Sunday, July 19, 2009

Asian vs Western Cultures - A Pictorial


Given the number of years that I've spent working and living in Asia, combined with the fact that my wife was born in Shanghai, this is not the first time that I've written about the differences between Asian and Western cultures (as I've experienced them)... it is actually quite difficult to explain to others the depth of the differences, and the impact this has on everyday life. This is especially true when the person to whom you are explaining has only experienced this for themselves at a very 'high level'... ie, from vacationing or travelling to a foreign country or by being exposed to the ways of friends that hail from a different country.

I have said on more than one occassion, that I personally find the 'breaking down of barriers' and the joining of our cultures (at the macro level) to be challenging, but at the same time extremely joyful and exciting. It is all too much for words, so I'm very glad that I recently found a communication that I received some time ago which highlights many of the differences pictorially. These images to me, are very powerful, and anyone who lives in a mixed relationship (Asian / Western) I'm sure will be able to associate immediately with most of them (they may even bring a smile to your face or a giggle to your lips, as they did for me). Note that the blue coloured picture represents Westerners, the red represents Asians.

DISCLAIMER: The english description of each picture is not necessarily a direct translation of the Chinese characters - I have taken a little bit of license to better get the meaning across to my readers who do not speak or read Chinese.


一日三餐 (Three Meals):

人际关系 (Personal Relationships):

心情和天气 (Weather and Mood):

生活方式 (Lifestyle):

交通工具 (Transport):

老人的生活 (Old Man's Life):

自我 (Self - Ego):

周末街景 (Street View on the Weekend):

孩子 (Children):

美丽的标准 (What is Pretty?):

胃痛时的饮品 (What to drink when you have a stomach ache):

准时 (Punctuality):

旅游 (Travel Sightseeing):

排队 (Queueing):

淋浴 (Showering):

理想中的对方 (Finding a Partner):

意见 (Opinion):

聚会 (Parties):

餐厅分贝 (Volume in a Restaurant):

处理问题 (Problem Solving):

对待新的事物 (Acceptance of Change):

对待愤怒 (Anger):

时尚 (Fashion):

领导 (Boss):



Morgana said...

That's very interesting Pete! I wasn't sure I understood the problem solving one. The eastern way is to work around the problem and the western way is to barrell right through the middle?

James said...

Huh.. I didn't get the showering or the 'finsing a partner' one :(

Aussie Pete said...

Hi June - the pictures were actually drawn for a common and popular networking and social media site in China... yes, this is their impression of 'problem solving' - in some respects I agree (I think it probably depends on whether or not one works for an MNC :p)

Thanks James - nearly all 1.5B odd Chinese shower in the evening... it was a major topic of debate when I married Sammi - we need to ensure that Jaime is given a bath of an evening (to satisfy Chinese culture)... but I cannot go to work without showering in the morning... the result? - I now need to shower in the morning and have a bath with Jaime in the evening... how clean must I be??? :D

I wrote an article once before about teeth brushing... you should check this one out - it sort of sums this up as well... the little things are the most debated.

James said...

Heh I shower in the morning and in the evening (night actually)

My reasons are entirely practical... Here in Singapore, we're almost certain to perspire in the day. It's alot more comfortable to go to bed not stinky, sticky or smelly...

I'll admit that the morning shower is mostly to help me get going. :)

Anonymous said...

I didn't understand the acceptance of change one. Other than that, being an ABC (American Born Chinese), I can truly laugh in wholehearted agreement with these pictorials.

Anonymous said...

So many of these are not true it is ridiculous. If you study many asian languages you will find that the use limited words and sentence structure because it is staight to the point. Also, are you telling me that an American or Canadian talks quieter on public transport than an Asian? I generalise but this is some of the worst generalisation I have seen. I also sense some aminosity towards Asian people in the content. Stupid article.

Aussie Pete said...

Hi anonymous - always appreciate the feedback. But very rarely do I get sucked in by trolling - in this case, I'll make an exception - animosity? Really? - My wife is chinese, my kids are mixed cultures and races - I love the cultural differences and embrace them... It makes our family whole and balanced.

In terms of the article here, the 'generalizations' as u put it, were drawn by a Chinese guy - and he got it spot on... It is not directed at individuals or people, it recognizes and displays differences in cultures.

Some of these are actually critical to be aware of, if one wants to live or do business in China - we need to understand where our own upbringing, ladders of inference and thought processes differ from others, so that we can bridge the gap - for both respect and understanding. This is not a bad thing, it is a reality and I encourage u to study up on cultural awareness - there are many courses available - some online. Cultural awareness can still be difficult to grasp unless u have the opportunity to live it every day - hands on learning... Mistakes will be made, but take it on the chin, my friend and accept it as a life lesson.

In terms of Asian languages to which u allude - I speak fluent (little debatable - my kids are better. :). ) mandarin and have basic level of understanding of Malay and some Cantonese. But appreciate your attempt to educate me regardless.

I encourage u to study up a little on cultural awareness and u will get most of the images above - just open your mind a little, embrace diversity and develop self awareness as it relates to other cultures.

Cheers my friend!!


bs said...

Excellent. I'm an Indian and agree with it all. I loved the way the noise levels and family ties have been shown. Our noise levels are so high pitched often we can't hear neighbours at a restaurant. But that is how we convey affection. lol. I was in a train in canada and was shocked/amused at the pin-drop silence. Our trains... are such chaos, but fun. We can do with a lot of improvement in every deptt, but I would never want us to lose our spirited spirit. However, we too are changing and families are getting small and self-centred but there is still a lot of chaotic merriment around. Festivals and functions are a riot of colour and ceremonies. Lovely. Btw, we bathe in the morning and at times in the evening too :)

Anonymous said...

This is right on the money. See the book, "The Geography of Thought - How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why," by Richard E. Nisbett. He teaches psychology at the University of Michigan and based the book on his research after a Chinese studnt challenged him to explain what he understood the differences to be.

It plays out in real life, based on my (Caucasian) experience on a condo board with an Asian majority most of the time.