Monday, January 18, 2010

Culture and Its Niceties

I’ve lived in many different cultures, and my mom was an immigrant to the US so it gives me an unusual take on culture. People tend to grow up within a culture and assume that that is a standard by which everyone else lives. And usually despite what they think, the things that are most cultural are the things they don’t recognize.

Because of my odd relationship with American culture I have a lot of friends who are immigrants or who are first generation. My conversations with immigrants go like this:

Nina (Russian immigrant): Why do Americans tell their children how wonderful they are?

Me: It’s called “encouragement” or “positive reinforcement.” Americans believe their children need “good self esteem.”

Nina: How can you have good self-esteem if you are not good at anything?

Me: I don’t know. It seems dumb to me too.

Or consider the west-south thing. I was in junior high and had just moved to a small town in Georgia from California. Here’s my first experience with Southern culture.

Librarian: Would you like to check out that book?

Me: Uh, yes.

Librarian (her face is turning crimson): Yes, what?

Me (very confused): Yes...yes?

My mother got a phone call about the extreme rudeness of her child. Eventually, I learned to say, “Yes, ma’am.”

Of course, as soon as I learned to say “Yes, ma’am” we moved to Hawaii where they speak pidgin.

A fellow student, who was a native Hawaiian said to me: Hey, bra, you go beech?

Me: Pardon?

Student: You go beech?

Me (perplexed): Excuse me, are you speaking English?

Yep, life's interesting.


  1. I really wonder where all the cultures originally... originated. And how did they all become so different? Was it a natural change due to the location and circumstances...?! (Am I asking a stupid question?)

  2. I guess it would be nice to live in Russia, because then Mom wouldn't ever sing that infuriating "Encourage one another, and build each other up! Build each other up!" song whenever you told your younger brother what a loser he is.

    Speaking of which, Yes, Andrew, that is a stupid question. Ah, Russia. :D

  3. Yes, but Russians boost their self esteem by covering their rooms with pictures of themselves, no matter how poorly taken.
    So what was the Hawaiian person trying to say? It sounds rude!

    GRACE duke