I am certainly no expert when it comes to culture. Though I find some cultures fascinating some are harder for me to understand and get my mind around. Once I do, I always tend to focus on the similarities lying amidst the many differences. One of the fascinating aspects of any place whether abroad or local is learning to understand why people are the way they are. In reality a good dose of culture shock forces us to realize that we all have a certain amount of ethnocentrism. We all tend to judge other cultures against our own. What is normal to us can be terrifying to others. It is also a healthy reminder not to take ourselves to seriously, especially when visiting a culture steeped with longevity and history. I am often reminded that we are teenagers in comparison to many cultures.
Orin Hargraves Culture Shock! London brought a smile to my face when discussing the queue. Who doesn’t dislike standing in a line for a long period of time and have someone cut in front of the line? On the other hand, I would be the first to admit that “one at time in order” isn’t always convenient, but then again there is more to life than convenience.
I greatly appreciated Hargraves reality check on the 3 types of London. The London of our imagination, the touristy London and the real everyday London that can only truly be experienced by living and mingling with the locals. This in true of every place I have every visited. The culture of the area can’t truly be experienced until you can break through the facades and take time to know the people.
Terry Tan a self-proclaimed transplant into the British Culture from Singapore gave me great food for thought. Though Culture Shock! Great Britain was intended to be a survival guide it was also a window into his personal journey of immersing into the British Culture. I had to laugh out loud as he described his experience of seeing his neighbor’s daughter with “war paint” on her face and her hair “waxed” so it stood upright in the shape of a pyramid. His comment “It was a startling introduction to a different culture and set of values” (p108) flooded my mind with memories of over 30 years ago having moved my family from a small Wyoming town of under 1000 to the Seattle Washington area. Taking my kids to Seattle for a day of exploration was truly an eye opener for a good old country boy. The idea of “I wouldn’t let my daughters out of the house dressed like that” crossed my mind more than once that day, as well as, many times since then.
I was saddened a bit at Tans discussion on the loss of the British food culture due to the large influx of American fast food. (p126) Or the fact that American TV shows are viewed with a certain amount of criticism. (p237) There is something uniquely special and sacred about breaking bread with the locals of an area in a restaurant or attending an event that is specific to the area. It is enjoyable to see entertainment from the culture being visited. I can’t imagine an individual crossing the globe with hopes to eat a McDonalds hamburger especially if they don’t eat one at home. Nor do I believe they hope to attend an American form of entertainment while traveling abroad. Some of my fondest travels were oriented around eating local cuisine in some out of the way location and meeting the local people. Whether eating city goat (dog) in Bali, smoked duck in Singapore, boiled peanuts and crawfish in Louisiana or BBQ in Texas the enjoyment comes from the experience, as well as, the variety of fare.
Having met a variety of people through both business and ministry I can’t help but feel blessed and enriched by the people I have met. When I make my annual trek to Canada to teach, I am often amazed how many Canadians are dumb struck by our political news. It appears our political drama is of great humor to them. When seen through their eyes our outspoken and free minded political climate does look ridiculous at times. Even something as simple as a cup of regular coffee can be a learning experience. A regular cup of coffee is straight black caffeinated where I’m from. In Alberta Canada a regular cup of coffee is one cream and one sugar. Thank goodness I had the where with all to seek to understand before I uttered a complaint. There are few things more embarrassing then showing one’s cultural arrogance because you failed to understand the culture your visiting. Whether exploring the diversity of the area we live in or when traveling abroad it is well advised to keep in mind that we are guests.
When you break through the surface of any culture, whether abroad or locally, amidst the vast differences are a lot of similarities. In every case I have had the privileged to bridge the gap between cultures I am always amazed are how similar we really are. We all have a certain amount of national pride. We all have political opinions. We all have a belief system that drives us. In reality we are all broken, flawed and in need of help in one facet or another. We all want to be heard and to be understood. We all have rules of engagement and family traditions. We all have family drama in one sense or another. We all have a list of dreams and disappointments. Understanding the similarities make the differences much easier to maneuver. Listing to understand before being heard was sound advice when I received it years ago as it still is today. The old saying that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” goes a long way.
But then again maybe I’m off my trolley rocker and just being a Plonker. Maybe I’m just writing a load of malarkey and need to get off my high horse. You be the judge!