Journal

DIFFERENCES in culture

“Are Europeans friendly?”

This is a usual question I had for friends who went to Europe for their vacation. While my personal experience with Finnish had been a pleasant one, I couldn’t help but ask that question as I hear too many stories about Europeans being unfriendly.

I guess I got my answer today, with an opportunity to chat with a German, T, who has been living in Singapore for the past 9 years.

“Germans are straight forward. In fact, I had a little culture shock when I went back to Germany recently. The waitress was telling us that we should leave the seats as we only spent $5 in the cafe and seats are reserved for those who spent at least $10,” T shared his little nugget of story with me.

“I guess I’m getting too used to Asian culture. It’s not that the waitress was unfriendly, I knew she was…” he added.

It was a moment of epiphany for me.

Strangely, it should be something I ought to know, especially as a learner of the Japanese language and someone who likes the Japanese culture.

A big aspect of Asian culture is face-saving and if we observe the Japanese culture, which in my opinion has exercised this “face-saving” culture to the greatest extent, the culture is even built into their language.

For instance, even though the word “No” exists in the Japanese language, it is seldom used as it is considered rude to reject a person. The proper way to reply would be “A little…”, coupled with a smallish body language of backing away with a gentle smile and an eye frown on their faces.

As for the person receiving the reply, he/she is expected to understand that it means a rejection and not push further if he/she could help it.

For the Germans, it was about being direct and getting the point across. Yes, even though they may throw in a bit of sarcasm in the midst maybe. As T puts it, two guys could be having a heated argument in work but once work is done, they can go into the same bar together and drink like brothers in the evening.

It’s just a difference in culture.

Probably it’s just that I’ve never met enough people who are more blunt and direct. After all, I’m guessing that Singaporeans are probably pretty German compared to our Asian counterparts.

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Ideas, Videos

The BIG WORD called Empathy

Recently, my colleague and I confronted a group of students regarding something not very pleasant. I’ll leave the story for you to guess but all in all, my colleague told the students to have a bit more empathy. At that point in time, I was wondering if the students understood what empathy really means.

Empathy is a really BIG WORD that I didn’t truly understand what it really means until about half a year ago. The dictionary defines empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. However, what does it mean when it says “understanding and sharing the feelings of another”? Similarly, when people said that we should put ourselves in another person’s shoes, how do we know that we have put ourselves in their shoes? The meaning provided in the dictionary wasn’t enough for me to know what is going on.

So, what is Empathy exactly?

Dr Brené Brown explains empathy in the following three-minute animated video.