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Cultural Differences 4 March 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Life.
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Most of the time, I don’t mind the cultural differences that I encounter. I often get to laugh at myself and my ways of doing things, or to marvel at the Vietnamese way. There are moments where I just don’t understand why something happened the way it did, and I have to resign myself to never knowing. Asking someone “why did you do that” does not always give you any answer to their behaviour because, often, they can’t even perceive doing things differently.

In a work setting, this can be challenging. But it gives me the opportunity to learn more about the people here. Speaking some Vietnamese often helps, but by no means explains everything.

In a private setting, I find it fascinating most of the time, although I really find it hard to accept that everyone will walk around calling me fat or tall. But I grin and bear it (most of the time), putting it down to “cultural differences”.

But this week has been difficult, because my emotions have been running high. Last week, a person in my family passed away. And being back at work shortly after the funeral, jet-lagged, sad and frazzled, I have been unable to maintain my usual sunny disposition. I try, but have fallen short.

So my colleagues have noticed. Most have sent me little emails saying “I wish to share your sorry” (which I in fact find a more apt expression than the English equivalent of “I’m sorry”).

But I also had a few colleague telling me (one person verbatim, others along these lines: )

“I see you are sad. Don’t be. You cannot change it anyway, so you might as well not be sad.”

I am assuming this did not come across quite as they meant it. And I am by no means a happy-clappy hippy who wants to ‘feel the pain, man’ or ’embrace it’. But I do believe in working through feelings, which also includes giving yourself the time that you need to grieve.

Coming from a culture where it is in fact seen as unhealthy to bottle up emotions, it is strange to be told “don’t be sad” over someone’s death. Sure, if I lose money, or break a vase, don’t let that ruin your day. I can even understand that not everyone is attached to their pets like I am, so when they die, they tell you to “not be sad”. But this was someone in my family. A human being I grew up knowing my entire life.

And I know it is just another one of those cultural differences. And, of course, interpretation, because it sounded in my ears as “get over it”.

But I know that this one will require some time, and a bit of effort on my part. Perhaps, in time of grief, persons with similar cultural backgrounds have an easier time to understand what you need, or even what you want to hear.

But don’t get me wrong, I know all of the above is coming from a good place. I understand that. And I will not hold it against them.

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