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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Culture Gate

"si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more; si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi" 
St. Ambrose

"When in Rome, do as Romans do."

Criticizing the customs of other cultures may well be the world's second oldest profession. As a 22 year-old, I left the U.S. for the first time heading to Korea, thinking the U.S. was the center of the universe. Apparently, a number of Americans suffer from the same affliction. 

Now, I don't know if Bill Gates thinks the United States is the center of the universe, but he seems to think he is. Wait, stop right there!---you may be thinking. Criticize Bill Gates? He's the world's biggest philanthropist. Cut the guy some slack. I'd love to, if Mr. Gates demonstrated just a modicum of humility.
50 Bill Gates Quotes on Life, Wealth and Leadership
Bill Gates

Recently, Mr. Gates was the guest of Korea's new president, Ms. Park Geun Hye. Demonstrating surprising cross-cultural insensitivity, he greeted the head-of-state with his hand in his pocket. One has to wonder where his advisors were on this one.

Humility, however, might not be Mr. Gates' biggest asset. He allegedly had this to say about his financial status, "I have $100 billion…You realize I could spend $3 million a day, every day, for the next 100 years? And that's if I don't make another dime…" On the other hand, what do you think Mr. Gates' reaction might be to someone coming to his office for an interview requesting a several million dollar donation for their favorite cause wearing torn jeans and a Hawaiian shirt?

South Korean President Park Geun-hye (left) shakes hands with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, from the USA, at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul, South Korea, 22 April 2013. -EPA
Oops! Should have taken humility training 
If you are here in Korea for any length of time, you would be privy to some foreigners' long lists of issues and gripes with Korean culture. These range from the food, to driving habits, to the disposal of garbage, to education practices, to alcohol consumption customs, and everything in between. Truth-be-told, I get stoked when I stand at a stop sign and never, ever see a Korean driver come to a full stop. Nope, ain't goin' to happen here. I have my strong bias, but it is not my country.

When Koreans come to the U.S. and slip into the driver's seat, there will be some pretty serious consequences for not stopping at stop signs. I suspect that after a few moving violations, or worse, an accident or two, the new cultural context will be quickly assimilated; proving yet again St. Ambrose's theory.

Mr. Gates, who waxes at length about global awareness gave this advice recently, "I do think this next century, hopefully, will be about a more global view. Where you don't just think, 'Yes, my country is doing well,' but you think about the world at large." Yes, Mr. Gates, when you prepare for your next global encounter, the recipe calls for two ounces of preparation, one dollop of humility. And please sir, stir with both hands.

1 comment:

  1. There is little difference in Korean(or Oriental) and American(Or Western) Culture. We should respect other country, cultral area or religion's culture or custom, convention.
    Many people have different minds, so we should know about cultral relativity.
    We live in global, worldwide ages. To respect other culture is globla etiquette and kind of manner.