Subject Material

Cultural Diversity on an Individual Level

Published: 19.03.2012, Updated: 04.03.2017
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When talking about multicultural societies, we often have migration in mind – individuals or whole populations going “somewhere else”  – and thus meeting and living with people belonging to other cultures. However, although migration is an important factor, it is far from being the only one. Most of us, even those who have never been abroad or who have seldom or never exchanged more than a few words with anyone from another culture, are multicultural.

How would you explain this?

Vocabulary

vibrant, scope, illustrious, utmost, baffling, profound, impact, hold sway, contempt, adhere to, hazardous

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When you look at the people around you, how many do you find that are "guilty of" :

  • eating sushi, pizza and pasta, fajitas or pita bread dipped in hummus?
  • humming tunes by Rihanna (or Bach) while taking their morning shower?
  • drinking Italian coffee?
  • watching American sitcoms or Bollywood movies?
  • kissing friends on the cheek, twice?
  • clinking or raising their glasses before drinking?
  • doing yoga or tai chi when they want to relax?
  • considering getting a tribal tattoo?
  • writing a haiku, just because they can?
  • wearing a sarong to the beach?

SushiSushi
Fotograf: Corbis
But we aren't yet espresso-sipping, sarong-wearing yoga practitioners who write vibrant haikus about the way our latest Maori tattoos look in the dark. However, our modern multicultural society may be about to produce such multifaceted people as our scope of inspiration widens. 

What Are Our Sources of Inspiration?

As individuals, we have multiple sources of inspiration that might influence us to adopt traditions and ideas from other cultures; the example of an illustrious person of the past or from far away, a work of literature or of philosophy or walks of life that we’ve only just heard of without any hands-on experience at all. Even if such things have always inspired people, it is even more true today. Our world has become tiny: technically, we’re able to exchange news and ideas with nearly anyone instantaneously or go nearly anywhere in less than a day. It would be baffling if this didn’t have a profound impact on the way in which we view the world and on how we act, both individually and collectively.

Individual Freedom

In today’s liberal democracies, ideals of individual dignity and freedom take centre stage. They are less specific guides for our actions than limitations as to what we should be allowed to do to and to expect from each other and from the State. A certain discomfort, born of the feeling that society is dissolving, that ageless values no longer hold sway and that identity is lost, is not unheard of. 

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they allow disrespect for elders and love to chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room.  They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” 

This quotation which is perhaps inaccurately attributed to Plato, indicates the timeless attitude of such feelings.

People get Maori tattoosPeople get Maori tattoos
Fotograf: JACKY NAEGELEN
However, there is also another, more positive, side to things; such liberties leave room for people to form their own identities. Instead of people’s identities being determined by which culture they were born into, they have the opportunity to adhere to (or to break with) cultures and sub-cultures related to age, work, sexual orientation, religion, hobbies, taste in music, means of transportation etc., according to who they feel that they are at any given stage of their lives. Consequently, stating that one belongs to one culture is a hazardous exercise. Due to our multifaceted nature, most of us belong to several cultures, and we are allowed, at any time, to change our minds as to where we feel the most at home.

 

Tasks and Activities

Reflect and Note Down

Reflect upon ways in which foreign cultures are part of your daily life. Make a list of the things you do which come from foreign cultures. From where have you learned to do these things (friends, films, advertisements, parents, social media etc.) and try to find the country of origin. Make a table with four columns: Activity/Examples/Source of inspiration/Country of origin. Consider the following activities:
  • What you eat
  • Music you listen to
  • What you drink
  • What you watch
  • What you read
  • Your spare time activities
  • What you wear
  • How you greet your friends

Make a Presentation

Focus on one of the activities you have listed above and make a visual presentation. To explore more advanced ways of presenting than e.g. Power Point, we recommend that you create an account at www.prezi.com. It is free if you use your school address or create an account for your class by using your school's e-mail address.

 

Oral

  1. Many people today prefer cappuccino to black Norwegian coffee, sushi to boiled cod, yoga to skiing. Do you think there is a danger of Norwegian culture and traditions disappearing? Should anything be done to save and preserve these old traditions? Arrange a debate where half of the class prepare arguments that support the defence of traditional and local culture. The other half prepare arguments that welcome and enhance new and muliticultural impulses. 
  2. Do you agree that the quotation from Plato above is valid in today's society? Arrange a debate where half the class prepare pros (arguments that support Plato's statement) and the other half cons (arguments that deny Plato's statement). 

Discuss

  1. Japanese culture is commonly perceived as "difficult" for people with a Western cultural background. Yet, we see a lot of young people in the Western Hemisphere that are heavily influenced by Japanese culture. Discuss what kind of Japanese influence you find among your peers. Give examples. Do you agree, that Japanese culture is "difficult"?
  2. Lost In Translation (2003), a film directed by Sofia Coppola, pinpoints some of the culture clashes that Westerners might meet in Japan. She portrays two Americans, an actor well into his forties (played by Bill Murray) and a young Yale graduate (Scarlett Johanssen), and how "lost" they feel in, what is to them, an unintelligible world. Watch a trailer from the film: Lost in Translation - TrailerLost In Translation - Information  
    • What are the actual challenges you see in this trailer? Do they occur because of language or cultural differences, or both?
    • List the culture crashes you find.
    • The characters in the movie are older than you, do you think that young people today would be less confused? Why or why not?
    • Why do you think many young people find Japanese culture fascinating?