Mar 23, 2012

Asian misconceptions : Cold Europeans

Clearing misconceptions between cultures is an important prerequisite for a racism free world. Being born and brought up in the orient, I'm quite familiar with the misconceptions most Asians hold about Europeans (or Westerners in general). In this series I'll try to address these misconceptions.

One such misconception is that Europeans are cold. They lack emotions and don't "connect like we do". I've seen many South Asians and South-East Asians holding this misconception. Many also tend to think that the western way of maintaining individual boundaries are inferior to the oriental way of maintaining no boundaries, hence the use of the word "cold". I don't agree with the idea of drawing us-and-them boundaries to begin with. Do you really know who "they" are, who you are ? Aren't these distinctions very superfluous ?

This brings about another misconception that personal boundary does not exist in Oriental cultures. But in reality it does, in a different shape though. Traditionally, you can ask Asians (in general) about their spouse, children, parents, family etc. but asking them about earnings is considered disrespectful. On the other, in Canada for example, I find it's very common for people to discuss about jobs and earnings.

But the notion of personal boundary in every society is not static and keeps evolving with time. For example, young Bangalis these days don't feel comfortable talking to strangers about failure in their romantic affairs, but in the past they used to share stories like this with everyone and seek comfort in sharing the grief. Some would even go all they way to write poems and/or songs on the topic.

I think its differences in the shapes of personal space or boundary that gives rise to the misconception. While one is square the other is a circle. And, none is better than the other. Therefore, judging them is pointless. One has to understand that whatever he/she is used to with is not the only way and the other ways are just equally right. There is something useful to learn from the other way too and that's where the focus should be, instead of arguing why my way is the right way.