Oftentimes, we fail to recognize our own cultural norms because they are so…normal. Does a fish realize that they’ve always been in water until they flop ashore? Cultural norms are the air we breathe; in the mountains we might notice the freshness of the air or in an industrial park we might notice the grittiness that comes from particulates that are pollution the air quality, but the point is that we might not notice the air we breathe (or our cultural norms) until we go somewhere else. Much what we see as our own personality has been shaped within our own cultural environment. It is not surprising then to see that where you are born can influence who you are and how you see your place in your community (Source: The Conversation). East Asian children are usually raised to be an integral part of the family and community, while American children who are often taught to become their own individuals and pursue their own path. Another author paused to consider if Western parenting strategies aren’t the “normal” ones, but if in fact they might seen as weird from a different perspective (Source: BBC). Even our psychological profile is also influenced by the type of society in which we were born. For example, children in hunter-gatherer societies are more risk averse than urban kids (Source: The Week). This is not to say that geography is destiny, but where were are from can have a profound impact on who we become.
"The adult daughter of Dubai’s ruler tried to escape a life of stultifying restrictions. She was captured at sea, forcibly taken back, and has not been heard from since. For all its megamalls, haute cuisine and dizzying skyscrapers, Dubai can flip at speed from international playground to repressive police state."
Both of these particular case studies are incredibly interesting but I want to talk about how this is connected to a larger cultural and political issue: that of female mobility in Persian Gulf countries. The ability to move freely without familial supervision or approval is something that adults in most countries take for granted, but that is not the case in some countries in the Middle East. How we experience place is dependent of our mobility—this is why there is no one singular geography or story of any given place, but there are many geographies that help to explain a place. The story of the ‘vanished princess’ of Dubai and the woman seeking a divorce but trapped by her family cast a different light on the glamorous and glitzy reputation of the United Arab Emirates.
"The Japanese don’t sleep. This is what everyone – the Japanese above all – say. I first encountered these intriguing attitudes to sleep during my first stay in Japan in the late 1980s. Daily life was hectic; people filled their schedules with work and leisure appointments, and had hardly any time to sleep. Many voiced the complaint: ‘We Japanese are crazy to work so much!’ But in these complaints one detected a sense of pride at being more diligent and therefore morally superior to the rest of humanity. Yet, at the same time, I observed countless people dozing on underground trains during my daily commute. Some even slept while standing up, and no one appeared to be at all surprised by this.
The positive image of the worker bee, who cuts back on sleep at night and frowns on sleeping late in the morning, seemed to be accompanied by an extensive tolerance of so-called ‘inemuri’ – napping on public transportation and during work meetings, classes and lectures. Women, men and children apparently had little inhibition about falling asleep when and wherever they felt like doing so."
If you subscribe to Edward Hall’s Cultural Iceberg model (video), we can readily see, touch, or experience many parts of a society’s culture; what they wear, the ways the communicate, the food they eat, etc. Beneath the surface, though, are the less obvious cultural traits that aren’t so easily observed. These aspects of culture, such as the beliefs, values, and thought patterns of a society, are critical to understanding differing cultural traits.
Questions to Ponder: In this article about sleep in Japan, what elements of external culture (above the surface) are present? What elements of internal culture (beneath the surface) are present? How do the cultural traits beneath the surface shape the cultural traits that are above the surface?
The question is less whether a dress or an idea is borrowed, than the uses to which it’s then put.
A while back a prom dress causes an uproar, and a backlash to the uproar (as you can imagine political leanings heavily influence the cultural perspectives as demonstrated by the difference between the New York Times , Fox News and the social media reactions on the same topic). This article pulls pack from the immediate issues that fan the fans, but asks some of the broader questions about cultural diffusion and cultural appropriation.
“Chapulines [grasshoppers] have become a snack favorite among baseball fans in Seattle. Follow their path from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Safeco Field. To many, the insect might be a novelty – a quirky highlight for an Instagram story from a day at the ballpark. To those in Mexico consuming them for centuries, they are a building block of nutrition.”
Eating insects is incredibly nutritious; raising them is cost effective and environmentally sustainable. And yet, the cultural taboos against entomophagy in the West are barriers to the cultural diffusion of the practice. At some baseball games and high-end restaurants, grasshoppers are sold as a novelty item. What I especially enjoy about this ESPN article is that it covers the cultural production of the chapulines in Mexico and follows the story to the consumption of the grasshoppers in the United States.
“Nothing like this has happened in human history. A combination of cultural preferences, government decree and modern medical technology in the world’s two largest countries has created a gender imbalance on a continental scale. Men outnumber women by 70 million in China and India.”
There are far-reaching consequences to the gender imbalances in India and China. The fantastically rich article covers four major impacts:
Village life and mental health. Among men, loneliness and depression are widespread. Villages are emptying out. Men are learning to cook and perform other chores long relegated to women.
Housing prices and savings rates. Bachelors are furiously building houses in China to attract wives, and prices are soaring. But otherwise they are not spending, and that in turn fuels China’s huge trade surplus. In India, there is the opposite effect: Because brides are scarce, families are under less pressure to save for expensive dowries.
Human trafficking. Trafficking of brides is on the rise. Foreign women are being recruited and lured to China, effectively creating similar imbalances in China’s neighbors.
Public safety. With the increase in men has come a surge in sexual crime in India and concerns about a rise in other crimes in both countries. Harassment of schoolgirls in India has in some towns sparked an effort to push back — but at a cost of restricting them to more protected lives.
“Think modern dating is tough? Try hunting for a husband or wife in the Druze community—adherents are forbidden from marrying outside of the faith. This desire to marry someone within the faith is not just a preference—the religion prohibits exogamy. If a Druze marries a non-Druze, it will not be a Druze wedding, nor can the couple’s children be Druze—the religion can only be passed on through birth to two Druze parents. There are no conversions into the Druze faith.”
Baseball in South Korea is more than a game. It’s akin to a religion. American missionaries first brought the sport to the peninsula in 1905, and the country absolutely loved it. Today, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) features 10 teams and a unique sporting culture all its own. The city of Busan and its hometown Lotte Giants have a particularly passionate fan base. From the hitters’ flashy bat flips, to the team’s famous “cheermaster” and its unlikely American super fan, consider this is your crash course on the joyful madness that is Lotte Giants fandom.
If a sport (or other cultural practice) diffuses to a new place, is it going to look exactly the same as it does in the original cultural hearth? The bat flip is the go-to difference between Korean and American baseball, but there are other differences. Maybe, or like baseball in South Korea, it can have a culture all its own. This is an interesting story that shows how the diffusion of cultural traits around the globe doesn’t have to lead to a more bland cultural mosaic. As cultural traits are reterritorialized into new places, they add vibrancy to the cultural fabric of the institution/sub-culture that they’ve adopted.
For centuries, South Asia has had its own Khawaja Sira or third gender culture. Now, some third gender people in Pakistan say the modern transgender identity is threatening their ancient culture.
Sometimes our assumptions about a society, and how they might react to cultural issues are just that…assumptions. I for one was very surprised to learn that Pakistan had a a traditional third gender.