Tuesday, 2 October 2007

New Principle for Cultural Exchange:

Visitors (particularly monolingual North-American visitors) to a culture are only qualified to complain about their host culture as much as they are able to do so in the host language.

If you haven't even bothered to learn any Korean, I don't want to hear you bitching about Korea, buddy!

No more of that judgment from a distance junk. . . unless you're extremely well-informed and, say, a student of or expert in international relations, international environmental/gender/multicultural/etc. issues.

I'll also make allowances for people who have lived extensively in other cultures than their native one, and I'll even say the ratio of right to complain:command of the native language increases proportionally for each additional language said complainer speaks -- that is, if you are fluent in three languages, you're allowed to complain three times more than if you only speak one, because to master three languages, one must have a lot of experiences with how different cultures work, even if one doesn't speak the specific language of the host country.

[update: April 2008: we need to add "time spent in country about which one complains," because living in other countries is good; so is spending time seeing the actual country one is criticizing.]

So our formula is:


where R = one's right to complain about one's host country,
C = one's command of the host country's language,
multiplied by
L = the number of languages one speaks fluently,
multiplied by
0.2Y = the number of years spent living in cultures other than one's native culture, divided by 5 (I'd say five years living in a place is about equivalent to learning the language, as far as absorbing a culture goes, wouldn't you?),
multiplied by
T = Time in host country.

We need to add the +1 to the 0.2Y or else the whole equation divides by zero if one has never lived outside one's native culture.

Try THAT on for size, you culture-shocking, knee-jerk judging, otherness non-coping whiner!

(how's my formula, Tamie? My math's rusty, but I think that looks sensible. Feel free to poke holes in it as practice for your GRE)

Impressions are allowed, but if you aren't even willing to properly engage the host culture, don't judge it, and if you can't cope, well, nobody's keeping you here!

Why North Americans especially?

Because an entire ocean separates North Americans from truly distinct, other cultures with whom they could interact on an equal footing. I'd consider adding other island countries to the list (that means you, England). Mexico is roundly regarded as an inferior/less rich/less powerful little brother, and mostly ignored by Americans, while it's too far away for Canadians to consider, and Canada and USA speak the same language (other than French Canada). Belgians have entire COUNTRIES of otherness bordering them, while the closest Canadians and Americans come to that kind of otherness are little pockets of immigrants that (usually/often) are trying to assimilate, or at least feel a little like they should, and have kids who probably do. This means that a lot of North Americans are never REALLY required to think too far outside the box of their own cultural assumptions, and going too long in that groove leads people into the trap of assuming anything different from what one's accustomed to is automatically inferior.

Agree? Disagree?


churchmouse said...

Yeah. I'd say so. I dig your formula. Can you represent it in a graph or diagram, like this lady?:


Edward said...

Emphatically agree...

Roboseyo said...

Thanks for the support.