In a lot of ways our culture defines us. It’s there in almost everything we do, say, and think. And we don’t even realize it until we’re confronted with another culture. Of course, it’s so ingrained in us, and so far from our level of conscious thought that we cling to it. And we view it as good, as opposed to all other cultural ideas being bad.
My culture tells me that productivity is king. That it’s more important to be on time for an appointment than it is to spend unplanned time cultivating a friendship. My culture tells me that it’s not ok to ask a woman her age or ask a friend what their house cost – or their car, or stereo, or anything else for that matter. It tells me that individuality is of utmost importance, and asking anyone to conform to my way of doing things is just not right. And it tells me that self-reliance, independence, and work ethic make me who I am.
My in-laws’ culture is different. It has opposite ideas to some of my cultural notions – like it’s more important to finish a conversation and put work into relationships than it is to run for the phone when it rings. It tells them that family ties and having people to count on brings more value than individualism or self-reliance. Their culture says that friends can share anything – even the cost of homes, valuables, or anything else important enough to spend money on.
Some of their ideas seem antiquated to me. Like their insistence that feet must be kept toasty warm at all times. Or that colds come from drafts, or sitting on a cold floor will bring infertility. But those ideas have their equals in my train of thought. I knock on wood. I kiss my fingers and touch them to the top of the car when I go through a yellow light. I can’t understand why a person would subject themselves to eating buckwheat – if not forced to under duress of extreme torture.
But the important thing for me to remember (and for them, too), is that culture brings a wonderful tapestry of different ideas. They’re not wrong or right. They’re not good or bad. They’re just different, and there’s nothing wrong with different. It’s hard to pull culture out our way of thinking and look at things objectively. It’s hard to compartmentalize when our cultural ideas are so much a part of our subconscious. It takes time and adjustment. And patience and understanding. And very widely open lines of communication.
Now, if only I could get my in-laws to believe that a grandparent’s biggest duty is to get up with the kids at night… Well, that and change dirty diapers… And maybe even potty train my now 2-year old.