Sunday, June 12, 2005

Cultural Differences

So a while back I was watching some show sci-fi adventure show, probably "Stargate SG-1", while on the treadmill at the gym, and a plot situation came up that is absolutely ubiquitous. Our heroes, upon meeting the representatives of some new, less-advanced alien culture, as they try to form bonds of friendship, are confronted with some odd or bizarre cultural practice of the aliens, and feel they must imitate it to be accepted.

The scene usually happens at a meal, for example, when some gross foodstuff like eel mucous in motor oil is served as a great delicacy, and as they hesitate, the chieftan starts to ggrumble, and so they choke it down and everyone is happy.

Or, in a less sci-fi setting, perhaps they're expected to belch to show their appreciation.

And I wondered, why is it always us that is portrayed as having to conform to the norms of the other culture? Can't the other group be expected to hold to a standard of understanding and tolerance itself, to realize that well, yes, we appreciate you like this thing, but from where we come from, it's really gross, and so we respectfully decline.

But somehow, the aliens or natives are always assumed to be completely unable to respect OUR differences, in a kind of "soft bigotry of low expectations." Pair that with a self-loathing of all our culture stands for, and it's a recipe for civilizational decline.

Sure, I understand "when in Rome, do as the Romans do."

But we even do it, in real life, right here in our own home country! Surely at least here, we should expect the "aliens" to conform to us, rather than twist ourselves into something we're not, for their convenience?

For example, a recent proposal in Dallas that school principals be required to speak Spanish, so they can talk to the parents of their majority-Spanish speaking populations.

If that's not handing the keys to the invaders, I don't know what is.

If the parents, living here in the US, want to talk to the school, they can damn well learn English themselves or get the hell out.

We're a melting pot, not a patchwork quilt! The former leads to solidarity and assimilation; the latter to weakness and division.


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