Friday, October 28, 2005

Cultural differences. Europe versus America

Here one short insight on cultural differences.

I am well traveled and I just adore traveling with my wife. We are blessed with many friends in many countries. This to a point where we rarely stay in hotels, but with friends.

We prefer it that way. One of the reasons is that you must stay with the natives, if you really want to study culture of a country. Also it is great fun. Furthermore, friends are one of the best part of living.

We have lived in different countries of the western world and always tried to fit in. To be a part of the culture and at least to participate.

This brings me to my main point on differences between cultures.

Take for example Scandinavia and Southern Europe. There are many cultural differences. But know what? They are mostly on a difference of level. By that I mean, that in a certain situation a Portuguese may certainly react differently than a Scandinavian. But both the Portuguese and the Scandinavian will understand the reasons for the reaction.

Basically we share the same basic values. Maybe it is because of the common shared background. Or the age of Europe? Or relatively static societies? I don't know for sure.

The cultural shock is the one you get, when you meet a culture, where you do not understand the reason for the reaction.

I had my first one as a new kid in a highschool in the US deep South. I one day in a break gave a kiss to a beautiful European girl (or did she kiss me? At the time I still had the illusion, that we men have a saying when in comes to relationships between the sexes) in school.

That afternoon I was told by friends and family in certain terms, that you do not behave like that unless you are a redneck or black. Oops. Why?, I asked. I never did get to really understand why not. Just that you don't.

America is a different culture. This is one of the main reasons for distrust between Europe and the US. We presume as we share common ancestors, that we are alike. But we are not really. On a deep level we are different. This we must realize to stay friends.

There is world of difference between a Texan president and the French president. Both cultures are extremes even in the US and in Europe. It shows.

We in Europe had an easier time with Clinton. But he had lived in Europe, was more liberal and shared with a certain (or is it all of them) French president a taste for having young lovers. Clinton understood the cultural difference and thus could communicate with us. Also of course he had already shown an interest in other countries before becoming president.

It is so (or at least used to be) that for a French male politician to have a lover belongs to his private sphere. It is not mentioned in the press. And even if is it known, it is positively received as a demonstration of male virility. And what do we know? Maybe his wife approves or participates. Anyway it must be good for his relaxation - thus not bad for the country. How can a man refuse a pretty young girl anyway?

I once had a discussion with some Americans explaining me, why, what Clinton did with Ms. Lewinsky (spelling?), was so bad. Their argumentation went somewhat like this:

You see, he is THE representative of America. A person to show others by example how to live. A guardian of moral values. Appointed and by the American people. Practically annointed by the Will of God. More than just a man. That is why we impeached him, when he would not speak the truth on his sexual behaviour. His private life is not private. We have right to know. We ought to know.

I and most fellow Europeans still do not understand. In a similar situation, I do not want to know. I wish I had never knewn. I wish that the US did not embarass itself thus. I want private life to be private.

Conclusion: The study and understanding of cultures is essential for understanding across borders. It is also one of the most interesting studies to be done, if you are interested in human nature. Different does not mean bad. And we can learn so much from each other.

Conclusion 2: Kissing girls is risky business. She is now my lovely wife.

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