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Cultural Differences

An Upside Down World
by Masaru; March 30, 2008


“I heard you guys do everything upside down.”

When John, my first boarding house roommate, said that to me, I smiled at him. Japanese people drive cars on the left, use saws by pulling towards them, wave hands when saying good-bye, and cry for sorrow at a graduation party.

Yes, it seemed the other way around to John, didn’t it? One time, tired of western meals, I cooked noodle soup and slurped up my noodles with a big noise. Everybody laughed at me, and then we had a big argument. In Japan, some types of noodle you have to make a noise to get a better taste even if it is a cold one, and to make noise is appropriate manners. For me, Western people do everything the other way around, I thought.

Cultural differences make people puzzled, but as long as you can observe from the outside, you will find the reasons why others act that way. The real trouble will occur when you encounter a different way of thinking, especially a time you try to do good for others.

In Japan, whenever you are moving, you distribute items among neighbours such as food coupons, boxes of chocolate or invitations to restaurants .It is a custom even nowadays. Forty years ago, I came to Vancouver with a handful pearls that my friend gave to me as souvenir. I gave out some of them to my co-workers. They were delighted.

At that time, I had made a good friend named Andy who took me to vocational school with his car every Saturday, so I gave a pearl to his wife. Andy thanked me. After finishing school, he invited me for dinner at his house. I still had a dozen pearls at home, so I handed them to Andy to make a necklace for his wife.

“Masaru, don’t do it. I can afford to buy necklaces for my wife!” His face showed a slight anger and sounded embarrassed.

Differences of custom sometimes lead people into confusion and dismay, but once you understand that there is always another point of view on everything, you can learn different aspects of human life and culture. The pearls have taught me to respect another person’s pride, that’s for sure.