Diversity is a Matter of Habit

Since my wife, Linda and I are celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary today (Actually, we celebrated last night, so I am actually writing this last week; follow that timeline) I’m looking for a good news story. Here goes.

Friends of mine have a Japanese daughter-in-law. The first time she came to the United States, her husband-to-be took her shopping for groceries. At the checkout, the clerk began to talk to her. Directly to her. “Nice weather we’re having, isn’t this a good price for broccoli? Yada, yada, yada.” She was astounded, her English wasn’t too good, so her fiancée took over the conversation.

This event brought out the interesting differences between the two cultures. In Japan when the couple goes to a store, he is the only white face, and everyone automatically talks to her and ignores him. Part of it is prejudice and part is experience. They just don’t expect the gaijin to understand them. Of course, he can, and that blows them away.

When she came to the United States, her assumption was that the situation would be the same. She expected that everyone would be white and she would be the different one. That was what she had known all her life.

Imagine her surprise to discover that America was full of people of all colours and backgrounds, and that she would not stand out in any way. It was sort of scary, but great in the long run.

My experience working in Korea was a different matter. I lived in a suburb of Seoul where the English teachers were the only white faces in the shop, the subway, or the market. But English teachers are held in high regard, so we were treated very well. Everybody tried to speak English to us (or, failing that, sign language). Nobody expected us to follow the rigid rules of society. However, some of the other teachers were of Korean origin, brought up in English-speaking countries, sometimes since they were very young. And they were expected to live up to the rules. In fact, they were probably held to a stricter standard. Why? No idea, but it made it very difficult for them, because their grasp of the niceties of Korean interaction was tenuous.

There’s a Lesson Here

It’s all a matter of what you have learned to expect. If you are brought up in a monoculture, you are much more likely to cling to your own people and ways and be afraid of anything different. If you are brought up in a melting pot, you have made the first step, but that’s not enough. If the different cultures are strongly divided, you are going to have the habit instilled in you that “they” are different. As we all know, this can be a bad thing. Parts of the United States have this problem.

If you are brought up like many (not all, I’m sorry to say) Canadians, thinking that it is normal to have people of all sorts around you, then you can accept all the differences and diversities as normal.

So being able to accept a lot of different people and cultures is a matter of upbringing and training, not something inbred in human nature. So progress is possible.

Good news for a change.


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