Cultural Interactions and Culture “Clashes” or What Happens When Two Societies Have a Strong Influence on Each Other
When people from different cultures interact, they notice a host of differences in communication patterns, self-conceptualization, outlook on life, relations between generations, and popular culture of the other culture. Apparently, prolonged exposure to a foreign culture and mentality has an impact on an observer. As globalization dynamics promote cultural exchange and extensive intercultural interactions, people adopt practices, values, cuisine, and even dressing and eating habits of different societies and become more open to cultures and viewpoints that are different from their own. However, the analysis demonstrates that although globalization dynamics penetrate world country’s fabrics on social, economic, and political levels, cultural interactions and exchange facilitate only partial adoption of Western values by Eastern nations since non-Western cultures take pride in their culture and traditions and want to maintain their uniqueness and originality.
The process of adopting Western cultural values by Eastern states is long and not so straightforward. Kristof points out what may seem as a controversy in how women in Saudi Arabia adopt and use attributes of Western culture. For example, the author explains that Saudi women enjoy wearing bikinis when going to a swimming pool and going to restaurants wearing what they want, but not in front of men. Kistof interviewed Saudi women and found that they are proud of their culture and even consider some Western practices, such as using images of women and their bodies for advertisements, to be offensive and disrespectful towards women. However, the author notes that gradual, unobtrusive introduction of democratic values brings positive results. For example, women in contemporary Saudi Arabia enjoy educational, employment, and career building opportunities that Saudi females could not think of only two decades ago. Moreover, the author states that some Saudi people may be hesitant to discuss topics of lack of democracy or human rights out of fear to discredit their country. Furthermore, while Saudis are aware of the progress they need to achieve in building democracy, they want to solve their problems independently and do not appreciate it when Westerners meddle in their cultural affairs. Therefore, it seems that while Saudi people may appreciate benefits of foreign cultures when interacting with foreigners, they want to preserve their own values and take pride in their traditions and cultural heritage.
Contemporary cultural, economic and political dynamics of Asian countries show that while citizens of these countries want to enjoy a Western type of democracy and freedoms, they are not so eager to assimilate and become a part of a faceless globalized crowd. Twenty-five years ago, Strebeigh wrote about his experience of participating in Beijing Spring, a large-scale movement of Chinese youth for freedom and democracy. However, while Chinese progressive forces of that time embraced democratic values, they wanted to achieve democracy and free market in the Chinese context, not copy a particular democratic regime. While, as Strebeigh wrote, Chinese used bicycles as symbols of Western and democratic identity, former Chinese revolutionaries who contributed to the development of modern China a few decades ago sought to stall and control democratization processes. Therefore, to an outside observer, it might seem as if Chinese choose to selectively enjoy some benefits that following a Western practices brings but are reluctant to adopt practices that may infringe on their cultural norms.
However, in the case of China, following Western economic model seems to automatically bring cultural patterns and social changes that are considered attributes of the West. In other words, many Chinese adopt Western lifestyle and traditions without even realizing it. Larson writes that higher educational level and greater financial independence that an increasingly higher number of Chinese women enjoy lead to rapidly declining marriage rates among Chinese urban women. Furthermore, the author explains that the absence of a marriage certificate and ‘unmarried’ status do not serve anymore as obstacles to career growth, educational and employment opportunities or a reason for denying basic human rights. Larson writes that contemporary Chinese women are empowered to enjoy freedom in sexual relationships and career flexibility that they could not even imagine possible a couple of decades ago. Therefore, Western values are increasingly adopted as a price Chinese society pays for following Western economic model.
However, there are examples when cultural interactions and seeming culture ‘clashes’ within a single nation empower individuals who choose to maintain and express their cultural identity. Ahmed brings up an example of women who wear hijab in the United States to illustrate how maintaining a conservative cultural stance can empower a person living in a democratic society. The author claims that although few decades ago, the tradition of wearing a veil has been disappearing in Syria, Iraq, and Jordan, and has been nearly non-existent in the US, the practice of wearing veil quickly gains popularity as more and more middle class and affluent women in the United States decide to wear a hijab. Ahmed argues that wearing a veil in America brings women several important benefits. First, wearing a veil is not viewed anymore as a symbol of oppression and submission but as a manifestation of women’s leadership potential and the ability to stand up for their convictions. Second, women who wear hijab are viewed as such that adhere to high moral standards. As a result, they enjoy greater marriage and employment opportunities. Third, some women wear hijab in the US to reject negative stereotypes associated with Islam. Therefore, it is apparent that while Muslims that reside in the US are glad to be citizens of the American nation, they are proud of and want to preserve their cultural identity despite influences that encourage and promote greater assimilation and adoption of Western traditions.
However, clashes and misunderstandings occur frequently when two different cultures interact. Altman claims that efforts of many multinational companies to standardize their corporate culture have failed as a result of cultural and mental peculiarities of national cultures where companies operate. In fact, conflicts related to aligning a corporate culture in a context of a different country are a common occurrence. Altman argues that there are some deeply ingrained cultural characteristics that are not possible to change. For example, while Anglo-Saxon cultures tend to be individualistic, Latin American and Asian cultures as group-oriented. Therefore, day-to-day interactions can lead to frictions and conflicts. Altman explains that efforts of a Japanese government to bring Western-style management to Japanese companies to attract more investment have not succeeded because many Japanese cannot accept some peculiarities of a Western management style. Furthermore, conflicting codes of ethics and ways of running businesses inevitable occur during mergers and acquisitions.
Therefore, when two societies maintain cultural interactions and have a strong influence on each other, cultural ‘clashes’ or adjustments become an inevitable part of aligning traditional and newly introduced practices, values, and norms. Reviewed sources indicate that cultural exchange is bound to affect interacting sides despite cultural ‘clashes’ that occur between representatives of different cultures. Apparently, some cultures may be reluctant or unwilling to change their traditions and values. Nevertheless, adopting Western economic model helps to introduce Western values and practices, despite the fact that Western practices are modified by local context and interpretation. Thus, interacting cultures have a profound and significant yet limited by mentality and traditions influence on each other. The analysis demonstrates that the desire to maintain unique traditions, deeply ingrained mindsets, and being proud of one’s national identity prevent from fully adopting norms of foreign cultures.