The cultural peculiarities of any country can be the toughest part of living abroad. It can also be the most interesting and rewarding. The culture shock can be more pronounced when moving from a "developed" western country to Asia or a 3rd world nation (or visa versa).
This section of essays is a peek into my cultural experiences. Some have a point to make, some are just something I found interesting or funny, some both. See what you think and don't hesitate to leave a comment.
One could say that the United States has been the largest cultural experiment in history. This experiment even has a name: The Melting Pot. Every culture, every country and every religion is represented, each with a voice.
The nature of an experiment is that the outcome is unknown, even when the experimenters have a theory that it will turn out one way or another. Some might say that the American experiment is a success based on the general affluence, education and the rights and freedoms of the citizens. Capitalism, religious multiplicity and individuality works when set in a democratic republic where each voice, each group can be heard. However, others will argue that it's a failure, demonstrated by such things as high crime rates, homelessness, the growing income inequality between the rich and the rest, and the soaring national debt. There's no perfect system however, the way that the super-rich can purchase a larger voice in politics and the legislative process, combined with the out-of-control surveillance of citizens, I can't help but feel that democracy is taking its last gasping breath.
The inventor of the board game Monopoly, in an interview was asked if he thought that Monopoly showed people how capitalism works. He responded: No, I think it demonstrates how capitalism does not work. After all, one person ends up with everything and the others with nothing.
Whatever country/culture you were born into becomes the norm for you. For the most part, you grow up believing that your way is best (if you think about it at all). For instance, if you are an American and are invited to someone's home for dinner, it's the norm to express your appreciation by showing up with a token offering like a bottle of wine or a desert item. If you show up with desert in the Philippines, you just might offend the host by seeming to suggest that they are not able to provide enough food for a complete meal.
If you move abroad to a country with a singular dominant culture, you can conform (at least outwardly), or you can buck the system. In some cases the local people will try to be understanding and forgive you for your "eccentricities," but sometimes not. The reactions can range from mild disdain to nightmarish legal problems.
When abroad, American's are often seen as boastful and rude. The reality is that sometimes it's true but sometimes it's just a cultural misunderstanding. It's always best to avoid the cultural pitfalls. For this reason, I encourage anyone traveling abroad to do your homework. Knowledge of the culture where you are can help you make friends, get things done and keep you out of trouble. In the long run, educating yourself about your new home (whether permanent or temporary) will do all this with the potential added benefit of saving you a lot of money.
For further study, under the Books tab you will find selections by region and country.