Saturday, May 06, 2006



1)It never ceased to amaze me how so many Latin American nations see the Spanish language as a national symbol of their country, while, and at the same time, sharing that colonial language of the former European master with others. Shouldn’t the liberators, after a bloody war with the Spaniards to win independence from them, have adopted the local Amerindian languages as the national symbols? After all, in Europe Romanians rightfully see the Romanian language as their national symbol and so do the Hungarians. No one else speaks it. But Spanish? Give me a break!
Language can only be a source of national identity if only your nation uses it; otherwise, it is simply a means of communication, and should not be the cause of foaming-at-the mouth ethno-cultural chauvinism.

2) I have devised a way to enjoy five star hotels cheaply: I arrive in a country, stay at the cheapest hostel there is where I leave my things, and go at night to crash out, and then, I go to a five star hotel and use their facilities: I hang out in the lobby, go to their restaurants and just promenade around the atriums. At some, for a modest fee I can use the swimming pool and the sauna. Then, I hop into a taxi and go back to my fleabag to sleep. Admittedly, not all facilities are available to me at the big hotels, but I still get treated as a VIP in most cases without spending a fortune on the rooms.

3) Sugar-coated books on dealing with the culture shock do not tell you the whole truth, namely, in some countries culture shock can be very unpleasant, and sometimes it can even kill you. I read the other day that a person who goes to another country should expect to be stereotyped, and should not be angry about it. If one is English, they say, one has to expect people to think that he drinks tea; and if one is Japanese, one has to be ready for people to ask him if he can fight the karate style. Not all is so rosy. In some countries, an American can be stereotyped as a CIA agent and shot. In other countries, he can be stereotyped as a sex tourist, and his local wife can be insulted in public and even spat on. The culture shock and stereotyping can take some pretty serious forms at times.

4) Different cultures have different values, and we should not judge other cultures based on values which have been instilled in us since childhood in our own country. Some so- called developed countries place primary importance on technological, business and professional development. Other countries think that developing a harmonious family and friendly relations with people around them is the most important thing. Others yet, think that intellectual and spiritual progress is the most important thing to aspire to. While concentrating on just one such important aspect, it is inevitable that other areas of societal life will become neglected. Thus, many of the so-called First World countries are plagued by general unhappiness, unfriendliness, a high divorce rate and endless loneliness, while the family-oriented countries often have dirty streets, corrupt and inefficient governments, shoddy products, and incompetent services. Intellectual and spiritual nations also suffer from perennially unsolved infrastructure problems and classism. Most countries, therefore, remain incomplete forever. However, since they are used to their incompleteness, and we are not, we always notice what is wrong with them based on our perspective, and they notice what is wrong with us based on their perspective. Both they and we tend to become judgmental and haughty when talking about each other.

5) Diversity is a relative thing and depends on the observer. Therefore, we cannot say that one society is diverse and another is homogenous; we can only say that one society is more diverse than another, but even then, it is hardly a fact, but is more of an opinion. One gives examples of Japan as being a homogenous society, but that is how it looks to the uninitiated outsiders. Inside of Japan, the people think that every person is different in character, behavior and his or her way of thinking. Moreover, Japan has thousands of different religious sects, many political parties that are completely different in their approach to governing, as well as a variety of supposedly different regional characteristics. Moreover, as one Japanese person has remarked to me; Japanese people do not know they are Japanese unless they meet a foreigner.

It is the law of nature that no two things in the universe are completely alike and no two people are completely alike. However, people in any nation can be similar to each other when one compares them to foreigners; while they themselves are often never aware of that.

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