Cultural Awareness, the internet, me and your teens
Meandering through the Dutch countryside on a commuter train a man sitting next to me asked me where I was from. I was 27 and it was the first time I left Carli, aged 2 with Grandma and Grandpa for a weekend in Amsterdam. It was my first trip to Amsterdam and I was curious and excited by this colorful city not realizing that one day I would live there.
The man sitting next to me asked me where I was from and when he heard Utah I heard what I hear so often.
"So are you Mormon."
"Yes, I am but not active."
This always opened a flood of questions.
I get questions about when the first time I had electricity to if I had to run away and much more. The big question is always, "How many wives does your father have?"
On this train ride, it was no different. Of course, the question came. I try to be patient with people. I explain, answer questions and clarify. What also happens is that people don't believe me. They will argue with me and tell me all kinds of crazy things. I sigh and clarify and on a rare occasion I just give up and leave them in their world on not wanting to understand or learn.
Two weeks ago when the Dolce and Gabanna scandal unfolded I watched and was amazed that such a big firm could make such a huge blunder. They are international, China is one of their biggest markets and they made fun of the Chinese thinking this would go over well. A blunder that will cost them dearly.
Years ago I taught Cultural Studies and Awareness at a Hotel School in Switzerland. One of the first activities...Understand that culture is something complex that sits deep within us.
It is hard to know sometimes when you cross the line and the rules change as our societies evolve. Something that might have been acceptable when you were a child may no longer be.
You need to constantly ask yourself and reflect:
Is this racist?
Is this healthy curiosity or is it ignorance?
Is what I am saying or posting rude or mean?
I am sure that I have made mistakes over my years of travel. I actually have added this subject to one of my workshops with teens. We look at posts and discuss and I ask, "Is this okay?" I have had tears as a girl explained how tired she was that everyone misunderstood her culture.
How can you get this right if you just don't know?
My tips from years of travel.
1. Be curious about other peoples culture by asking them something simple like, "I don't know much about your country. I've never been there. Can you tell me about it." Then let them share.
2. If you want to ask about something specific you have read about ask them carefully and with an open mind. The newspaper article might have gotten something wrong and maybe you need to hear it from their perspective.
3. A rule of thumb. I can make fun or criticize my country.... others can't unless they are also part of it or at least not with ease. It is the same basic rule you would apply to a partner. You make criticize my husband my arms will go up; I can, however, do this and you may agree with me.
4. Don't make fun of other cultures online...period!
Kids today are confronted with so much on Social Media. You need to be discussing this with them. The school my kids go to does a great job about talking to the kids about culture and respect. I wish all kids had that but all parents can make this effort and set a good example for their kids.
–Allison Ochs, Social Worker M.S.W., Author, Expat, Mother of three, Wife