We Have Much to Learn From People Around the World

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by cultural differences. Everything from what people believe to how we behave in public is influenced by our culture.

I volunteer regularly with refugees from Burma, and they encourage us to just walk in the house, don’t knock, roam around the house as we need–even help ourselves to stuff in the kitchen. For an American, this is tough. They jokingly commented on our need for knocking at the front door. I love the behavior though, that everyone is welcome, even though that’s not the standard here in the U.S. and something many of us would be frightened of… We’d whisper “Did they just WALK in!!???”

As you likely know, I’m just over six months pregnant now. We will be expecting our little arrival in early October. The pressures of what to do and not do has been a pervasive thought over these last several months. Even parenting styles, breastfeeding and having a “natural” birth have all been conversations I’d never thought I’d have, but here I am. Because I know we can easily slide down the slippery slope of consuming thoughts and buy into group-think on topics like these, I haven’t read any pregnancy  books. I’ve been boycotting them in a way, wanting to trust my intuition and go with what I know feels right.

However, one book did catch my eye and I couldn’t help but speed through it. It’s called Bringing Up BeBe, written by Pamela Drucker. In this book, Drucker compares the differences between American parenting (mostly mother’s) and French parenting. What I read had me laughing out loud about our cultural nuances. All the while reading it, I kept thinking to myself…

“I’m not crazy, I’m just American!”

It made me realize just how much of what we do, say, think, and believe is impacted by our cultural surroundings. And, it’s put me on a quest to understand the cultures of other countries EVEN MORE. Imagine if we all had a clear understanding of all the differences from so many countries from around the world. I’d like to think that people would feel a whole lot less crazy if they realized that much of what they are thinking and believing has been influenced by their environment. Simply having this awareness allows us the freedom to choose different ways of believing and behaving.

So, now I know more about French parenting, but I’d love to know even more about countries from all over the world. In my grandest vision, I see a “SuperCountry” coming together, much like today’s pop SuperGroups with great artist collaborating, where we take the best of many things and bring them together.

Here are some of my quick takeaways about French parenting (just so you know, but I do recommend reading the book – pregnant or not!):

  • French kids eat four-course meals for dinner and can sit at a restaurant for that long with no problems
  • French kids don’t snack (their mom’s purses aren’t filled with Cheerios and Cheetos to tie them over)
  • Most babies in France “do their nights” by six weeks old – meaning they are sleeping a solid 8 hours every night
  • Breastfeeding isn’t forced and you aren’t looked down upon if you don’t do it
  • Most moms still keep their careers and don’t feel guilty about it, putting your kid in daycare isn’t a bad thing, it’s  part of life
  • The families life doesn’t revolve around the child, the child gets integrated into the family
  • They don’t call a birth without an epidural natural, they call it “without drugs” (Hence, no pressure to do it “without drugs”)
  • They have, what the author called, the “pause” – where parents don’t respond to their children right away, giving them time to solve problems on their own
  • Children are strongly encouraged to play on their own and explore, so they can generate more self-awareness

There are many more, but these are just the things I can think of now that really stood out. This list may not even seem that different until you really look at the comparisons of what parenting has become here in the U.S. Neither is right or wrong or good or bad, it’s just different. It’s in that difference that we get to choose what works best for us, if we know there is another way, we can explore that for ourselves.

Just like when I was in Thailand this year, I learned there that:

  • People eat together and share food from the same bowls
  • Spiritual and religious practice is a dominant part of the culture
  • Shoes are not allowed to be worn in any home or sacred building
  • You bow to greet people, with your hands in a prayer position

Those are just a few of the things I learned about Thai culture. There were many, many more!

Tell me, what have you learned in your travels and interactions with people from other cultures?

Comments

  1. I could really relate to this Andrea. I spent over 2 years with the Peace Corps in Ghana recently. The Peace Corps doesn’t put you up in a nice condo in the city and have you visit your village now and then. You live in the village at the level of the villagers, which is a GREAT way to get to experience another culture. My village, Daboya, had about 5000 adults and what seemed like 3 million children! Some of the things that I learned are:
    * We underestimate and overprotect our children in the U.S.
    * Ghanaian children almost never cry unless they are hurt. Babies only cry when hungry or
    hurt.
    * Babies spend their first year on their mother’s back but after that they are cared for more by
    their older siblings than their mother.
    * Village children have almost nothing – sometimes not even shoes – certainly no toys. Yet they
    are joyful and can entertain each other for hours with the simplest of things.
    * We may differ from other people by culture, color, religion, geography, affluence, and cir-
    cumstances but we all laugh, love, cry, hurt, bleed, grieve, and hope pretty much the same.

    Thanks for all you offer, Andrea.

    • Beautifully said, Larry. And, thanks for sharing.

      I too have noticed that same thing about children from around the world. In Thailand, Mexico, Belize and other places – kids are happier with less. And we do over protect our children here. I wish everyone the opportunity to experience the world through someone else’s eyes and a different world view. It’s going to be what unites us in the long run.

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