Stories from the Field: Culture-shocking the Anthropologist

*original update from April 21, 2011.

There’s going native Margaret Mead-style, and then there’s being broken. Yvonne fully admits that archaeology has broken her. It may not have broken her will (it is iron, after all), but in terms of her style, spirit, demeanor, and perspective, archaeology has worn away nearly all traces of all optimism, creativity, decorum, and faith in the human condition. This, um, ‘adaptation’ may have allowed Yvonne to blend into the archaeology world and function (she has been known to enculturate on occasion). And during this adaptation, there were times when Yvonne didn’t think she had strayed all that far from herself and reality.

Then Yvonne exited archaeology.
Now she just feels old, under-dressed, dumpy, and tired.
Day One on the new job at the college found Yvonne in a clean T-shirt and cargo pants. Everyone else wore dresses or dress pants and ‘boob’ shirts that didn’t show off their breasts so much as the paunch from sitting at a desk for too long. The woman Yvonne was subbing for had to take early mat leave. No one else could train Yvonne. There is only one girl in the office with Yvonne and she is working diligently; the other two girls are absent. Boredom set in quickly between reading required material and surfing the net. In touring around the campus at lunch, Yvonne noted the copious increase in funding the college has apparently received since her time there: new tin-box styled buildings, very few green spaces, and little expression of student artistic creativity.
Day Two found the office full. Maggie is doing her undergrad in Social Work. Social work, Yvonne reflects, is kind of like teaching — it takes a certain kind of person to do it and Yvonne just isn’t that sort of person. Maggie immediately has Yvonne’s respect. Then Maggie opens her mouth.
There are people who seem to defy age. Usually those referenced in this context are older and seem to embody a youthful radiance. This trait is admired when coupled with a sense of maturity, albeit wisdom. Then there are others who, despite gaining in chronological years, just don’t seem to gain any level of maturity. While they gain weight, status, possessions, and grey hairs, they just don’t seem to gain that hard-won levelheadedness that comes with experiential learning. These are the people that should be smacked (who knows, violence could have a purpose yet). Yvonne now shares an office with two such individuals.
“When we get a file, we look to find the RSO number and for that we go to the agreement, and here, you see? this is from Adele who is in legal, but medicine legal, even though she could be doing contracts, but she isn’t because they don’t want to do contracts, but our legal here does, but doesn’t want the med, and then they asked us to do contract negotiations because they didn’t want to do it, and then Marco got involved, but now it’s all sorted out… where was I?”
Yvonne stared blankly. Then she took a breath, sure that oxygen had returned to the immediate area, and asked, “What’s an RSO number?”
Day Three found Yvonne getting a handle on what this new job may entail: a spiderweb of paperwork, mostly ill-kept. It used to be that grants were administered by individual faculties. All grants get processed through the main campus office, Yvonne’s office. Within three days of her new job, Yvonne can completely understand why this former plan didn’t work. However, Yvonne is convinced that inside of a month, she’ll have everything within arms’ reach re-organized, colour-coded, and streamlined into an air tight system. Bring on the Post-Its!
But the best part of this new job is that between 12 and 1, the main office door is closed and people vacate to forage. People here don’t work through lunch. And come 430pm, the office becomes a ghost town.
So, while Yvonne feels old, under-dressed, dumpy, and tired, she also feels relieved. She is no longer on call. She doesn’t have to worry about having enough underwear and socks to last two weeks in the field at a moment’s notice. She also doesn’t have to fear being frowned upon for being optimistic, creative, and wanting a life outside of work.
Will Yvonne regain her optimism and zest for life? Will Yvonne finally throw out those 14 pairs of yellowed and greyish-tinged tube socks she used in the field? Will Yvonne one day wear a dress?
Stay tuned!

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