“I don’t think you have to agree with all aspects of a culture in order to respect it, do you?”
I found this million dollar question on a website forum among expats. No, you do not have to agree and in some extreme cases you do not even have to respect (for example, when physical mutilation enters into the cultural picture), but you should try to understand where the behavior in question comes from, its deep, old and even ancient, twisted, contorted, overlapping and infinitely complex cultural roots. Judging without understanding, or at least knowing that you don’t and can’t ever really understand, quickly leads you down the path to prejudice.
That is what this blog is about – exercises in unraveling the cultural mysteries of every day life abroad, in my case, in Italy. It took nearly 20 years here before I woke up one day and realized that it is about me and my culture, not them and theirs and with this revelation I started to examine the cultural values, beliefs, thought patterns, attitudes that were so deeply imbedded in my personal way of being that I didn’t even realize they existed, but thought were just the way things were. All of a sudden a whole new world of understanding opened up for me that I would like to share.
Even long-term expats here never get used to or accept some aspects of Italian culture, and I expect my husband would say the same about some aspects of my American culture, but by trying to understand the roots of the behaviors which bring on personal “cultural moments” and the purpose of the behavior (which generally is not just to drive you crazy) then you can step back and let it pass. Sometimes you understand and sometimes you don’t – but you tried!
In my training sessions, I love to quote Craig Storti, from his book of Cross-Cultural Dialogues, “Most people do behave rationally; you just have to discover the rationale.”
Easier said than done!! But who said it would be easy?