?When living in a country made up of so many different cultures, the question we need to ask ourselves is how do we respect them all. In different countries with various backgrounds, cultural norms, and societies, its difficult to make sure that none of them are offended and at the same time accepted. That is the very issue and concept that makes the United States so unique when you compare it to the rest of the world. We promise freedom to do whatever it is that is frowned upon or persecuted where you are from, is it possible to bring them all together to practice under the same flag?
There isn’t an answer, but we can look at some big issues that can cause friction or may offend someone. Every culture has its norms, the “dos” and “do nots”, which shape what is not accepted in that society. Then there are gestures, which usually do not mean the same thing from country to country. Other things that can cause conflict are religious rules, and general up bringing we get as children from our parents. In society we create norms that govern the way we are suppose to live, what should or shouldn’t be done.
As you are raised in your culture, you naturally learn those rules and judge others if they don’t follow them. Not really understanding that they might not have been raised in that same society, which generally shape your manners. For example in the US, we are told as children to eat all of our food to reduce the waste, but in China eating every morsel means that you were not fed enough. In their culture, as a host it is their job to simply provide enough food, since food is much more expensive.
So leaving a little food shows that you had enough to satisfy you, but now lets turn it around. In their culture it is perfectly acceptable to speak with your mouth full and even burping, which shows the meal was pleasing. Also, in the Middle East it is not only bad manners to put your feet up, but an insult as well as you would be pointing the soles of you feet at them. Speaking feet, in most Asian cultures, it is good manners to remove you shoes when entering a home, unlike the US where we will either request our guest to remove their shoes or they might ask the host’s preference.
And then in Japan and Korea, it is seen an insult rather than a compliment to leave a tip for your waiter, due to the view that accepting tips is similar to begging. Knowing things like this will definitely help when traveling. Growing up, we never really think about what others may have learned or how they are raised in other countries and cultures, but it is important that we find a middle ground and learn to cope with these differences, if we want to see our nation continue to be the shining star of hope that most people see it as today. Which brings us to the next topic, gestures.
In one culture a hand signal can be a sign of peace, but in another country with another culture it can have a negative connotation that could even start a fight in most situations. A huge example of this is when President George H. W. Bush gave a “peace sign” to a group of farmers in Canberra, Australia, not knowing that in Australia two fingers up to form a V is the equivalent of the middle finger in the US. This gesture has the same connotation in the UK and Ireland. And then there was President Nixon’s visit to Brazil in the 50’s, he applied the OK gesture with in Brazil is the equivalent of the finger in the US.
There are many examples of this happening throughout history and while we can laugh at in now, the consequences of making a mistake like this while touring another country could be devastating. Just to cover some main gestures, the thumbs up in the Middle East generally means up yours. Then there is the A-OK symbol, in most of South America and even Turkey it has a very offensive connotation referring to homosexuality and the middle finger and then in Iran it roughly translate to up yours. In the US an outward facing palm general means no more or I’m busy, just wait, but in Greece it means I’m going to rub feces in your face.
On the subject of hands, just in general doing anything with your left hand, especially offering your left hand for a handshake is seen as atrocious, as prior to the use of toilet paper in the Middle East you wiped yourself with your left hand after going to the bathroom and cleaned it off in the sand. Even the handshake, if used improperly it could offend other people. Generally in the US and UK, a firm handshake is admirable and even speak well of your character, but in the East, especially the Philippines it can be taken as a sign of hostility and aggression.
You may have the best intentions, but if you don’t express them properly you could find yourself surround with enemies or just a lot of people who despise you. For centuries there has been conflict and wars over religious differences, especially in the Middle East. These difference and conflicts are the reason that we as Americans cringe when anyone brings up the topic of religion. A simple discussion can turn into a heated debate and can even turn the closest friends into enemies. Because of the friction that this topic can cause, the religious view that most would say the US was
built upon are slowly being removed to make room for acceptance to other cultures and religions. I guess the biggest example of this is the conflict in the Middle East between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The source of disagreement goes back to the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632 AD. The argument is over who is the successor to Muhammad as unfortunately he never had a male heir. This minute issue is sadly the source of a lot of the fighting over seas, but of course not the sole source. While there are large-scale issues going on, there are still small-scale examples that may occur in our lives.
In our society, there is an issue of young teens getting pregnant without a way to provide and care the child. Statistics show that 3 in 10 American teens will get pregnant before the age of 20. A quick fix for this is if caught soon enough the morning after pill, but a more extreme resolution is abortion. The religious conflict here is generally associated with the Catholic Church, but even spreads into conflict between political parties. Whether this resolution is civil and should be illegal or not is a hugely debated especially during political campaigns for offices.
This issue is usually avoided in conversation, as it more that usually leads to a debate and argument. This topic doesn’t just touch in religious views, but goes into moral views on life. This touchy subject hasn’t caused any wars, but there are a large number of injuries reported at pro and con protests for abortion. While my mistake hasn’t caused any large repercussions as discussed previously, it is still important to do my best in respecting other cultures and backgrounds. The world isn’t perfect and as we move through time we will see this perfect is even attainable.
Right now our county is working of building something the world has never seen or experience. We want a place where everyone is free to be who they are, free from judgment and persecution. As an American soldier it is my job to serve the country and what I do, what I say and how I behave reflects my country. Whether or not I mean to be disrespectful, the way I am perceived is reality. The US is supposed to be a place where everyone is equal, as a representative for this country respect for all cultures is a must.
Courtney from Study Moose
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