Monday, July 31, 2006

Cultural Relativity

Cross-cultural living never ceases to amaze. There’s so much that is new or different. What’s really fun, though, is when you come across something that is the exact opposite of your own culture. It really throws you for a loop. What is real? What is true?

Example: what do you do with a sick person?

At home it’s obvious, it’s common sense, that you don’t go to visit someone who is sick, with the exceptions of things like being laid up with a broken leg or having a surgery in the hospital. And even for those exceptions, only close family members and a few friends would dare to make an appearance. Our thinking is that a sick person needs lots of rest, shouldn’t be over-stimulated, could spread sickness to others, etc. Here, the idea of leaving a sick person alone is a horror. I’m not sure what all their thinking is, but it’s like if you leave the person alone with their sickness, the sickness will take over. If you let a lot of people come see the person they can all give advice for what to do until someone’s advice is what does the trick and the person gets better. Sick people lay on a mat in the living room and all the neighbors, friends, family, etc. come through all day to greet them or sit with them for a while. I’ve heard that westerners who get used to this find it very lonely to be sick back at home.

"The other promise of anthropology, one less fully distinguished and attended to than the first, has been to serve as a form of cultural critique for ourselves. In using portraits of other cultural patterns to reflect self-critically on our own ways, anthropology disrupts common sense and makes us reexamine our taken-for-granted assumptions." (

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