Having lived abroad for longer periods of time and having a broad circle of friends from around the world, I find myself constantly in touch with foreign cultures that gradually become less foreign to me. Cultural insight into these foreign cultures have made me aware of the fact that there are lessons to be learned from all cultures and perspectives to be drawn to my own and between these cultures. Personally, these lessons – or cultural awareness and understanding, if you will – are something that I strive to acquire when living in foreign countries and interacting with people from foreign cultures. However, cultural differences are something that I’ve found can be quite challenging to grasp. It’s challenging in the sense that it’s not always easy to put your mind into another culture and forget about – and even disregard – your own cultural norms in order to be open-minded, learn from and adapt to foreign cultures. But if you can manage actually just that, you have the opportunity to not only gain perspective, however, as a result, also to learn how to behave according to foreign cultural norms as well as find new ways of living. Let me elaborate on this…
In my five years of studying Culture and Communication, I’ve learned in theory what I have come to understand in practice through my abroad stays: That countries with their various and different cultures all are subject to their own cultural norms – ways of behaving and living. In general, these social norms cannot be considered right or wrong per se. Rather, they should be perceived and accepted as exactly what they are: Social norms for that culture. However, even if you’re taught cultural perspectives in theory, you don’t realize what it actually means until you’ve experienced it for yourself. This goes for various and different areas within cultural studies, however, as I wrote in a recent blog post, what is the cultural norm in one culture might not be the cultural norm in another – it might be rude, impolite or even illegal. As such, on my adventures abroad, I do my best to acquire insight into and understanding for the foreign culture in question by being open-minded. As a result, I’ve come to adapt certain foreign cultural traits to my own way of living – ways that round me as a person. Gradually, I’m finding the ways of living that make me happy… I, simply, take bites and pieces of foreign cultures and their ways of living and adapt them to my own life. A dear reader of my blog and fellow blogger, Kelly from .hartland., recently asked me about these changes, which is why I have decided to write this post about some of them. With focus on my stay in Dublin and the Irish culture, this post deals with the most noteworthy changes I’ve made to my life as a result of insight into the Irish culture.
Adapting to the Irish Culture in Dublin
A year ago, I lived in Dublin for seven months. During my stay, I came to absolutely adore the Irish culture. Being this lively and caring culture, it’s not difficult to come to care for it and the people that make up the Irish culture. As a Dane writing from my cultural point of view, I think it’s best to stress some of the differences to the Danish culture I’ve encountered while living in Dublin in order to headline the changes I’ve made to my life as a result thereof.
In Denmark, you have to fit in – there are rules. In regard to looks and types of people, you have to fit in. We are a nation that is highly aware of how we dress to impress, and looks in general is an important aspect of our culture. As is how we present ourselves. I know this is part of every culture to a certain extent. However, in Denmark, we live according to the Law of Jante, which is not really a law by legislation, however, rather a set of social norms to behave according to that has become part of our mentality. In short, the Law of Jante consists of ten rules on social behaviour and dictates to be humble and not believe whatever success you might have to be noteworthy – to not consider yourself special or better than anybody else. I think, it isn’t meant as a negative mentality per se, rather it’s meant as a way of staying humble. That’s how I, personally, perceive it anyway – even though whether or not it’s negative or positive changes the fact that it influences the Danish culture and way of living. As a result, growing up in the Danish culture you have to find a way to fit in. For me, this has been challenging at times. As such, living abroad in general but especially moving to Dublin and living in the Irish culture for a couple of months has made lasting impressions on me.
The reason why the Irish culture has, among others, made a lasting impression on me is due to the Irish people’s way of accepting themselves and others for who they are. Furthermore, they tend to carry themselves in way of pride, no matter what. Actually, they seem not to care about what other people think of them and walk with their heads held high and great confidence. I find this highly fascinating…and healthy. Meeting a culture and gradually, to a certain extent anyway, getting to know this culture in which people are just accepted for who they are no matter how they look has been an uplifting and highly positive experience. I perceive this expression of self-confidence as them caring more about how they, themselves, feel as opposed to what other people may think of them. Coming from a society myself where looks is highly important and there are certain guidelines to follow, this was like a veil being removed from my eyes. As such, I have learned to care less about my looks in some ways. And in other ways I care more. I care more in the sense that I care about how I like to dress and present myself as opposed to dress how the Danish culture and its social norms dictates types and looks. As such, I suddenly had the courage to wear clothes that I find interesting (more colours, less black), change hair styles and wear lip stick to work (not only at parties) etc. All these positive changes made me more confident. As a result, it effected my in ways that I couldn’t have predicted. Having fought an on-off battle with a eating disorder since my early teens, I found myself drawn to the Irish way of just accepting myself in my skin. Not caring, really. Because, who cares? And why would – or should – anybody but me care? Even if I, at the time, had gained some weight, I found it easier to deal with. I could easily have gotten slightly depressed as I have gone before but, in general, I take the whole looks aspect more easily now… And accept myself more for who I am – even with a few extra kilos. I have become more comfortable in my own skin and more confident as a curvy woman very happy as a UK size 12.
Of course, the changes I have made in my life due to foreign cultural insight are not all this dramatic. I’ve also learned how to be open-minded, not being choosy about food, however, try various and different cuisines and, of course, believe in fairies – you can’t return from a stay in Ireland and not believe in fairies…
Although this post is solely based on my stay in Ireland, I’ve learned much from my all stays abroad. However, my point with this post is really just that if you allow yourself to be open-minded, absorb and accept foreign behaviour, you’ll learn to perceive and think differently as a result – you’ll gain perspective. And…maybe you’ll grow as a person from that. Anyway, in a world that is increasingly becoming more and more intercultural, I find it highly important to gain perspective – we owe it to others as well as to ourselves. Because, where would we be in ten, fifty, hundred years if we will not learn to accept and acquire some sort of understanding for foreign cultures? And respect their ways of behaving and living?
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