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“Americans are Rude. I Know By Now.” {Cultural Differences and the Internet}

January 15th, 2014 | Posted by Lana Hope in Culture

“What do you think about living here?”

An international student from Asia and I were walking around the university pond the other day when she asked me this.

“It’s okay. I feel out of place and a bit unwelcomed,” I studdered a bit.

“Independence is the word. People are independent here. In my country that is looked down upon,” she responded.

Over teeth shuddering in the winter wind, we shared conversations about Asia: the villages, the community, and the family.

My friend asked me to describe my home state. “They are street friend,” I said. “They are much more likely to ask someone for assistance than people are here.”

“But they are still rude,” my friend insisted.  “Americans are rude. I know by now.”

Then she narrated many exchanges with Americans. One story particularly stood out.

Once, when she was still in Asia, she was doing a Bible camp. One day a Turkish student asked an American student if she could borrow his computer. The American student said no.

“He said no,” my friend said, “In my country, that is so rude.”

I really did not need to ask my friend to clarify. I knew what she meant. Where I lived in SE Asia, speaking directly was considered rude. It’s hurtful to speak directly.

Instead, in Asia if we don’t want someone to use the computer, we might say state less-than the obvious.

“I am sorry, I need the computer.” Or something of the sort.

The thought is that people can usually find what they want without speaking so directly and harsh. There are boundaries that these particular Asian cultures have that we don’t generally have in the west.

And right there in the cold, my heart got tight, and it clicked why I’m disillusioned by the internet.

It’s not so much the truth that bothers me, but it’s how we say it.

I’m so dang tired. Everything is a debate. So much is calling out B.S., and using cussing, attacks, and name calling. Even when the name calling stays at home, it’s still a lot of argumentation, often without corresponding with those we are critiquing.

It strikes me that Jesus definitely stood up for the oppressed and abused. He definitely believed that the small things could confound the wise, and he dined with the most messy, exploited, and rejected.

But it’s also interesting that on the cross, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Somehow both of these are true in God’s kingdom. Somehow he is angry at abusers, and stands up for the weak. Somehow God is able to erase the lines the legalists draw and replace them with “let he without sin caste the first stone.”

And yet in his most vulnerable moments, he is still able cry out, “forgive them.”

And somehow in our blunt world, I think this is missing. See, we should stand up for the abused and exploited, but it should be accompanied with emotions. And it’s good to be angry, and pissed off, but, but

There is also a time where we weep and pray.

The internet is too blunt sometimes, but when I talked to my friend, I realized it’s not the problem of the internet. It’s not even the problem of public information.

We just lack manners sometimes.

Or maybe we’ve forgotten how to feel anything but anger. I don’t know.

Father, forgive us. We know not what we do.

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14 Responses

  • Lana, I agree that the internet is a harsh place. There is so much judgment and negativity and not enough respect and openness to others.

    One reason I like your blog so much is because it so accepting and respectful. I try to do something similar on my blog. Though we have discussion and we dialog on issues, we do not engage in attacks, insults, or trying to prove someone is wrong. We try to make a safe place to talk about questions of faith.

  • Kelly says:

    Oh, yes. I completely agree. I’ve had to withdraw from much internet conversation because I just can’t handle the usual lack of courtesy and respect.

  • I agree with you, for the most part. I think that the internet, much like the US and Asia, has developed its own cultural idea of “manners”. What would be rude to say in real life, is generally accepted online. Thus, I view it as a cultural difference. When I went to graduate school at an international university, it took me a while to adjust to different ideas of “on time” and “late.” My American sensibilities tell me that if I am 5 minutes early or late, I am on time, but anything beyond that is rude. On the other hand, my Indian friends would sometimes show up 30 or 40 minutes late and not understand why I was upset. I eventually learned to accept that these incidents were not intentionally rude, but just the product of different cultural norms.

    I guess I deal with a lot of internet comments the same way. If someone says “you are a fucking loser” online, I accept that this is not something that they would have said in real life and they probably are not nearly as hateful as they are coming across. The cultural norms are just different.

    That said, I don’t really enjoy getting involved in such ugly arguments. Different online forums have their own cultural norms and I tend to seek out ones that are more civil. I also refuse to allow insults and attacks on my own blog posts. If someone resorts to these attacks, their comments are hidden and they are often blocked, depending on the severity. I just have better things to do with my time than wallow in unnecessary negativity.

    • Lana Hope says:

      Haha. Yup, 30 minutes late was no big deal. And we tell people in SE Asia to come over for dinner….no need to give a time.

      I agree that people are more cold online. It’s not the trolls that bother me most though. It’s the people who even offline justify being rude because they are calling out abuse. There is a time to be harsh, but I’m not sure it’s black and white like we’ve created it to be on the internet.

  • Chas says:

    Cultural differences can act as barriers. A problem for someone brought up in a Western culture is to encounter the need to ‘save face’, which is found in both middle and far eastern cultures. It can lead people to make statements that they know to be wrong, rather than admit that they do not know the answer to a question that they have been asked. For us, it seems so easy just to say ‘I don’t know’. I have encountered this in relation to the Japanese nuclear industry, where a need to save face has led to layer after layer of problems caused by the inability simply to admit that something has gone wrong. Perhaps a case to justify the biblical saying ‘let your yes be yes, and your no, no.’

    • Lana Hope says:

      I’ve never been to Japan, but saving face is a big deal where I lived in SE Asia. It makes things difficult sometimes, but I think we in the west have something we could learn from them too. We are too blunt.

      • Omkara says:

        The US has reached peak rudeness only within the last 10 years. Old Americans like 70 and up are very polite. The recent American culture has mainstreamed foul language (even on primetime TV). Kids are growing up with this from baby hood now. Expect an even ruder generation coming up.

      • Chas says:

        Our problem becomes one of balance – where is right for the culture that you are in at the time. In UK, we have a reputation of being a bit reticent, not being forthright. However, this can work against us, because it has let certain politicians manipulate us by implying things about us that are not right. The most prominent of these concerns immigration. In the past few years, we have had unusually high levels of immigration, but the politicians who really promoted it killed discussion by implying that those who wished to do so were racist. Thus we have the situation where the increase in population has led to problems of shortages in the health service, education and housing. It has only now become more acceptable for it to be discussed when the problems are staring everyone in the face and the more extreme political parties, who are borderline racist, are having their voice heard. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

  • JOHN says:

    It is a culture clash. It doesn’t mean Americans are rude. It means that Asians are different from Americans. American’s tend to be in your face with words. My wife and I had alot of anger problems in the beginning because I was too direct for her. As time went on things got better but now I have noticed with her that she keeps ALOT of anger inside and she says it is because of me and my way of doing things (that she doesn’t like). Never mind that I don’t seem to have the right to be mad at anything.

    • Lana Hope says:

      Sure Americans and Asians deal with emotions differently, each having potential advantages and differently. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s selfish to not let someone use the computer unless you had a reason (using it, private documents, know the other person won’t handle the computer with care). Western people justify too much sometimes, and they can be way too blunt. This, of course, is not across the board. I’m not from the UK obviously.




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