“Before we can appreciate another culture, we must first understand our own. Only then, can we see and gain understanding of the differences,” A.M. Bonner.
To better understand your own culture, ask if you value individualism or collectivism. If you live in such countries as the United States, Germany, Ireland, South Africa, or Australia, you probably value individualism. On the other hand, if you live in such countries as Saudi Arabia, Korea, Japan, or Indonesia, you probably value and perceive life from a collective stance.
In the United States, Individualism is the cultural climate. It is a belief that every person is unique and should be for him or herself. Each individual is free to chose his or her own destiny. Children are reared to be independent. The acceptable norm is for young adults to move out of the family home by the age of eighteen or twenty-one. They either go off to university, go into the military, or get a job. Either way, they are to make their own way in life. Technically, their parents are no longer obligated to provide for them because they are deemed “adults.”
The film, Failure to Launch, reinforces the belief of Individualism. In the film, a thirty-something does not want to leave his parents home. He feels very comfortable because his mom cooks and cleans for him, and his dad pays all the bills. So, no responsibility falls on him. Naturally, his parents feel they have done something wrong because he does not want to move out. They find it odd that he’s still living with them because this is not the cultural norm.
In some other cultures, however, that thirty-something would not appear odd for not wanting to leave his parents or family home. It would be the norm for him to stay. In such cultures, a different perception is taken–one of collectivism. In a collective society, such as that of Arabia, children are expected to grow and remain in the family. It is not peculiar for a son to marry, and for he and his wife to share a flat in the family home or compound.
In a collective society, it is no longer about the individual, but rather, the family or the tribe. This type of mindset stems from the need to survive under harsh and perilous conditions. That is, the bigger one’s tribe the better to fend off other rivals, particularly, when food and water are at a prime. In order to survive, the tribe must stick together. Thus, the mentality of “I’m unique; I’m the captain of my fate” could not coincide with making the tribe flourish because each individual would be doing his or her own thing rather than what’s good for the collective whole.
In order to promote the collective whole, all members of the group share a common identity. This can be through language, beliefs, values, and dress. Through the shared identity, a sense of belonging to the group is created. The perception becomes “I am one of you, so what’s good for you is good for me,” so to speak. In feeling that one belongs not only promotes a bond but also loyalty and allegiance.
For instance, in Saudi Arabia, the shared identity is through language–Arabic, religion–Islam, dress, and values. In a theocratic society, that is, a society governed by religion, such as that of Saudi Arabia, Islam shapes the code of living through the Hadites.
A common thread interwoven in Arabian culture is for men to wear a dishdasha (the long, white tunic) and women to wear an abaya (the long, black cloak). As white and black are opposites, and opposites attract, Arab men find the black abaya not only alluring but also a symbol of respect, beauty, and mystique.
In contrast, Individualism encourages one to create one’s own identity and to carve one’s own niche. Thus, no shared identity comes into play, as it does in a collective society. People are free to dress as they like and do what is good for them.
Rick Steves takes you on a Spring journey through Europe, as he shows you how Easter is celebrated across cultures.