One of the best things about people is that we’re all different. Each person you meet is their own individual self, complete with their own thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. We’re all part of a multicultural world, full of exciting and often surprising differences. With such diversity, helps when we all respect and understand other people’s cultures. Here are some tips on how to do just that.
The concept of culture is quite a complex one. We often use the term to refer to things like food, holidays, clothing, music, and religion, but in reality, it means far much more. Behaviours, customs, beliefs, and values, also make up culture. So, when we encounter others from backgrounds that aren’t the same as our own, the differences can be noticeable.
Know your own culture
One of the best ways to understand other people’s cultures is to first examine your own. Most of us take our background for granted, and we’re rarely challenged to evaluate it. However, it’s only through appreciating our own unique cultural makeup that we can fully appreciate others’.
What is it that you believe? What biases do you have? What behaviours define you, and would any of them seem odd or unusual to someone with a different culture? These aren’t easy questions to answer, but they’ll open your eyes to understanding other cultures. We all have our unique filter through which we view the world, and recognising that fact makes it easier to see other points of view.
Did you know? Every year on the spring bank holiday in Gloucester, England, hundreds of people take part in the Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake, where contestants chase a wheel of cheese down a steep hill.
It’s truly fascinating how many different cultures there are in the world. Such diversity should be embraced, and one way of doing so is by learning about some of the ones you’re interested in or that you encounter in your day to day life. Here are some ideas to help you learn:
- Read. Books by authors from other countries can expand your cultural understanding. Check out Arundhati Roy to learn about India, or Haruki Murakami to learn about Japan.
- Watch movies. World cinema has a lot to offer. Check out some Korean horror movies or French comedies.
- Listen to radio shows and podcasts. Audio content is a great way to learn on the go. Check out this list of podcasts for improving cultural awareness for inspiration.
- Talk with individuals from different cultures. People are people the world over, and everyone has a story to tell.
- Travelling to other countries. ‘Travel broadens the mind’ is one of the biggest clichés there is. However, there’s also a lot of truth in it. Stepping outside of your area of familiarity gives you the chance to experience many different ways of living life. Don’t forget, when you visit another country, quite often it’s you that’s the minority, and you would want other people to respect your culture
With knowledge about new cultures, people are better able to understand where differences come from. Cultural respect comes from applying this understanding when interacting with new people.
Did you know? At the beginning of the Thai New Year, residents take to the streets with whatever water weapons they can muster for a giant water fight known as Songkran.
It’s important to realise that not everyone from one particular culture is the same. Every individual, no matter where they’re from, their background, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other factor, thinks differently. Just because one individual you’ve encountered acts one way doesn’t mean that everyone from that culture does the same.
Treat everyone you meet as an individual. Show them respect, don’t pre-judge, and give them the same opportunities as you would to anyone else.
Did you know? In Ethiopia, they use a different calendar to our Julian calendar. They calculate the birth of Jesus differently, meaning their calendar is seven to eight years behind the Julian calendar. It has 12 months of 30 days each, plus a 13th with five or six days.
Appreciate the differences
Sadly, some people are quick to be suspicious, afraid, or negative about the unknown. This can be problematic when it comes to people from different backgrounds. A much more progressive way of thinking about differences is to celebrate them. The world would be incredibly mundane if we were all the same. That’s why it’s so vital to focus on all the good that comes from different cultures.
Think about all the fantastic food, drinks, movies, music, festivals, fashion, inventions, and more that have come from people backgrounds different from your own. There’s so much that’s exciting and so many different points of view. Appreciating all of this diversity is vital to creating a society where everyone respects the different cultures of the world.
Did you know? In Japan, small gifts are often given as a way of thank you or as a sign of respect. For example, if you go on holiday, you may be expected to bring back small individually wrapped gifts for your co-workers. There is a booming business for these ‘omiyage’.