Friday, May 25, 2012

Cultural Jerk that I am

What I think of in myself as a mild-mannered sense of propriety - a polite deference to universally held manners - a gracious civility - is actually a deeply ingrained belief in my culture's superiority, and therefore in my own superiority.

I have very western views on personal space, public decorum, privacy, and on the occasions when I unbend and interact in local ways, I think of it condescendingly, as lowering myself to a local level; a generous act.

Actually, I'm the very worst kind of snob. I make assumptions all the time about what local people are thinking and feeling, based on very little except my own sense of cultural rightness. Tonight, for instance, I went to a function attended by Westerners, Koreans, Kyrgyz, and Russian people. At one point, we were served barbequed pork, and someone at my table wondered whether we shouldn't let the Kyrgyz people know that it was pork, since they are, nominally at least, Muslim. Before I thought, I said - oh, it probably doesn't matter, they'd prefer not to know: thinking, you see, that because they don't go to mosques or pray or dress conservatively - things I think that Muslims ought to do - they wouldn't really mind eating pork. And you know, many of them wouldn't: but my assumption was that none of them would mind. What a terrible thing to think, and a worse thing to say! I can only be grateful that no one took me to task for it. The moment it slipped out, I wanted to crawl under the table.

God grant that I should start loving my neighbours as I ought!

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