Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cultural Differences

It's funny how different cultures place priorities on different things. Something that is considered minor in one place can be extremely offensive in another. It seems strange to us when people have differing opinions and don't seem to see things our way. I know that's how I feel over here sometimes. I just shake my head and wonder why they don't "get it."

One thing in particular that bothers me over here is the complete refusal to place children in car seats, let alone in seat belts. I can't tell you the number of times I have witnessed a mother holding an infant in her arms in the front seat (of a car with air bags, no less!). I frequently see children climbing around in cars, standing up, hanging out windows, and the worst, hanging out of a sun roofs. Today I saw a child, maybe two years old, standing up in the front seat of the car driving next to us, The father was driving and the baby was just hanging out the window and climbing around. I couldn't believe it. I think that the penalty for this here is about $50. It's something that is never enforced however and the only people I see buckling up their kids are the Western expatriates for the most part.

But the big news around here the last few days is that U-turns are no longer allowed on a small road running between two malls. There's really no other way to go east from the mall except to drive another mile or so down the road to the next intersection, so it's very common for people to come out of one mall and make a quick U-turn to get back to the intersection that's right there. Well, the police have decided that they are going to put a stop to it and have begun fining people for it. The fine? 6000 riyals. That's $1500, people!! $1500 for a U-turn on a little-used road, but $50 for not protecting the lives of your children. Like I said, sometimes I just shake my head and wonder.

Another thing that seems incongruent to me is the censorship that takes place on one of the channels here. It's not a local channel, I think it's based in Saudi Arabia maybe. It actually is one of my favorite stations here because it plays a lot of American shows that I enjoy. But there have been many times when we've been watching a movie and the F-bomb comes blaring out, or some other equally offensive word. I'm so used to that kind of language being bleeped out on US channels that it's always a shock to me to hear it on TV. But what's funny to me is that while there is no censorship on language of any kind, the slightest little peck on the cheek will be cut. Now, I've got no problem with racy scenes being cut. But seriously, I've seen very jumpy cuts made when I KNOW that it was just a quick little peck. It just is funny to me that language doesn't bother them at all, but a little kiss between even married couples on TV is taboo.

Even stranger to me is that lack of censorship on the radio. Not that I'm promoting censorship (although I think a little is a good thing, I'm not a Nazi), but if you are going to censor TV so heavily, why are some of the filthiest lyrics allowed to play on the radio. There's only one English radio station in Qatar and some of the music they play (hip-hop mostly) is simply disgusting. But then they will cut away straight from that to play the call to prayer. It would be hysterical if it weren't so sad, honestly.

I try to remind myself that each culture is different and that one needs to be careful of thinking that "your" culture is really superior.  There are things that are worthy in each culture and there are many things that I would like to change about American culture.  But some things are just so ingrained, that just seem to be so sensible, that it seems crazy that other people don't see it.


Nancy M. said...

That is something that upsets me too when I see it, kids not being in car seats. It would be stressful to have to see that all the time! And that much for just a u-turn, crazy! It's very interesting to hear the differences in culture.

stacey said...

i would be so confused all the time!


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