Cultural Differences – aren’t they the best?

The other day I read an article on Phuket 101 (http://www.phuket101.net/2011/08/12-weird-and-fun-things-in-phuket-and.html) about 14 weird and funny things in Phuket (and Thailand). It’s an old article from 2011, but still so relevant.

When I was studying at the Hotelschool The Hague, one of the most important things we’ve learned before we were going on our internships, was cultural differences, it was an actual class we had to follow. And this was not only when you would travel far. Even with my first internship in France, I had to make a report about the differences between the two countries, before I even left the country. At first I thought it was ridiculous, until I was there for a couple of days, and I started to notice it was all true…

It’s not only cultural differences, but also the everyday living, which is so different from what I was used to. I am not saying the one is better than the other; it’s just that I notice them as ‘different’.
It made me think about all the funny and weird things I’ve seen over the past years in Asia. When we first arrived in Singapore, we bought Culture-Shock! Singapore. This is a great read and gives you a lot of insight in the culture of this country. However all the books in the world can’t prepare you for things un-seen before.

So here are some differences that I noticed, of which most of them make me laugh out loud, and others… well not so much:

  1. Transportation:
    In Holland we travel a lot of times by bicycle. If the distance is far, or if we have a lot of things (or people) to carry at one time, we’ll use a car or a truck. In Vietnam… not so much! Vietnamese people can carry everything and anything on a bike – from a family of 5 to moving a whole household.
    In Ho Chi Minh City, my favorite place to sit and watch fully loaded motorbikes pass by was the Coffee Bean at the Notre Dame. A busy intersection where you’ll see the craziest being transported on motorbikes! If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the photo book “Bikes of Burden” by Dutch Photographer Hans Kemp (http://www.bikes-of-burden.com); it’s a tribute to the Vietnamese motorcycles and the drivers as the backbone of the Vietnamese economy. A brilliant book, with jaw dropping pictures! Here are some of my photo’s to get you started:

    Interesting ways of transporting items in Asia

    Interesting ways of transporting items in Asia

    A whole different way of transportation was when we visited Japan and their train/metro system. It was super effective, great queuing systems (which everyone followed for a change), but in the mornings super crowded. So we stayed far away from them during peak timings. But for an insight in how it looks like in Tokyo, head over to the page of Michael Wolf {http://photomichaelwolf.com/#tokyo-compression/1} it shows snapshots of passengers captured at Tokyo’s train stations at rush hour. If you’re claustrophobic, don’t look at these!

    Michael Wolf's Tokyo Compression

    Michael Wolf’s Tokyo Compression

    [Screenshot taken from Michael Wolf’s website http://photomichaelwolf.com/#tokyo-compression/

  2. Personal space and queuing:
    Talking about personal space and queuing… My first encounter was in Singapore; I was taking money out of an ATM, and a lady walks up to me, standing so close to me that her toes almost touched my heels. I first thought she was trying to look at my pin codes. But she was just looking at her phone… This repeatedly happened to me over the several years I lived there. Back home you give people private space, this was something I had to get used to…But nothing prepared me for our visit to the grave of Ho Chi Minh. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a large memorial in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is located in the centre of Ba Dinh Square, which is the place where Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. As we were living in Vietnam for quite some time, Ruben and I thought we should pay our respects while visiting Hanoi. We were warned to be there in time (read 7AM) as you can only visit the grave in the morning, and there would be a queue. A huge queue there was, we were in line for almost 2 hours.
    It was the longest and strangest queue I’ve ever been in. People continuously stand toe to heel, giving you very little space to move, and they cut the queue constantly. It became a sport for us to block people from cutting queue in front of us. It was the strangest thing ever. Normally I would make a remark about this behavior (which is definitely frowned upon in Vietnam), but nobody could speak English and my Vietnamese was non-existent on that topic! So we were left to block people for another 2hrs, before seeing Uncle Ho for 30 seconds… A real Vietnamese experience.
  3. Sleeping:
    During my time here in Asia, I have noticed that people can and will sleep anywhere and everywhere: in a bar, on the street, on their {parked} motorbike, in the car {taxi drivers while driving…} and behind their desk in the office.

    Sleeping - anywhere and everywhere

    Sleeping – anywhere and everywhere

    One morning I came into the office and noticed that one of the girls brought her neck pillow along to work. I thought that there was something wrong with her neck, but she did not use it the entire morning.  When I came back early form lunch, I noticed she used it as a pillow to do her afternoon nap at her desk. This desk is at the entrance of the office, so it’s very noticeable to anyone (colleagues or guests) entering the office… After I was back in the office for about 5min, she woke up {this might be due to me making some noises I did not really have to make…} and noticed I was there. She just put away the pillow, sighed and continued working on the computer.
    Even in Singapore one of my colleagues was able to sleep at her desk; She was a definite pro. She kept her computer on, dimmed the light, pulled in her knees so that her head could rest on them, and did a quick powernap. After I asked her what she was doing, she explained that she has been doing this for the longest time, and we had a big laugh about it.

 

I can go on for hours on differences I have seen that amaze me. And I will! But for now – what is the strangest thing you have seen that was the opposite of what you’re used to? 

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