Living in a new culture forces us to make changes and rethink the way we do things. It causes us to evaluate our home culture by new criteria. We have to make choices about how we are going to live and balance our home culture with our new culture.
Changing cultures stretches our minds and experiences, encouraging us to learn and grow. People who have never left their home culture seldom understand this process and may not understand us after we’ve gone through it. It’s good for us but it’s not necessarily a comfortable process.
Here are some cultural observations from an American friend who has recently spent a year living in a Chinese country:
- Chinese people who have a close friendship/relationship do not say, “thank you” to each other. Saying “thank you” implies a distant relationship with the other person.
- Teachers have a serious, conservative demeanor in class. It’s OK to smile, but dramatic gestures and drama can make students uncomfortable.
- Respect for elders is always important. We need to stand to greet older people who enter the room and call on the oldest brother to open or close a meeting in prayer.
- Time schedules are made last-minute and are open to change.
- If you ask people questions to which they don’t know the answer, they are likely to make up an answer. Saving face is more important than truth-telling.
When culture shock was strong, my coping strategies were to read about culture or make a journal entry about it. Our home was a place of rest and normalcy from a Western perspective.
Local believers and friends were generally quite forgiving of our cultural ignorance and mistakes. But this can make it is harder to learn about your weaknesses.
Chinese culture is difficult for Westerners to adapt to. Historically, Westerners have failed to adapt well to Chinese culture and have left offences in the Chinese mind. They still admire Americans because they perceive our country as wealthy and successful. However, they do not expect us to adapt very well to Chinese culture. It’s like they think, “You are foreigners. You will always be foreigners. We don’t expect more than that.”
I want to thank my friend for sharing his experiences. He is challenged to continue to learn about Chinese culture and relate to Chinese in a more effective way.
Here’s a book by me about Chinese culture in Taiwan: Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World
Here’s a book I recommend by Dillon Forbes about Chinese culture in China: Careful Enough?
What things have your learned about a different culture?