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Cultural Sensitivity

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

The article I was reading made reference to an official publication by tourism officials in the UK offering guidelines for negotiating cultural differences during the 2012 London Olympics. The newspaper report I read said that the publication had the following to say about Japanese people: "Japanese people may take umbrage if you stare at them, sneeze in their presence or expose the soles of your shoes"

Granted the article may have misrepresented what was written in the original publication. This certainly needs to be checked out properly. But let's assume for the moment it is a reasonably accurate portrayal of how Japanese tourists are being viewed in the publication. Is this a 'bad generalization' about Japan? What are the characteristics of a 'good' / 'bad' generalization? If you had to write a publication encouraging Singaporeans to show greater cultural sensitivity to Japanese tourists, how would you go about it?

Before we judge if something is good or bad, let us question about the source of generalization. Just like beauty, generalization is determined by the eye of the beholder. Everyone derives his or her generalization from a set of elements, ranging from what we see daily to what we hear rarely. Here in this case, the article presents to us an image of the Japanese culture through a subset, the Japanese tourists. Generalization brings us conveniences in many ways. More than often, these assumptions bring us more information and challenges our own presumptions. Generalizations are to be verified since they are not entirely true or false. A good generalization is not determined by how well it portrays a particular group of people. On the contrary, it is how detailed the generalization is that ascertains if it is good or bad. These details allow us to verify and specialize on the body of the topic.

In this context, an article encouraging the accommodation of social differences provides us with a generalization. From my point of my view, I do not think that it is a 'bad generalization'. It does not put a bad light on the Japanese society. Staring and sneezing is considered rude in any society. Thus, the "excuse me" after the sneeze. As to exposing the soles of one's shoes, it is just a social etiquette the Japanese have in their culture. Similarly it is also considered rude to wear something colorful to one's wake in the Chinese culture. Furthermore, I consider this generalization to be a good one. It reminds us about the cultural differences and teaches us the way to behave in front of them. The aim of the article is seemingly fulfilled.

If I were to write a publication fostering cultural sensitivity between locals and Japanese tourist, I would go about resolving the cultural shock the Japanese tourists would experience when they set foot on Singapore. Cultural shock arises due to the different communication channels we use, verbal or non-verbal. Whilst educating Singaporeans about Japanese etiquettes is important, preparing the tourist for the host population is as crucial. Taboos will be compulsory in any case. Using sushi and sashimi as a start might attract the attention of Singaporeans since food is a integrated part of Singapore.

To sum it up, mutual respect and accommodations are necessary in social integration. Generalizations help in educating one about a foreign society as long as one verifies what he or she sees or hear.


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