies ‘boleh’, but that’s a chance you often have to take!
Despite being frustrating at times, life can be a lot less stressful if you adapt to this more relaxed way of life. When we visit the UK I am amazed at how quickly everyone seems to be trying to get somewhere, whereas here the more relaxed pace has definitely rubbed off – partly to do with the fact that it’s difficult to move anywhere quickly in tropical heat, but also the realisation that there is no hurry! It is rude to beep your car’s horn and road rage just doesn’t exist, so it’s a bit of a shock when we return to driving in the UK when a storm of horns accompany anybody who holds the traffic up momentarily. In Brunei you just sit and wait patiently and, although there are some particularly poor drivers who could do with being honked at more often, journeys are on the whole much less stressful. Life is slower but more relaxed. Sometimes a little too relaxed when you’re trying to get something done, but nowhere is perfect…
It’s often funny to observe newcomer’s to Brunei getting worked up over small things, such as the checkout girl who goes off for a chat halfway through scanning your shopping, or the inability of the coffee shop staff to get your order right. I was once that person. Now I think, does it really matter? Can I do without the coffee I really wanted? And I find myself saying: ‘Boleh’!