By Sargun Bhatia
The world we live in is composed of an immense diversity of different cultures. One of the main contrasts within this diversity of cultures is the difference between the East and West. Eastern and Western cultures contrast each other in many different perspectives. I will discuss how the difference in culture between the East and West differs and how it also affects the difference in behaviours of people. This stark contrast was evident during the Chiang Mai experience. Cultural differences are prevalent in our society, and Thailand was a prime exhibit of the degree of these differences. Chiang Mai was an enlightening experience that challenged us.
Firstly, I would like to point out that there are apparent evidences to how the two cultures are different from each other from what we can see and hear. For example, the languages spoken at each end of the world are completely different in characters, tone, and pronunciations. What are visible to us from the outside such as clothing, language, and behaviour are all differences in which everybody can witness. Of course, when we minimise our area of observation rather than the general picture, we must not neglect the fact that there are many different cultures consisting in both the East (Thailand) and West (Australia) that also vary in very different ways. It is most significant to understand the existence of many different cultures other than your own while having a broad and open mind or else it will be the cause of conflicts and tension between people and cultures. This is also because each culture has their own way of portraying something through communication, religion, customs, lifestyles, and so on. Misunderstandings may arise due to the lack of understanding and knowledge of a person regarding another culture that is not their own. Fortunately, the Thailand experience allowed us to supplement our Aussie values into Thai society, rather than undermine it.
Thai people focus very much on respect and personal distance very strongly. They are known to always be very formal and polite even when talking to their own relatives. In Asian cultures, when having a conversation with somebody, you will realise that they are not too exposed and only expose a minimum of their expressions such as their emotions. They tend to avoid showing their emotions when having a conversation to remain neutral so they do not give any false assumptions to which they are talking. Regarding the personal distance, they avoid any contact with the other person and keep to their own space. For example, in Thai culture, people would bow or tilt their heads as a sign of “hello,” “thank you,” or “goodbye,” whereas in Western culture, a handshake or even a hug is considered to be normal. Asian culture strongly values the hierarchy system in which they very much respect their superiors and anyone above them in the social hierarchy. Treating every person the same way in Asian culture can be considered rude at times because what may be acceptable in the western culture may not be acceptable in Asian cultures. For example, the teacher-student relationship is similar to religious. High stature demands due respect, as the Chiang Mai service project demonstrated. This social hierarchy is apparent in Thai schools where people in younger schools act very polite to their upper classmen. Basic lifestyle decisions, which are under looked in Australia, are in close scrutiny in Thailand. Life is very different in Thailand in contrast to our privileged, suburban lives. We take everything for granted, but Thai culture receives all as a blessing.
Furthermore, there is a profound difference between Western cultures in contrast to Eastern culture. The quality of life is strongly valued in western culture where families should be prioritised before work. Western cultures are much more laid back compared to Eastern cultures regarding human interactions. Western cultures are not as reserved and stand closer together when having conversations. It is interesting to see the difference between the East and West when relating their cultures to their beliefs. In Western cultures, they consider life as a form of service, whether it is toward your business, family, belief, and so on. In Eastern cultures, life is viewed as a never-ending journey, as the deep Buddhist influence suggests. Eastern cultural bonds tend to have a more spiritual approach to their goals where they encourage each individual to lead a virtuous life while striving towards their success, while Western culture is more materialistic which refers to the concrete elements you have in your life such as money and strives towards success through ethical analysis and actions.
In conclusion, there are many aspects such as communication, religion, behaviour, lifestyles, and so on that can be compared and contrasted with between Eastern and Western cultures. The major difference is derived from the different cultural values, beliefs, and teachings in each of the cultures that differentiate the two apart. It is an interesting fact that a completely different culture and people exist directly on the other side of the world. Each culture has its own unique, significant, and valuable element that is important to acknowledge when understanding different cultures to avoid conflict. Enlightenment was a true experience.