The other day while having lunch with a friend, we were talking about habits and beliefs, and we made some comparisons about different cultures, such as:

  • Why do some people have the habit of being late for appointments?
  • When visiting friends, some family believe that it is paramount that they call and inform the host prior, whereas some people believe that it is all right to just show up?
  • Some people eat with their hands and some people need other cutlery such as chopsticks, forks and spoons etc

In Malyasia, the habits that I was brought up with are:

  • During meal times the younger generations have to acknowledge the elders before eating.
  • When we visit friends and families, we never go empty handed, i.e. must always have a gift to take to the host.
  • It is OK to visit or drop in to family or friends’ homes without prior announcement or arrangements.
  • It is all right to enquire directly about someone’s health or say “what’s happening” when we feel or see the other people is not looking or feeling their best.
  • Being late for appointments is quite common, even though we try not to.
  • Respect for the elderly is important in our culture.
  • Dressing according to your social status
  • When we are not impressed with something, we tend to say “aiyah” (sort of like “sigh”)

We learn about all these habits through our community and society, based on the society’s beliefs and traditions, and through daily practices. Our actions gradually becomes our habits and attitudes of how we perceive things and situations – thus becoming our culture.

So what is culture?

Culture is defined as the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values, and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action, and the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group.

For example, when we were asked what is the culture in Australia; answers maybe:

  • BBQ
  • Footy/rugby
  • The beach
  • Being flexible, easy going and layback
  • Mutual respect and being democratic etc

This is a really fun topic to explore, especially when you are new to the country. Have a think about your culture such as:

  • What do you hold dear about your culture?
  • What is your habit about certain things; eg. do you eat with chopsticks or knife and fork?
  • What are the habits that will no longer work in your adopted country?
  • What is one thing that is a cultural shock to you?

As for me, the one habit/attitude that I had to relearn was to ring and make appointment priors to visiting our friends in Australia.

One cultural shock that I encountered was in 1986, when I was in my first year university; one of the lecturers turned up in slippers and singlet. In my culture, we dressed according to our social status. A lecturer / teacher is a highly respected person in the society, thus we expected them to dress according to their social status, i.e. dress smartly when teaching, not with slippers and a singlet. So, when I saw the lecturer with such poor dress code (according to my judgment), my mind started to prejudge the lecturer… little did I know that he was a very very good lecturer, and that was the beginning of my cultural revolution in my mind.

So you see, habits, thoughts and beliefs can be relearned; however, first you need to notice and acknowledge the differences. We do not prejudge people based on their beliefs and values, because everyone has their own cultural heritage.

However, in order for migrants to adapt and be happy with their new environment, we need to be aware of our thoughts, our habits, and be open to accept other cultures and habits, and relearn where necessary.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this issue.

Have a great week ahead.