Life in the western world is much different to that of the eastern world in terms of culture and standard practices. After 4 years in Asia here’s my take based off my experiences with Thai culture and American culture.
A Thought Through Images
Sometimes a picture can tell a thousand words. The featured image/images were drawn by Yang Liu, a graphic artist, who at the age of 13 moved from China to Germany. This picture is a result of how she interpreted her time in the west compared to the east. There is a collage of her art that depict differences between eastern and western culture. It’s apparent that one can tell these illustrations adequately demonstrate the comparison without much bias. Although these images are a representation of her time in China and Germany, it’s not a far stretch to broaden this idea and term it more a “East Vs. West”.
The Work Force(Featured Image)
The photo that I chose to use for the featured image is that showing how the boss or manager is treated in the west(blue) as opposed to the east(red). If you’ve worked in Asia, you will know that this image speaks many truths in terms of how the boss is regarded. In Thai culture, to say the least, from my experience the boss may not always seem most qualified to lead the team. With that being said, the boss is highly revered by those under him/her. Also, they(the boss) will hardly ever humble themselves to those they see beneath them. For example, you may approach and wai(Thai greeting)a high-ranking boss and they’ll literally just glance at you and walk on as if they’re are some kind of superior human to you. It’s very real and kind of comical at times.
1. When I first was hired by my agency, during the training we were told to never say “no” to our hierarchy aka bosses. If we were asked to do a task, even if it wasn’t in our contract, we we’re to do it or say “yes”, then tell management to settle the situation for us. If you say “no” you can bet that you will be public enemy#1, hissed and snarled at in the form of stares and whispers for the rest of the year. I doubt they’ll even ask you to come back, let alone let you finish the week!(exaggerating a bit on the last part, but not all that crazy a claim!)
2. We were also told to never question the bosses as this can be seen as rude and disrespectful. Weird right? In Thai Culture, if your boss is asking you to do something that makes absolutely no sense it’s better to just do it instead of ask why. In the west, I feel there is a bit more of an appreciation if you can suggest something better to your boss. they won’t mind as long as it gets the job done.
3. It’s terrible to look smarter or more qualified than your boss. When we came up with the idea for playing a friendly soccer match between the foreigners and locals. Our director suggested that we discuss the idea with the head of our department at school and present it to them as if it was their own idea. It was quite silly to be honest. It’s almost like if we made the presentation ourselves it may look as if we are trying to one-up our bosses at work.
4. The boss is never wrong. They’ll never admit their faults or shortcomings, which in the west can make you seem more normal and respectable. It’s the opposite here… There is a high sense of pride here and to admit a mistake is like saying you’re not qualified for your job. Professionally speaking, most of the stories dealing with problems arises when someone is at stake of losing face. In Thai culture, a loss of respect, favor or status is a huge deal. Not to label a whole continent but for the general Asian, public-image is much more important than self-image. This is why you have foreigners who make maybe double to triple times as much in salary, but the Asian boss refuses to allow you to think you’re more important than he/she is. Respect is demanded and regardless of what your paycheck says you’re still underneath them(some will make this very clear to you), both in status and respect.
The concept of individuality is hugely emphasized back home in the United States. It’s what makes us unique. In Asia that ideal is quite contrary as there really is no place for it in Thai culture. In Thai culture, it seems that “You” are a small part of a cog that helps to pull the chain to keep the wheels moving. Sounds great right? It’s not all so bad if you can keep an open-mind to that concept.
What are the shortcomings of a lack of individuality?:
1. No one can think for themselves; No originality. Everyone follows eachother and it’s pretty lame. The world is becoming more modernized everyday so it’s getting better, but it’s quite painful to see how important it is to Thai people that they think and act in accordance to what is expected, or at least perceived as expected.
2. In the west we love to put focus in ourselves. Our goal at the end of the day is to grow more as a person, better develop ourselves and plan for future growth. I once read a quote from a monk who claimed this is the reason for our unhappiness in the west. When we focus solely on ourselves it’s very easy to become stressed with our progress as we’re constantly thinking about ourselves. The monk stated that if we spent 15 minutes a day thinking positive thoughts(i.e. Helping make other people’s lives better) we would have less bouts of depression and anxiety. Interesting eh?
3. The last one for me is the fact that in Asia everyone just follows popular opinion. It’s like voting for a political party without even knowing the policies of other parties. This lack of individuality deprives Thai culture from freedom of expression and personal preference which they’ll gladly opt out for in return for a more common accepted view.
It’s important to include that in Thai culture there is a lot of emphasis on the family unit and I think this depiction of the ‘individual importance’ not only represents Thai society but the Thai family unit as well.
Dealing with Problems: Personal & Professional
Is it so straight forward? Is there an obvious difference in how we choose to deal with problems in American culture compared to Thai Culture? Well in the west we are definitely more confrontational and open about issues. I don’t think that makes our approach any better than that of the Asian standard though. Remember, public-image is much more important in Asia as this could make or break one socially. While back home we tend to focus more on our self-image.
What have I seen?:
1. In Thailand, as with the boss example, the concept of “losing face” is a very big deal. For the most part when it comes to telling the truth, if a Thai person chooses to lie they will take that lie to their grave. It’ll be a cold day in hell before they admitted that they’re lying, no matter how obvious it is. This must weigh a bit on the conscious?
2. Back home we tend to admit our faults right away and move on from there. When we lie, the lie becomes a part of our future. When we tell the truth, that truth becomes a part of our past. Wise words eh? I think in Asia there is a tendency to dodge dealing with problems head on and one can say that they even attempt to avoid them and pretend as if they don’t exist. Here it’s better to keep the issue deep down inside instead of dealing with it head on. It definitely takes a toll on you mentally, but it does keep one’s pride and public-image intact.
3. It’s hard to figure out a way of dealing with their problems when a loss of face is at stake. This is why I feel this illustration accurately depicts how one in the east may deal with problems as opposed to those from the west, especially in Thai culture.
So there ya go, this is my breakdown on the illustrations of life in the east(Thai culture)vs life in the west based off 4 years of life in Thailand.
As always feel free to comment and share!