There are some pervasive beliefs about cultural similarities and differences that I hear bandied around not only by people I meet casually, but even (bless them!) by some family members who should know better after living with me as an aunt, cousin or daughter for so many years. While none of them are downright racist or malicious, uninformed good intentions can be just as damaging.
1. Live and let live, I always say…
Great in theory, but in practice it often covers the sin of not being at all interested in the Other, and wishing to banish them to some kind of ghetto. Out of sight is out of mind, but that is not living together in good cultural integration.
2. Underneath it all, we are all human…
Again, beautifully idealistic statement, but how often is this used to deny difference?
3. Everyone travels nowadays, so we all know different cultures.
I’ve written a blog post about this before http://sandaionescu.wordpress.com/2010/09/28/being-made-redundant/ but I will just reiterate that, although travelling does broaden the mind, it depends on whether you travel with an open mind and try to get to know the different countries on a more in-depth level than just the beach, the Hilton, the Margarita…
4. Everyone speaks English, so why should I bother to learn anything else?
Estimates vary (and figures can change rapidly), but indications are that between two thirds and three quarters of the world’s population does not speak English. Besides, the English that does get spoken in different parts of the world may be quite different from what native speakers might be used to.
5. English is THE language of the Internet.
It certainly used to be, but the percentage of Web content that is entirely in English has decreased dramatically in recent years, while Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and German are catching up.
6. I have nothing against these people in general, but why can’t they be more like us (when it comes to democracy or religion or crowd behaviour or business etiquette or…)?
This is the big one and a source of frustration to many when interacting with different cultures or setting up a business abroad. All I can say is that my parents, husband or children are not very much like me either… although I have nothing against family in general!
7. I’ll be fine when I move abroad, I don’t need any preparation.
Some will be and some will not. Those who are fine may be so purely by chance, or because they have a company or spouse or friend who makes life easy for them. Some may be ‘in survivor mode’, rather than truly enjoying their life in another country. Some may be counting the days until they move back. Isn’t that sad? Aren’t those years too part of your life?
While it is true that no one can prepare you for every single eventuality and emergency of your life abroad, having some idea of what to expect will ensure that you don’t rely entirely on luck to thrive in your new location.
What other generalisations have you heard which amused or frustrated you? And how do you respond to them?