May 3, 2010

Telling them apart – cultural differences in Asia

If you haven’t been to various countries in a region, you may be forgiven for thinking that they are all the same. Some “westerners” have the impression that Asians can be lumped together because they can’t tell them apart. This is due to lack of exposure. But that is fast changing.

The truth is, there are huge differences from one Asian country to another, and even more differences between provinces, cities, internal ethnic groups… and the list goes on.

The Los Angeles Times ran an article last week called “Without Words, Speaking Several Languages”. Min Byoung-chul, a professor at Konkuk University in South Korea is researching the differences among Asian social customs.

An excerpt: “He has made an avocation out of cataloging [social] differences. He’s a cross-cultural interpreter whose terrain is the delicate, often undefined line where cultural mannerisms clash.

Min has written three guides that, country by country, highlight the differences between American culture and the social customs in South Korea, China and Japan.

The time has come for such a book, he says, because the improved political and economic climate throughout northeast Asia has translated into more regional tourism and business travel.

“South Korea is becoming more diverse with more interracial marriages,” he said. “All cultures have their differences. And if Koreans can’t grasp those differences, they’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”

His research, … led Min to conclude that the language barrier is but one hurdle between cultures.

The 2002 World Cup and the influx of English-language teachers here have brought more Westerners to South Korea, introducing additional opportunities for tension.”

So with more and more “westerners” becoming exposed to various Asian cultures, and with more and more Asian cultures becoming exposed to each other, it’s no surprise that there is a need for more cross-cultural awareness and information.