Embracing the culture as a foreigner


I am a lover of culture. Any culture (well except cultures that dehumanizes other humans in any way, shape or form, or those that embrace brutality and condone the objectification and exploitation of women). One of my minors at university (I changed majors and minors a lot so I ended up with one major and several minors) was cultural anthropology. I studied civilizations and their cultures from the beginning of time up until today (well 2009 when I graduated although the observations still continues during my travels). This included everything from how people greeted each other to how religion affected human relationships and views.

It was kind of like psychology in the sense I was studying people but from the outside. And I really did enjoy all my classes in this subject because I personally believe it has made me a more understanding person.

You see, my philosophy is that someone who has never learned about other culture either first hand or via study (I have done both), cannot fully grasp that what is the status quo or normal for them could be the 180 degree opposite for someone else. How toasting (cheers) and clinking glasses in one or more countries is 100% OK but in others it is viewed as rude or bad. How shoes in the house in the US is ok but in many Asian countries it is highly frowned upon.

Knowing such things may seem completely trivial but you have to think of it this way; When someone new comes into your life: friend, family, significant other, co-worker even, and you have a certain way of doing things, certain things that are normal to you are perhaps taken a different way when that person is from another culture. Things like clinking glasses during a toast, or leaving your shoes on indoors might even be interpreted as offensive based what they learned from their family or even their culture. And while you may expect those new people who have entered your life to follow your example and adapt to your way of interpreting those actions, especially if their actions are offensive to you, most people do not adapt. For instance, using slang terms I won’t even write on here to describe a particular group of people, or treating servers or shop keepers as “lesser than” because that’s how it is back home for them.

In keeping with this idea, as you are visiting or living in a country that is not your place of origin and that you have no current familial ties to (i.e. you’re a noob) it is desirable for you to be somewhat familiar with how they do things. Obviously it is not mandatory, but do you want to be the jackass who insults a whole group of people in one fell swoop because you didn’t take 10 minutes to read up on the do’s and don’ts of how to act in whatever country?

This small thing, this courtesy, is really the least you could do. And by making these small changes to your behavior, you are embracing a new culture and adding depth to yourself as a human. And to me, the absolute best part about embracing a different culture, all of it and not just the parts you pick and chose, is that you are signaling to yourself and to the world that you are open to cultures. Which is a very good thing.

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