Oct 262012

This episode is all about cultural differences. When you visit another country, you sometimes feel that the lifestyle there is strange, but is it really strange? In most cases, what we perceive as being weird, strange or bizarre about another culture is in fact totally normal from their point of view. So, we should remember to be open minded about other cultures and see the differences between us as fascinating and fun, rather than strange or wrong.

In this episode I talk to my brother James and our friend Aaron about customs, culture and behaviour from around the world and discuss the question: Is it weird, or is it just different? Our conversation is inspired by a TED video I saw by Derek Sivers entitled “Weird… or just different?”. You can watch the video of his presentation and read the transcript below.

You can find a list of the things we talk about below. Feel free to add your comments below. You can share your thoughts, ask questions or tell us what things you find interesting and different about other cultures. You don’t need to sign in to add comments.

I was not sure if I should upload this episode. This is because I felt the conversation was quite chaotic and I feel embarrassed about interrupting James and Aaron so much. Normally I don’t interrupt my friends so much, but in this episode I was trying to reach conclusions and I was trying to manage the conversation. I’ve decided to upload it anyway because I still believe it is interesting and good for your English!

James, Aaron and I are good friends and here (particularly in the middle) we talk quite fast and often talk over each other. In fact, interrupting other people in conversation is another interesting cultural trait. In some cultures people interrupt each other a lot, and conversations tend to be very noisy and chaotic. Other cultures tend to have less interruption as people wait for each other to stop talking before they start. Here in the UK we are somewhere in the middle, although close friends will often talk over each other and interrupt a lot, like in this conversation. Your challenge in this episode is to try to keep up! Imagine you are in the room and you’re trying to follow the conversation. You probably won’t catch everything. My advice is – don’t give up! Don’t worry about the bits that you can’t hear or can’t catch. Just move on and stay with the conversation. In the end, it will be more rewarding for you. In real life too, you don’t always understand everything – we just have to survive in a conversation by focussing on the parts we DO understand, and guess the rest. Enjoy the episode, feel free to leave comments below and make a donation if you would like to. Thanks.
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Cultural behaviour we mention in this episode:
1. Kissing or hugging people when you meet them
2. Having two taps in the bathroom (I’m obsessed with this subject!)
3. Wearing school uniform
4. Having milk in tea
5. Having advertising which features nudity
6. Publicly criticising the government
7. Girls wearing mini-skirts in the middle of winter (e.g. in a queue for a night club)
8. Eating scorpions / spiders / toads / frogs
9. Hawking / spitting in the street
10. Smacking children
11. Killing animals before you eat them / Having animals killed as part of an industrialised food production process
There are many more things which we didn’t discuss in this podcast, so I must do a follow up episode in the future.

Derek Sivers’ TED Talk + transcript:
So, imagine you’re standing on a street anywhere in America and a Japanese man comes up to you and says,

“Excuse me, what is the name of this block?”

And you say, “I’m sorry, well, this is Oak Street, that’s Elm Street. This is 26th, that’s 27th.”

He says, “OK, but what is the name of that block?”

You say, “Well, blocks don’t have names. Streets have names; blocks are just the unnamed spaces in between streets.”

He leaves, a little confused and disappointed.

So, now imagine you’re standing on a street, anywhere in Japan, you turn to a person next to you and say,

“Excuse me, what is the name of this street?”

They say, “Oh, well that’s Block 17 and this is Block 16.”

And you say, “OK, but what is the name of this street?”

And they say, “Well, streets don’t have names. Blocks have names. Just look at Google Maps here. There’s Block 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. All of these blocks have names, and the streets are just the unnamed spaces in between the blocks.

And you say then, “OK, then how do you know your home address?”

He said, “Well, easy, this is District Eight. There’s Block 17, house number one.”

You say, “OK, but walking around the neighborhood, I noticed that the house numbers don’t go in order.”

He says, “Of course they do. They go in the order in which they were built. The first house ever built on a block is house number one. The second house ever built is house number two. Third is house number three. It’s easy. It’s obvious.”

So, I love that sometimes we need to go to the opposite side of the world to realize assumptions we didn’t even know we had, and realize that the opposite of them may also be true.

So, for example, there are doctors in China who believe that it’s their job to keep you healthy. So, any month you are healthy you pay them, and when you’re sick you don’t have to pay them because they failed at their job. They get rich when you’re healthy, not sick. (Applause)

In most music, we think of the “one” as the downbeat, the beginning of the musical phrase: one, two, three, four. But in West African music, the “one” is thought of as the end of the phrase, like the period at the end of a sentence. So, you can hear it not just in the phrasing, but the way they count off their music: two, three, four, one.

And this map is also accurate. (Laughter)

There’s a saying that whatever true thing you can say about India, the opposite is also true. So, let’s never forget, whether at TED, or anywhere else, that whatever brilliant ideas you have or hear, that the opposite may also be true. Domo arigato gozaimashita.

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