I’m always intrigued by the cultural differences in each society especially when it comes to behavior but even in each culture there are marked differences from region to region. Northerners are different from Southerners in the US and Westerners are different from both, as most folks know, but even more interesting is the fact that this trend is common to all cultures. It’s not just an issue common only to the Western world.
While living in Hong Kong China a few years back I observed this aspect of cultural difference with folks from the north who were fast and furious and those from HK who were more calm, laid back and a bit slower. Even physical appearances were different but I was intrigued by the behavior. I thought it was fascinating. I developed tons of friendships with the “go getter” and the “lets watch the tomatoes grow” type folks alike. Hong Kong is a thriving 7 to 8 million strong city by the way, which when compared to Westerners, makes even New Yorker’s look slow.
In a small but very becoming city like Greensboro NC you can still feel that difference between North and South. Northerners are flocking to this area in droves and it’s not really a typical southern town. It’s located closer to the VA dividing line or barely south of DC but when I ask Northerners who have relocated to the area what they think about Greensboro the first thing they say is ” it’s okay because most of the Southerners here are educated.” The locals on the other hand think the Northerners are arrogant and pushy.
A colleague of mine from the UK was riding with his father in law on the back roads of Winston-Salem NC and observed him waving to folks as he passed them. Later he commented to his wife that he was impressed with how many people her father knew. Of course waving is a part of southern hospitality and her father didn’t know any of the folks he encountered. It’s one of the few social graces left in the South that stands in stark contrast to the northern stare or disregard.
The biggest reason folks wave in the South is that great respect is taken for other people’s privacy. Staring is frowned upon. When Southerners want to look at someone they wave out of respect or say hello when walking on the street. That way no one gets offended after being checked out and the atmosphere remains pleasant. In the North nobody cares about privacy. In fact Northerners are more open about their lives and are sometimes wary of folks who long to keep themselves private.
I think cultural sensitivity is something American society needs more of. Maybe Northerners and Southerners could begin to allow differences without opinion. The bigger issue is that this insensitivity extends to the rest of the world. Most Americans just don’t care about what’s going on anywhere else or how other countries do things.The false mentality is ” we are superior to other nations so why should we.” The problem is we can’t fix our own issues because we have little or no interest in comparing ourselves to anyone else. We are the mark and we have never considered ourselves in need of contrast with other nations. Fact is there are tons of them like Germany, Greece and China to name a few but all that is starting to change.
One of the first things I remember most vividly when I was in Hong Kong was my own behavior. At first I felt like a king because Asians are so hospitable, and in particular, Asians in Hong Kong. I walked around in this like ” I’m an American look at me” attitude. But soon I learned that my behavior had to change if I hoped to fit in and so I began to adapt by doing things the way folks in Hk did them. The art of standing 2 inches from someone else’s face on the MTR and not acknowledging their existence became reality. I also had to incorporate a manic pace of life into my new style. I ended up losing about 30 pounds and started looking like some guy in shape with astounding health.
The real obvious truth is that we are constant products of our environment. The longer we stay in one place the more we become like the people who live in that place for good or bad. Our thinking and behavior are decided. Whether it’s a group of folks at school, a neighborhood, a region, country or a group of people who hold a certain ideology, we become like the people that we are surrounded by, that we listen to or believe in. It’s that simple and as Americans we take this as far as a nation can.
The point I’m trying to get to and which I think is hugely important is the dangers of becoming so narcissistic and superior minded as a nation. Americans are a great example of this kind of thinking and behavior because we feel we are on top of the culture chain. The problem is most other “up and coming” cultures may over take us. Why? Because we are taking things easy enjoying our spoils , relying on technology to make us richer and lazy and playing the role of world police. Nations like China and India are working hard burning the midnight oil and they are attuned to what the rest of the world is doing because they want to win and it will be no holds barred (not because their ideology is correct but because they are realistic). The down side is that America’s may wake up one day unidentifiable by an infusion of immigrants, watered down by cultural diversity, bankrupt with no jobs, and foreign ownership and debt repayment calling the shots.
As Americans we are prone to one simple fault. We rely on others to make our decisions while we enjoy the harvest. This kind of thinking reminds me of the way birds fly in migration patterns. The lead goose calls all the shots but the other geese just follow the one bird in front of them. If that bird turns to the left so do the other geese. The new move could be in the flight path of a Boeing 747. The geese would never see it coming. The big question is where are we headed and does anyone really even know? By the time we really figure it out it could be too late.