Monday, November 15, 2010

Cultural Encounters


When I was in college I lived on the International Floor of the dorms, also known as The International Crossroads Community.  This was a fantastic way for me to get the cultural exposure I craved, but couldn't afford since world traveling is expensive and I am poor as crap.

Anyway, I met people from all over the world during my years living there, and during this time I learned a few things about bridging the cultural divide.



First, just because you love a particular show from Japan doesn't mean that all Japanese people love that show too.  In fact, openly loving a certain show might give them the wrong idea about you.

You are not Japanese.  You do not know the stigmas that come with being a fan of Gunso.


Another important thing to consider when meeting someone from a different country is why they came here in the first place.  A lot of international college students came here to experience American culture, not to experience Americanized mutant versions of their home.

Think about it this way; when you go to Japan do you want to eat at Texas Roadhouse or an authentic Ramen shop?

(Of course, a bit of culture sharing is a given...and sushi is just fantastic.)

But what about something closer to home, like our overly-polite neighbors to the north?




Once again, just because the person is from the same place as some things you like, doesn't mean they share your passion for it.

I am from Iowa, but I don't eat meat.  That's right, kids, this Iowaboy doesn't eat pork chops.  The University of Iowa is also my alma mater but I don't give two craps about football or the Hawkeyes.  (Unless the tailgating involves pie, in which case, GOOOO Hawks!)

But do I run around with a bullhorn shouting these things in public?  Of course not!  That would just be rude (and an invitation to get my ass kicked).  The same is true when meeting a foreigner, even a Canadian.

Even Canadians get offended by stereotyping.



You also need to consider the history of a country when interacting with people from there.  Germany is an excellent example of this, WWII has left many of them quite ashamed of their history so they tend to keep a future oriented mindset.  *snaps for Germans*

However, their past makes anything from their automatically creepy...therefore, German death metal is the epitome of hardcore.  I know it's passe, but I loves me some Rammstein.  But do Germans?



It's always important to get to know the person before bringing up something controversial and potentially offensive.  WWII, Rammstein, saurkraut...you know, the nasty things their homeland is known for.

Would you bring up nuclear waste when meeting a person from New Jersey?  (God forbid they be from the shore).  [I kid, I kid...]

Okay, so dealing with Germans can be tricky.  But what about the notoriously optimistic Australians?

We all know not to bring up Foster's or Steve Irwin...so how can an encounter with an Aussie go wrong?
Vegemite, that mysterious condiment that many American's have heard is the Australian equivalent to peanut butter.  We often believe they smother it on everything and that it is the source of their powers to be so incredibly awesome!

But is it true, or is it just ramifications of 1950's Australian commercials leaked over to the states?

Accusationsof fraud are serious business.  Don't do it! (unless you are at least 95% certain they are a fraud)  ...unless you are prepared to go to war, and nobody wants to fight the Australians.  They live with freaking spiders the size of chickens and dingoes are a constant threat to their infants, do you really want to mess with that?  Heck no!

So messing with Australians is definitely out of the question; you have to be polite or they will sic their army of kangaroos and koalas on you.

Another culture that it's important to mind your manners with is Mexicans.  Fortunately I speak Spanish (not perfectly though), so I usually am capable of being quite useful when they need help getting used to their new home.  However, most are more than capable of acclimating on their own and many younger Mexicans speak English just fine.


Just because a person isn't from America, don't assume they don't speak English.  If they came here, they likely studied the language beforehand.  Besides, our entertainment and culture is nearly smothering the rest of the world...so it's a little offensive to plunge right into speaking to them in their native language when their English is perfect.
Save the Spanish for after you've become friends, it can be a great way to talk crap about others when it's just the two of you that know the language.  Until then, respect their intellect and speak the language that they worked hard to learn.

After all, English is a tricky language and practice with a native speaker may be why they are here in the first place.

Stereotyping is annoying, disrespectful and an easy way to get your ass kicked.


However, if you know the culture really well, you might just find that some stereotypes are true and function as a great way to socialize.


The Irish stereotype about loving drinking and music is true because it is universally true.  Everyone loves to chill out with a drink and some tunes.  Suggesting this to anyone, even an Irish person, will often lead to immediate awesomeness.

However, not everyone drinks.  Muslims and Mormons are the two examples that come to mind when I think of cultures that that don't socially drink.

Fortunately, there is one sure-fire way to bridge any cultural gap...TOP HATS.


It doesn't matter what country you are from or what religion you follow, EVERYONE LOVES TOP HATS.

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I got my English degree and mountain of student loan debt from the University of Iowa. I like boo berry cereal, martial arts, running and cats.
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