I have just stumbled upon this quote, and I think it’s quite brilliant. Languages are deeply ingrained into each country’s culture – and even though no two countries that speak the same language have the same culture, it is an excellent platform for gaining deeper insight into a culture. And when you have looked and and experienced a foreign culture, you begin to see your own through a foreigner’s eyes too. All in all: it creates a greater sense of empathy.
My own personal experience is fairly limited: my Spanish is poor and I’ve only been working as a language teacher for a month. Whereas this combined with my experience of travelling and immersing myself into other cultures has helped me look beyond my habitual British mannerisms and to understand and begin to empathise with cultures not too dissimilar, plus those alien to my own.
There’s no point denying all cultures have their good and bad points. Take the British culture for example: we’re very polite and sometimes this is good – when I’ve experienced Latino bluntness I’ve sometimes felt the need to explain what was just said is very insulting. Yet us British folk are too scared of hurting feelings, and so we (nearly) always think before we speak. However at times the politeness can be frustrating. I find British people are perhaps too indecisive, for fear of coming across as too bossy. And I know that I for one am an incredibly shy person, and in the classes I teach in Spain I can see all the students are not afraid to speak out, answer questions etc. Whereas looking back at my own school experience I can see how much more reserved some British school children are, and perhaps this hinders their confidence from developing and growing. The teachers I work with in Spain however disagree: they think British school children are much more well behaved!
I think Spain has a bad reputation for being rude. At times I can see this of course, but it comes from their language and their more direct way of speaking. It is not intentional, far from it because the Spanish are incredibly kind and will happily go out of their way to help you. They are very warm and affectionate with their body language and the way they speak to one another e.g. calling each other ‘cariño’, which means ‘darling’. In Britain you might get called ‘love’, ‘pet’, or ‘duck’, depending on your location, but in some places affectionate nicknames are reserved only for friends and family. And unlike Spain, in Britain people will rarely touch your arm when speaking to you. And god forbid you try to kiss both cheeks in greeting!
To me the British culture is a characterisation of a culture in which the people are reserved, whereas the Spanish culture represents the more open Latino cultures as a whole. And I think a happy balance between the two could make a person wonderful. So I’m going to try 😉 I’m hoping this year will help me come out of my shell more (but not too much because I am not one for the limelight). I’ve never been one to give away hugs freely, but who knows maybe soon I’ll be all over friends and people I’ve just met (in a respectable way of course).
And it’s not just about living in another country forever or for a while. If you’re lucky enough to make friends who come from all over the world their culture will rub off on you and yours will rub off on them. And I think being able to sympathise with other cultures, and realising how your own culture appears to others can help people in becoming more empathetic and understanding, but also kinder and more open minded. I have spent time with people from other countries, whose automatic response to “how are you?” is to complain how tired they and and how much they’ve been working recently. A lot, and all the time. And I, being the lovely person that I am, think to myself “oh boohoo, you work hard like every other person on the planet” or wonder to myself if they actually wanted to socialise, or whether they’d rather be having a nap. But being British I refrain from saying those things out loud. (Also fyi, sarcasm like my first response is largely understood by British people, less so by others I find). But I know that whereas Britain has a culture where we take pride in enjoying ourselves (hence the constant uploads of photos of food to social media), other countries don’t have this culture and instead take pride in spending all their waking hours studying/working to provide for their family. So rather than thinking that the person is rude or boring, it helps to know that there are different customary ways of answering to “how are you”. (British people will say “fine, thanks” even if their house has been burnt down, their dog has been kidnapped and The Great British Bake Off has been cancelled).
So, can cultures benefit one another? Well, to some up this entire post: yes. Cultures, like people, do not come without flaws that differ from one to another. And by experiencing another culture it opens your eyes to these imperfections, and you may treasure them as part of your quirky culture, or you may think that another culture has a better way of handling things. Through experience we learn and our personalities grow. And this is achieved by taking pride in ourselves, and having admiration for others.