Tuesday, March 1, 2011

JUST ABOUT THE SAME BUT JUST AS DIFFERENT - by Jonathan Moh

Jonathan Moh, CC is an English teacher by profession and meets many students from all walks of life and nationalities.

As D’Utama Toastmasters welcomes more members that hail from different countries and cultures, Jonathan takes this opportunity to remind us how crucial it is for us show respect for other people’s culture and beliefs, and never assume that others will automatically understand and accept our own. This is what he has to say :

"Culture. It is the one magic word that can make or break a society. She can start wars or lead us into understanding. She has many sisters who are different from her but yet the same. Therefore, to understand Culture’s differences we must first define who she is.

Culture is the way a society’s way of life, certain practices which is handed down from generation to generation. Culture defines how this group of people think, the food they eat and even their cultural gestures. Due to the vast difference between cultures, what is considered polite in a certain society may be considered rude in another one. I once had a group of Malaysian and Saudi students in my class and they were good friends with each other. The Malaysian students wanted to ask their Saudi friends out for lunch one fine afternoon and being students, they puckered their lips and made kissing sounds like how many people call the waiters at the mamak stall. The Saudi students were incensed at that gesture and a fight almost broke out. I diffused the situation quickly by explaining to the Saudis that some Malaysians (particularly the youth) use it to call their friends. That was when I found out that it was a very rude gesture in their country so the Malaysians then explained to them that they meant no offense at that gesture. This was the time I started to read up on cultural gestures from different countries.


One thing which I’m proud of the D’Utama Toastmasters Club is that we have a lot different from all walks of life including other countries. Hence, to ensure good relationships are formed among members, respect for each other’s culture is imperative. The first thing we can do is not take things personally. There are times when someone from a different culture may offend us unknowingly with the wrong gesture or something else. This is when we can ask the person or someone else the reason behind his or her actions. Take the time and trouble to find out the reason behind their actions and you may discover something new about a person’s culture and the way they look at things. However, do bear in mind that there are certain gestures that mean the same thing almost anywhere such as the handshakes and emphasis on punctuality due to globalization. It is these gestures and social rules we must not get them wrong.

To sum things up, experience is usually the best teacher as no matter how well read we are on cultures; there may be certain individuals who choose to behave differently from their fellow peers in their society. Therefore, have fun discovering a new world and you will be richer as a result."