Cultural Differences

Incense Drying in Vietnam–Image by Xuan Duong from Pixabay

I’ve always trying to write real stories, but plagued with the fact that real stories tend to be too mundane to sustain people’s interest. I still don’t know how to manipulate the language to make a mundane story more fun to read. So it has been an everlasting issue and probably is unsolvable.

I’ve also tried to write about cultural differences, but that too has the problem of being mundane or even petty. Actually when I was facing cultural differences the first time, I felt so overwhelmed that I thought I would explode, or at least my brain would explode into pieces or I would run screaming “this is mad.” Seriously. That’s how I felt at the time, but when I started to write about it, I realized that what I wrote just didn’t reflect what I felt at all. Either my writing skills were too inadequate to bring things out, or it is something that cannot be expressed in writing. Yes, it is probably beyond writing, and I do believe that there are some areas of human life that belong to the blind spot category as far as writing is concerned.

However I still want to try. It is an area very endearing to my heart and I want to bring it out, even if I know the result will be disappointing. We do what we can. I don’t know why I feel like a gladiator facing a lion–I am going to fight a good fight even if I know I’m going to fail and be eaten by the lion.

Spicy Food And Tennis

There are certainly a cultural difference when spicy food and tennis are the topic. Of course this happened many years ago. Nowadays, young people can have different experiences since the world is more globalized right now.

Whenever the topic of tennis comes up, we Asians like to say, “I play tennis or I played tennis in college,” which means we tried it once in a while. Actually tennis was quite popular among college students in Asia (I mean many years ago). If one says one doesn’t play tennis, it almost implies that one didn’t go to college. And Americans like to say the same thing, but they mean something different. Americans play so much better even if they say they just play a little–it almost feels like they trained for U.S. Open Junior when they were young.

The same thing happens to spicy food. When Americans say, “I like spicy food”, they mean very mild spicy food. When Asians say, “I don’t like spicy food”, we mean we don’t like food that is very spicy that can burn one’s tongue and throat. Although both are talking about spicy food, the standard is different.

Let Me Check My Calendar

I have a friend who’s an Asian American who grew up in New Jersey. Whenever we talk about doing some activities, she would say, “let me check my calendar.” It took me a long time to understand that “let me check my calendar” doesn’t have any intrinsic meaning other than what it literally means–she would bring her organizer out and tell you what time she is available.

It took me a while to digest and analyze why I thought she was expressing (in a detoured way) her not-so-enthusiastic opinion about the coming activity. Actually this was just a misunderstanding. She didn’t mean this at all, but I tried to understand why I misunderstood her. It’s a subconscious thing–I immediately felt that she was not very interested.

Probably her pulling her organizer out seems too formal and too official to me. In my very Asian psyche, we consider anything formal or official to be boring and uninteresting. Also anybody who makes a formal gesture is doing it under duress or obligation, against her own natural inclination. Probably this was my subconscious understanding, or rather misunderstanding, of the situation.

I have since tried to do scheduling and organizing too with my time. I have grown from being skeptical about owning an organizer to admiring an organizer. Then I realized that I just couldn’t be a good organizer. So I reverted back to my unorganized self.

16 thoughts on “Cultural Differences

  1. Interesting read. If somebody checked their calendar in the UK for a non-work reason, people would probably snigger a bit and “take the mick” as we say – though probably behind their back. Even in a work situation where it is legitimate to be organised you’re not supposed to make it too obvious. I think this is how Boris Johnson has got away with his shambolic shtick!

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    1. Haha, is that right? That’s so cool. I mean here it is popular to make it an obvious show of personal organization. I did admire sooooo much but have so far found that it’s impossible for me to emulate. I just don’t have the organizing gene in me. It must be genetic. I mean my Mongolian ancestors never used an organizer and the nomad gene is still in me.

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  2. Every writer has issues with putting their emotion into text. I loved your examples of cultural differences. I’ve never played tennis and I’m disorganized. I have the same issues when I have contact with people who play and keep calendars. I think my perspective might be a class thing. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. So true. Me too. I can’t play tennis and I can never get organized at all. I probably don’t have the organizing gene in me. Haha, a “class thing”? I think so too. I also have to try very hard to be punctual. I mean the big effort I put in to be punctual really overwhelm me. LOL.

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  3. There will always be differences of understanding and comparison between different cultures. It’s like when an American child says that they got in a lot of trouble with their mom – probably a long lecture or stern warning. When an Indian child gets in trouble with their mom – a lot of shouting, threats, and a couple of slaps. haha! Nice one, Haoyan. 🙂

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  4. Hum levels of spicy food are different for a lot of people, I used to love spicy food (spicy to me meant wings that burn your throat, numb your lips and tongue, and make your eyes water) as I aged that level of spice doesn’t agree with me anymore. But you are correct to assess that to some Americans spicy means mild.

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    1. I can never take spicy food at all even though I know many people who can. I think i read an article about spicy food and it is said either Mexico or India has the most spicy food ever. I forgot which. I just wish that spicy food will not do damage to one’s gastronomical system.

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