Opinion / Blog

Do you love your culture?

By seanboyce88 ( Updated: 2015-06-16 16:52

And then there are subcultures, cultures within cultures of which you yourself are aware of yet others around you are oblivious to. We have the bar scene in Harbin, where you can see the same people every week without fail, all partaking in a very western form of drinking. We have the modern Chinese hiphop culture with kids meeting on the streets to have dance offs like they see in movies such as Step Up, shaking hands with a bro hug, a symbol of their own personal culture. We have a strong Islamic presence here, a culture imported from the north west and very isolated, always talking in small groups, we have geek culture, with the small manga shops being filled with kids who have a love of all things Japanese sporting their own funky looks based on anime, big hair to be seen all over, board game shops for those who love to relax with some hard thinking and even a dungeons and dragons scene where many jokes amongst the group become private to the shared group. This is simply because culture is the sum product of our shared experience amongst our small groups of friends and community, we cannot share our experience with everyone in China. 

I often hear requests of "I wish to learn of other cultures, teach me your culture..." and I simply do not know how to answer, I feel like trying to explain what pork tastes like to a devout Muslim. If you have never tried it, it's almost impossible to experience its flavour from description alone. Culture is the same, it cannot be learned or described but simply experienced. In my own culture back home, we have a strong geek culture within our group of friends. You drop a fork at dinner, and you will get a reply along the lines of "Haha did you roll a one?" Unless you have any experience of a pen and paper roleplaying game, you simply will not get our cultural humour.  I cannot begin to explain Scottish culture as my experience of it and others is entirely different from everyone else. Football for many is a big part of this supposed Scottish macro culture, and yet I simply do not watch it nor care what happens. How can I then even begin to explain my culture in an objective way when I myself do not fully understand the tribalism that encompasses Scottish football?

In this very same way, culture is not possible to learn from your books. I hear so often "You British are all gentlemen" and yet the reality is so far from the assumption. The books on British culture are so unbearably shallow, superficial and historical that they don't even begin to explain as to what is modern British culture. Think of modern Chinese culture, what is it? For me there are good and bad aspects, one that instantly comes to mind is the culture of mobile phones and eating. Your grandparents probably wouldn't dare bring a phone to the table deeming it rude, yet this is a massive part of modern Chinese youth culture, one that I haven't seen anywhere in any textbook on Chinese culture. Culture is malleable, it changes day to day and so your textbook is out of date as soon as it hits the shelf. All you learn from your textbook is historical culture and it is nothing but a very bad representation as to what your current culture is....

So, next time you decide to tell a foreigner "they don't understand the culture", is this really true or just a bad excuse to try and win a debate you are clearly losing? Go push your "I win" button in the debate, but it's getting old and the only one who is convinced is yourself. 

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