Friday, June 19, 2009

Do Unto Others--Cultural Differences & Respect

Hi Everyone,
Last month I began a short series about cross-cultural relationships. There were two posts, "Foreign Relations--A Czech and an American," and "Language of Love: Czech-American Style." Today, I would like to finish that series about cross-cultural relationships by talking about mutual respect. 

There is a scripture in the Bible that says,"Therefore whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12 New King James Version). We call it the Golden Rule, and it means, simply, that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us. If we want to be treated with love and care, then we need to treat others with love and care, etc. The Golden Rule is an excellent guide for all relationships, and the hardest rule to apply in a long-term relationship such as a marriage or partnership. I'm not going to make this post a sermon, but would like you to keep the Golden Rule in mind as you read on.

All relationships should be based on mutual respect. I can't think of one relation that's not based on respect...even the relationship I have with my dog, Pal, is one that's heavily based on respect. I respect his size and his teeth, he respects that I feed we have a mutual respect that works for us both! I keep my hands and fingers, and he gets fed! Well, it's not that drastic, Pal is a very loving guy--just very big and powerful! This is just a fun example of today's topic about respect.  

With regards to relationships, here we need to look at our long-term cross-cultural relationships, and apply the Golden Rule. It's not so easy to find mutual ground in a relationship when two people come from vastly different backgrounds and cultures. However, it is vital to develop this respect, in the process of tending the garden of your love and enabling your relationship to blossom and thrive.

It is necessary, right from the very beginning, to acknowledge that you will not always understand or agree with every cultural aspect of your loved one. It took me a long time and much frustration to realize this. There are still so many aspects of Czech culture I don't understand, but have had to adapt to in order to live here successfully as the wife of a
Czech. These aspects have to do with everything from American arguing techniques compared to Czech’s, to who will enter a restaurant first, and who pays!

There is one example that comes to mind when thinking about some of the absurdities of cross-cultural respect and that’s the issue of wearing lace in the
Czech Republic. Back in the States, ladies (and even some guys!) wear lace. It’s not considered anything bad or necessarily tantalizing (depending on where and how it’s worn). For instance, I have t-shirts that have lace embellishments near the neckline (with the neckline coming to my collar bone—not lower). 

This kind of lace on a garment (back in the States) is just normal and you can even wear it to church. But here, in the Czech Republic, lace is somehow seen as a come-on—no matter how and where it's worn. Why is this? I have no earthly idea. It’s OK to be nude here, but not to wear lace…isn’t that some kind of an oxymoron? 

I know that one time I did wear lace—one of those t-shirts—and guys were staring at my chest. I don’t get it…I don’t understand it. Lace is just not acceptable, here, unless you want to send the wrong message! So, I’ve stopped wearing lace at all, except back at home. I don’t like this situation, but that’s how it is, and I’m living in this country, so need to follow the rules in order fit in and stay safe. 

There are so many other examples that I could share with you, but I’m sure you see the picture. Sometimes it’s necessary to adapt and respect even the rules of culture we find silly and incomprehensible. If we don’t, then there are sometimes unpleasant consequences that we have to face. This goes for living in the culture, and also for living with our spouse/partner who comes from another culture. And this all goes back to the Golden Rule. If we would like to have respect for ourselves and our cultural aspects, then we have to also be ready to give the same.

I’ve spoken about compromise in those previous posts (mentioned at the beginning of this post), and how important it is to have and practice compromise in order to have a successful relationship. Compromise needs to take place at all levels and on all subjects in a cross-cultural relationship. Jiri and I are still working on this, and probably always will be…to compromise on cultural issues so that we both feel happy, relaxed, and cared for. 

That is the goal—both partners should feel satisfied and happy on most all areas of their relationship, including the cultural differences. It takes a lot of work, understanding, empathy, and sometimes even research to help this to happen. But all of this is worth the trouble so that both people can feel happy and cared for—and respected—in their relationship. The consequences of not following through on the respect and compromise of cultural differences will lead to a ruptured relationship—unhappiness and brokenness for both partners.

So, to sum up, be sure to know that you will not always understand the cultural differences of your loved one when you’re in a cross-cultural relationship. Realize that you must both work together, finding compromise, that will work and help your relationship to succeed. Remember the Golden Rule as a guide in your cross-cultural relation, as well as in all your relations. For this is the very foundation of any happy and healthy relationship. And this is all a part of tending the garden of your love for one another—I sure wish you all a wonderful and beautiful garden filled with flowers and all beautiful things!

You all have a great weekend!

God bless,
Sher :0)

PS I have a question. Today, my Czech husband told me that it's not proper for a lady to whistle! Have any of you Euro guys heard anything like this before, or is this a Czech thing? I would really like to find the answer to this! Women in the States are free to whistle--no problem. Evidently here it is considered very un-lady-like behavior--or at least it is considered in this light by my husband! So, please let me know--is it really considered bad form for a woman to whistle in Europe or the Czech Republic?

Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art

(c) 2009 by czechoffthebeatenpath


Oscar, Expat Cat said...

Mommy, who is German, says whistling is a huge no-no in her country of birth also! Only tomcats and tomboys whistle, but not ladies! Ladies get whistles, not give them!

Sher said...

Hi Oscar,
Thanks for your input! I'm very surprised! Back in the States anyone can whistle and no one thinks anything of it! So, this must be some European way of thinking--I just know that when I was whistling in our flat today, Jiri was very surprised and shocked...and said it was not done! So, this is another one of those things I don't understand, but since I'm living here it will be necessary to follow! :0)

Have a great day,
Sher :0)

Chaplain said...

Hi Sher, Maybe it not being deemed ladylike to whistle is a continental European or even Central European thing. A woman whistling around the house, as you desribe yourself doing, would not be deemed inappropriate in the UK.

Sher said...

Hi Chaplain,
I'm constantly learning new things and being literally surprised quite often on this expat journey! I had absolutely no idea that a woman whistling was considered unlady-like! My own Dad taught me how to whistle, and how to enjoy it anytime anywhere! He also taught me how to skip rocks on a stream or lake, etc (but not spitting--I never do that...yuck!). I'm not and have never been a tomboy, but still enjoyed these activities. Now I'm finding these types of activities are not considered lady-like. Just amazing! I've always been the queen of priss and properness in my family! :0)

However, it's great to hear that at least we can whistle in the home--in the UK. I'm a very musical person (singing, playing the autoharp, etc), and the thought of not being able to whistle, even at home, was a bit distressing. I must say, though, that Jiri has said no whistling here is acceptable--even in the home. It's just looked upon as rough and coarse behavior.

So, now I'm doomed--no lace, no whistling, no skipping rocks for me in Europe--wondering what will be crossed off the list next! No wonder so many have gone to the "new world" to find a freer life :0)

Have a great day,
Sher :0)

Sher said...

PS I don't whistle if it will irritate others! But do enjoy just whistling when I'm alone or working in the house, etc. My Dad taught me it was OK to whistle, but to also keep in mind the ears and feelings of others! :0)

Sher :0)

Anonymous said...

is this not a good issue for next wbsd?

Sher said...

Hi Hans,
Yes, my very thought! I'm going to put this one in the pot with the others you and other bloggers have suggested!

Have a great day,
Sher :0)

Ivanhoe said...

Great post, Sher :o)
I never had a problem with wearing a lace back in Czech (that was in the 80's & 90's though).
I also never had a problem with whistling. I actually turned quite a few heads (in an admiring way) at sporting events because I could whistle on fingers (that's usually what only boys can do - can meaning "are able to", not "are allowed to" ;o)

Sher said...

Hi Ivanhoe,
I'm wondering if you're of the younger generation of Czechs--and if that has any bearing on the whistling and lace issues? I've found before, on some cultural issues, that the older generations (40-50+) often have more old-fashioned ideas about many issues, whereas the younger generations are more relaxed about these issues and most things! Oh to be about 10 years younger...some of these things would be easier for me to deal with! :0)

Have a great day,
Sher :0)

Roz said...

Very interesting to read about lace and whistling! Isn't it amazing how many things you find out about a culture when you actually live in the country?

Perhaps the dislike of women whistling is a continental European thing - as Chaplain says, it is not frowned upon in the UK and it's OK to wear lace there too.

Best wishes,


Sher said...

Hi Roz,
Yes, this is an interesting cultural difference! One that I thought Jiri was teasing me with, but no...he was completely serious and offended by my whistling (the deed, though, maybe it was also the sound--I'm not sure!).

After the comments here, and talking with other Czechs, I've come to the conclusion that these prohibitions to lace and whistling are mostly generational--the older generation seems to find these things as not lady-like. The younger generation doesn't seem to have a problem, unless they have a more conservative outlook (the people, not the lace or whistling).

So, I'm going to avoid these things when in the presence of older Czechs...and do them/wear them when I'm back in the States...or when I'm at home alone...:0) No problem!!

These cultural differences are sometimes very convoluted...I'm still new and learning about living in the Czech Republic...I'm still on the outside of the onion of Czech culture...but learning as I go...and trying to not be so "American"...not an easy job! :0)

Have a great day,
Sher :0)