Periodically we observe just how different the Solomon people are to westerners, a difference that does not show itself all at once in major ways but reveals itself slowly throughout the course of a hundred daily interactions. Some of it is cultural, but some of it simply the consequence of poor education. Many people do not complete primary school. Therefore, the girl serving you in the grocery store is really not the same as the girl at the checkout at Coles.
Her: “34 dollars please”
Me: “Here’s 54.”
She looks at me blankly for a moment and then gets the calculator.
Louise: “How much are the apples?”
Her: “4 dollars.”
Louise: “I’ll take 10.”
Once again she reaches for the calculator.
Many of them are like this. Another difference is the complete lack of understanding of maps. Many Solo people do not recognise a map of their islands as such, and once told, have no clue of what is where and cannot find Honiara or their own village. This is not merely a lack of familiarity with maps. They seem to have no concept of space as separate from their work and family. Most of them have been only to their home village and downtown Honiara and have never visited elsewhere on their own island or Guadalcanal. I took some of other guards to the main city beach recently and one said he had never been outside of Honiara in all the years he had been living there. We suspect that this is why so many roads have no name. Unless you have a residence there or family there, you simply have no business going there. If you know, you know, and if you don’t know you probably don’t need to find out. They are extraordinarily parochial like his, yet without any trace of pride in their own village or dismissiveness toward other areas where they have not been.
There are many more of these little differences that occasionally surprise you because otherwise the people seem so similar to us. They walk in the pouring rain as though it was a sunny day but when the sun comes out they ask to borrow an umbrella. They are extremely status conscious when it comes to many things and their culture is quite hierarchical, but even quite rich people will be seen wearing dirty ripped clothing and thongs and nothing is thought of it. And despite the quite widespread antagonism towards an Australians, I have yet to met a Solo person that can spot an Australian accent. I tried this on recently in a taxi.
Driver: “Where you from”
Me (in a broad Sydney accent): “The United States. I came via Hawaii. Bonzer country ay!”
Driver: “Yes, but America is a great country. You are lucky…”
Louise also reported having had quite a lengthy conversation with someone who then asked her where she was from. When she replied with the truth, he said: “I do not like Australians I like New Zealanders. They are better.”
I think if I am ever in trouble over here I will just tell everyone I am a kiwi. The people here really don’t seem to be able to pick the difference.