Laos

The cultural differences between East & West

December 14, 2015

It’s no secret that I didn’t enjoy living in Asia. But, I still wouldn’t change my experience for anything in the world, it truly was life changing in lots of little ways that I’m still discovering.  I often reflect on certain memories and I still marvel at just how different life in the ‘east’ is to the ‘west’.

A couple of days ago a friend I met in Laos shared this link and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.  These graphics are so accurate, yet somehow sensitive and humorous at the same time. It’s reminded me of just how many differences existed between me and my students, my colleagues, my landlords…sometimes it really felt like I was from a different planet not just a different country.

This picture is probably my favourite because it resonates deeply within me.

the traveling anthropologistWhen I first arrived in Laos I was given a local ‘buddy’ by AIESEC to help me get settled – show me around, take me to the supermarket to buy some food, answer my questions etc.  I saw a lot of her in my first few weeks and then gradually less and less but we kept in touch.  A couple of months later something happened that I never fully understood but the gist of it was that she went back on her word to a mutual friend of ours (I’m sure it was a complicated issue with her family and some miscommunication).  From then on she literally cut this friend and everyone associated with her (including me) out of her life. We worked at the same school so occasionally we would run into each other – but on these occasions she would put her head down and walk straight past me without acknowledgement – or seemingly hearing my greeting.  She stopped returning my text messages and never made any effort to contact me again.  She left AIESEC and stopped socializing with everyone attached to it. Bemused I asked my friend what on earth had happened and she explained that in Laos culture rather than admit fault and apologize, its common to ‘save face’ and simply avoid the situation by whatever means possible. I confirmed this theory with some of my colleagues and students. What seemed so bizarre and an overreaction to me was quite common in Laos. During my remaining four months in Vientiane I ran into this girl probably ten more times but she never spoke to me, or acknowledged me again.

If you’ve ever lived in Asia, or have any close Asian friends you will have a giggle while looking at these.  Then again you’ll probably have a giggle even if you haven’t. 🙂

The cultural differences between East and West, according to one artist.

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