Consequences of culture clash

Amal Chatterjee
10 min readJan 17, 2017


Source : Google photo of culture clash

People always value their own culture as superior to others. It makes them feel good to be dismissive about other people who are not like them and not worth any consideration. You hear jokes about people which is a manifestation of disapproval because you do not joke about someone for whom you have high regards. In India Sikh are butt of jokes everywhere although most Sikhs take it not seriously and smile but it comes from the belief that some how Sikhs are not to be regarded as intelligent and worth respect. This is blatant prejudice.

They also make fun of south Indians who are considered uncouth in their manners and vulgar in their behavior because they use the whole palm for eating and talk only in their language even if others present do not understand them.

Some Asians do the same and turn their backs to you if you are not one of them and will ignore you because they are very uncomfortable in English. I have found this sort of behavior in many countries even when you speak their language well.

The clash of culture of which the language is a part comes when a person feels superior and condescending to others. People will laugh at your clothes, manners, body language, accent, your grooming like keeping beard, mustache,long hair ,wear turban or other such outer accoutrement. They will laugh at your choice of food, your eating manners, your drinking manners , your posture and in short anything that they don’t approve because they think they are superior in every aspect. This is where culture clash occurs sometimes with tragic consequences.

I come from a traditional Hindu culture where we are taught that our culture is very old and venerable therefore must be superior to others. The caste discrimination is a part of the Hindu culture where people of a certain caste are looked down upon as sub humans and are still treated as such.

A brahmin girl from north India went to bathe in a river in South India but was not allowed to do so by the fanatic brahmins there who did not believe that she was a brahmin which is the uppermost caste in the social class in India because she did not wear silk and did not have a diamond nose pin which is the sign of a brahmin there. The river ghats were reserved exclusively for the brahmins there.

A tragic part of this culture is the system of dowry still practiced all over India when a girl gets married. Perhaps it started as a guarantee of financial well being for the girl in case she became a widow and had no other means to support her but it degenerated into what dowry is today and is simply a price the parents of the bride pay to the groom . When the marriage ends up on the rocks, the bride often reminds the husband that he was bought and has no self respect.

The dowry deaths are not uncommon. The in laws torment the girl because she did not bring enough dowry so they want more. Often the greed of the groom is manifested even before the marriage and he or his parents start demanding more money and gifts in order for the marriage to take place. This happens in front of the all the guests . Brave is the girl who walks away before they tie the knot because of this brazen behavior of the groom or his parents but how many girls are so brave?

But Indians are not ashamed of the dowry system and say that it is an ancient tradition and an integral part of their old and venerable culture so it must be good. Rare is a young man who dares to challenge his parents on it even if he is well disposed to marry a poor girl.

Young widows were drugged with opium and burned alive on the funeral pyre of their husbands in the name of an ancient tradition called suttee until the British banned the practice thus saving many young women’s lives . In Rajasthan young and old women preferred to jump into the fire than to surrender to the enemy when their men lost the battle and left their hand prints on stone walls before the self immolation. Some of the prints found show the hand of a child.

There was a time when people could not afford to travel abroad or even within their own country so did not know much about how other people lived but in the modern age , many people travel to seek jobs abroad or simply visit other countries . Thus they come across cultures different from their own and often come into conflict. The increase in tourism also brings foreigners to their country who bring with them their culture that may be different.

A peace corps woman was pinched on her buttocks by Indian men who did not approve of her very short tight shorts and took such liberty although the woman was in shock because she thought nothing of showing off her massive thighs.

This is purely cultural. What passes for normal in one country does not pass at all in other. When people visiting other countries are insensitive to local culture, such incidents happen. One Indian girl wearing very tight shorts was sent home by university students who did not approve of her.

In Fareed Zakaria’s Why they hate us segment in the CNN he digs deeper into the reasons behind this culture clash and give the epic example of how an Egyptian man went to a dance hall in the US and was scandalized to see women kissing and hugging men in public and rubbing their bodies against men while dancing in close proximity . To him it was so against all that he was ever taught by his religion that he thought such culture was pure evil that must be opposed and must not be allowed to taint the Moslems anywhere.

He wrote 14 books that were wildly popular in the middle east and gave rise to the Moslem brotherhood that vowed to fight the import of such evil influences through media, movies and other means that were corrupting the Moslems everywhere specially the women . He was executed in Egypt for encouraging the assassination of Nasser but people called him a hero and a martyr. Later they killed Sadat and came to power in Egypt only to be toppled by the army recently.

Thus encouraged the Moslems brotherhood took over the Mecca Kaba with heavy arms and threatened to kill hostages until sharia laws were enacted everywhere.

To placate them, the Saudi government allowed them to dictate the religious teachings in the kingdom and paid for madrasas all over the world to teach fundamentalism to children who then grew up to join Al Qaeda and Talibans and now the self proclaimed “pure Moslems” of the caliphate of ISIS.

So one can easily see the tragic consequences of the clash of cultures . In most countries, people are now used to seeing hordes of camera toting tourists of all nationalities whom they ignore or exploit. I have seen female Australian and American tourists stripping naked in plain view of locals and swim in the rivers in Thailand where the bashful locals just avert their eyes in shock. This sort of callous disregard for the local culture often leads to misunderstanding or even arrests by the police . Some outraged citizens may take matters into their own hands like in Delhi where some Africans were beaten up for playing loud foreign music or for their drunken behaviors that offended many .

When a female Indian pop artist staged a concert in the style of Rihanna wearing skimpy clothes, there was a popular uprising and protest from the traditionalists who saw it as the import of evil western influence to corrupt their children and threw stones and eggs to disrupt the show. There are fanatic Hindu fundamentalists who oppose such culture and routinely protest sometime violently to disrupt the show be it a concert or a beauty pageant in India.

Western pop artists have been banned from many countries due to the pressure from the traditionalists who see them as purveyors of western values that clash with their culture although they are popular with the young people who tend to be less concerned about traditions.

But the clash of culture is a lot more than protesting the import of western culture and values . The equality of gender , the freedom of expression, the fair treatment of LGBT people, no job discrimination based on ethnicity,skin color or the sex of a person, freedom of press to criticize wrong doings of elected officials or ills of the society , religious freedom and tolerance towards others are all parts of the western culture that in some countries are seen as a threat to their own culture and values so they resist.

It is not just about food or dress or manners but a lot more. Indian parents for example are dismayed when their children talk back to them or to their teachers and show disrespect which they see in Hollywood movies frequently. Caning of students to keep them in their places in high schools was a practice not long ago and is still done in some parts to teach pupils good manners.

But western visitors are shocked to see an Indian man chewing pan and talking to people at the same time, spitting the red juice anywhere and the Indians are shocked to see a man putting up his feet on the desk while receiving someone in his office in America.

On the other hand the American children are always taught by their parents or elders to say thank you when they receive a gift or say may I or please when they ask for something. Indian parents rarely teach their children such manners so no one says thank you or please. We gave a fellow some gasoline for his scooter in India and were very surprised when he just started the scooter and drove off without even saying thanks. He was a total stranger whom we helped.

When Indians receive a gift, they will not open it in front of you to see what you gave and will try to determine how much it costs later. If it is too costly, they will secretly return it to your bag. If it is what they can afford then they will buy something of equal value to give to you . They do this because they do not like to feel being under your obligation . An American woman whom we invited to our home left some money secretly on the sofa for the same reason. These are all cultural matters that one has to deal with everywhere.

Now a days everybody has a cell phone and they talk loudly in public while waiting for the airline counter or in a crowded bus or train disturbing everybody.One black woman talked incessantly and loudly on a train in the US for so long that people called the police to take her away screaming insults at all but now you can see this sort of behavior all the time. They annoy you in the movie house with their cell phones and children behave badly screaming and kicking your chair while you want to enjoy a quiet meal at a restaurant. Their parents do not scold the kids and often can’t control them.

In Africa we saw that any old man could box the ears of any kid thus misbehaving so the kids were afraid and their parents totally approved such spanking by the elders of the village but try to scold someone’s kid in America who is not behaving well and the parents will immediately come to his defense.

Often hand gestures mean different things in different countries. You are not supposed to use your left hand in India for anything so you will find very few people who are left handed because they are discouraged to use the left hand from the childhood. The left hand is considered unclean because people use it to wipe their butt after toilet. This is also true in most of Africa but I was very amused to see Richard Quest of CNN giving the cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast chocolate with his left hand not realizing that he should have used his right hand.

Another example of cultural gaff I saw in a TV ad was when a young man drinking a glass of whiskey put his arm around the shoulder of an old man who was also drinking. This was America where old people are not shown the respect they are given in other countries and are called by their first names. Even children call their parents by their first names but in Asia such behavior is not tolerated.

The Confucius teachings tell us that we must show respect to all our elders ,relative or not and calling them by their first name or putting your arms on their shoulder is certainly not part of showing respect. You must not talk in the class room unless the teacher allows you to and must not contradict him or her.

You must show respect to your ancestors by keeping their photos on the family altar like in Vietnam and light some joss sticks everyday. You should call old people with affectionate names like papa, mama, uncle or grandpa even if they are not your relatives but the Americans will laugh at this.

I know that I escaped harm by calling the Haitian woman ma cherie who then calmed down the mob that had surrounded our car during the violent revolution in Haiti. But calling people affectionately makes them happy so it can not be bad.

But treating women badly if they are seen with a boy friend in public, forced marriage of children or killing women who refuse marriage proposals or who do not submit to their cruel husband’s demands who beat them and treat them worse than animal is often excused as part of a tribal culture in some parts of the world and even police does not interfere.

Let us face it. People do a lot of bad and inhuman things like this in the name of culture and tradition .When will it end? Maybe when someday all boys and girls will have education and grow up like Malala defending their rights with the help of the government , NGOs or educated parents who have suffered in their culture and want to reform it.

Teaching children hate in Saudi sponsored madrasas or discrimination practiced by Hindus towards the dalits is not the way forward for the humanity but education and a change of heart to accept what is just, fair and humane is.