Difference in Eastern vs Western Culture: Part 1- Love and Family

posted on: Friday, 24 March 2017

Hello everyone!
  I decided there were too many comparisons for one post, so I've decided to do a multi-part series. I am definitely not qualified professionally in any of these interpretations, which are based on my own life and that of my friends and the media I've consumed.

Part 1: Love and Family
I think growing up, the one thing I noticed that was entirely different with my life and that of my friends was the expression of love. Eastern culture is all about "silent love" or "mute love." I remember cringing when my mom first said "I love you" jokingly. She laughed too since it seemed so ridiculous. At the time, we were making fun of how Americans said "I love you" so often. She explained to me "Show love through actions, not words" which perfectly encompasses how Asians view love. Actions have more meaning to us than words. When I was angry at my mom, she would apologise not through words, but by cooking my favourite foods. Growing up, my family members and I never said "I love you." When I told this my best friend at the time, Rachel, she expressed shock. Americans believe that love must be expressed through words and gestures more so than actions. Here's an example of love felt through actions: It's a celebrity called Key who's calling his grandmother (who raised him) to get the recipe of his fav dish so that he and the hosts of this TV show can replicate it. He starts crying because he can feel her love through her offer to cook for him and send it over.

She doesn't directly tell him she loves him and misses him, but you can tell their true feelings. You'll note that I'm using Korean variety show clips as examples but it's because they're far easier to access than Indian films that are like, 5 hours long.  Also, not many Chinese or Japanese variety shows have as many English translations as Korean ones sooo that's that ;)

Now! So far, this has all been about familial love.
Romantic love in eastern culture may also be seen as kind of cold to westerners. Love is not just emotional feelings, but also realistic details like income and family background. Asians are more realistic when it comes to romance. It's a common saying "Romance after marriage" or "Love after marriage." In order for a relationship to work, one's partner must have similar values and a decent income to live comfortably. Once this is established, finding feelings for the other person will be easier. This could be why divorce rates are lower in Asian countries. It's just not something that's done. Recently, these things have become less strict. In India, you get to meet the groom-to-be on multiple "dates" or "courtships" for a longer period of time than before and you can now easily break it off if it isn't pleasing to you. 

I noticed that in the West, if your family doesn't like your boyfriend/lover/husband (or girlfriend/lover,wife), then it doesn't really matter. It may makes things difficult and there is the common "hatred of the in-laws" in so many films and movies, but this doesn't stop Westerners from being with the person they want to be with. It seems to them that the family isn't that important compared to the individuals' feelings. Asians will consider how the boyfriend/lover/husband will affect the family. Can the person get along with the family? How will the person act at family gatherings? Can this person perform customs and rituals? These are common concerns. 

Here's a graphic I learned about in my philosophy class:

Sense of Self: Eastern Cultures

Sense of Self: Western Cultures

The top is how the Asians perceive themselves. The bottom graphic is how Westerners perceive themselves. To Asians, it's a complex overlapping of "circles" or "entities" Asians are very considerate of how to behave with others, how to not insult others, how to respect others and so on. There's often a social hierarchy in Asian countries. In Korea, there's a whole separate set of words/language that you use for someone that is older than you, someone that's way older than you, and someone that's younger than you. It's similar to China. Language denotes respect to elders. In English, there is not such thing. Thus, youngsters and elders will use the same language with each other as they will to people their own age. In India, this isn't as prevalent language-wise, but in terms of action, you must respect your elders. I was taught to serve them with care, offer them water, snacks, or help in getting up and sitting down. Elders in Asian culture hold a special place in the social structure. They're wise and they've lived through life so it's important to respect and listen to any advice they give. In the West, there's a respect for wisdom but it isn't nearly as much as in the East.
This is why hospitality is central in Eastern cultures, as well as Middle-Eastern cultures (Turkey, Greece, Iran, Iraq etc...). Guests get the best service your household has to offer. The West is similar to this in that guests must be treated well, but many Asians will agree with how extreme we can get. In this same line, reciprocity is of utmost importance. If someone gives you something, you must return the favour with something of equal or greater value. This is done to avoid an unbalanced relationship and to make sure everyone is happy. You know when you do a lot for someone but they don't do the same? It's not a good feeling. Asian cultures recognise this and thus remedy it by always responding to favours. For instance, I bought Didem a Wendy's meal and even though she offered to Venmo me what she "owes", I didn't ask or want it because Didem's done a lot for me before. Something as small as a fast food burger is nothing and I would feel insulted if she tried to pay me for it. When I brought it over, she gave me a tonnnn of chocolate, tea, and fruit after we ate. She returned what I gave her with something of greater value. Therefore, neither of us are indebted greatly to the other. Westerners also have this belief of being self-sufficient in terms of meals and stuff, but Asians apply it to everything else, including inviting people and treating them.
One example, I once fought with Rachel in middle school because she kept inviting me over to her house to play and I kept accepting. Her family took care of me and I was enjoying myself, but I didn't invite Rachel over to my house with as frequently. So one night, Rachel invited me over again (although we'd hung out only a day or two before) and my parents said "no" when I asked. I inquired as to why, and my mom said "It doesn't look nice if she keeps inviting you over. You should invite her here next time. Anyway, you already saw her, why go back so soon?"
I understood the reasoning my parents had as a violation of reciprocity. I also respected their decision since I knew it didn't come from a place of spite or punishment, but of reason and respect. I told Rachel I couldn't go and she was getting upset for some reason. She kept wanting me to ask again and again and make arguments and support them etc... I didn't, at the time, understand why she couldn't get it.

 Households in the west are raised with the parents as the rulers and the children as the subject. There's all sorts of handbooks on discipline and punishment. If the child behaves badly, he goes to time-out. If the child does work, he gets paid an allowance. If the child is good, he's rewarded. If not, he's punished. The parents dictate what and how things happen. Like under any authoritarian rule, rebellions can happen.  In Asian households, the parents are at the top, but not just because they put themselves there. There's an understanding amongst the children that the parents are older and wiser. They're doing what they can to raise you and it's important to understand their sacrifices.  Of course, there are authoritarian conservative Asian families that spur rebellions from the children, but the values behind "parents" remains. I've noticed on the Korean variety show programs that celebrities will often cry when thinking of their families because I think Asian children love their families in a different way than Western children do. It's a love that's grateful. I noticed a lot of my friends growing up would complain about their parents like "My dad won't get me an Xbox" and stuff like that. My mom likes to fondly tell me that I would never complain or ask for unnecessary things. If my parents said "no" I would accept it. I think the few times I would persist, they would give me what I asked for because they knew then it was something important to me.

These are screenshots from my favourite variety show called "Knowing Brother". This was the part that made me cry. A lot of Western families always face the issue of what to do with ageing parents, as if its an inconvenience. Western culture glorifies youth whereas Asian cultures praise wisdom and age. It was never a question for me that when my parents get too old to work, that either my brother or I would take care of our parents. Asian children will live with their parents a lot longer than Western families and it's common to have grandparents live with the family instead of at nursing homes. I think the very thought of just tossing away your parents to a nursing home is in bad taste. Family bonds are a lot tighter in Asian cultures. Parents spend a great deal of their lives raising their kids, making sacrifices along the way, so it's understood that the kids should repay their parents by taking care of them in their old age. Again, you'll see this common theme of reciprocity.  There are customs that reflect this like, it's typical that when a child earns his or her first paycheck, he or she will give it to his/her parents. And, when the child starts making a stable income, he'll buy his parents a house or a car. My dad wants a sports car and my mom wants a nice home to retire in. I've seen many people, celebrities and family, doing this. There's a Pakistani youtuber called Zaid who bought his dad a brand new car and bought his parents a mansion-type house. A lot of Kpop celebrities buy their families houses or stores to help them fulfil their dreams in their old age.
The celebrity in the screenshots, Min Kyung Hoon, currently lives in a house with his parents even though he's 33. It's considered acceptable by society whereas in Western society, he would be looked down upon in a condescending manner like "Wow you still live with your parents?" Western children can't wait to be free of their parents but Asian children want to be with their parents for longer.
example: its expected that the first paycheck is spent/given to the parents in some form

When you misbehave, you're causing more trouble for the family and everyone else and this is not beneficial to all parties involved. 
Yes, we fight but it's always resolved quickly. For example, when my family attended family friend gatherings, we had to represent our family well. My brother and I were complimented on our good behaviour by others, who told our parents. So our parents were viewed as "good parents" are treated well by everyone. If I got upset or said something rude to either my mom or dad, by brother would pinch me or tell me off "Don't do stupid things" and such. If kids acted up or cried a lot, everyone would think negatively about the parents. The actions of the children affected the perception people had of the parents. Naturally, my brother and I didn't want that for our parents, so we always behaved well. This is why Asian families don't usually have huge difficulties with their kids. Of course, there are alwayssss going to be the tantrum throwing kids and so on, but in general, I think this is how it's like. Even if Asian parents are tiger moms or rude and cold to their kids, the kids will still love and respect their parents. In India, parents are considered "god" and so you must respect and obey them. In Asian cultures, obedience to family and elders is also of utmost importance. I noticed that in Western cultures, especially with religious fundamental ones, this is also important. However, with the religious fundamental groups, obedience is from a place of fear and necessity, whereas in Asian cultures, obedience is from a place of social order and balance.

I reached out to a friend out of concern for her health recently. I tried to appeal to her sense of family by telling her that she should take care of herself for the sake of her parents. Health in Asian cultures is the most important thing. Many phrases in languages indicate this. A common greeting is "Did you eat?", signifying the importance of food, and on New Years and holidays, wishes are always made for "Good health and prosperity." My mom once explained it well. "Health is the most important. If you have money but are in poor health, what is your life going to be like? You'll live a short life and you won't enjoy it properly"

In the West, the sense of self is so individual that a request like "Do it for your parents" doesn't have the same effect. She told me that she didn't want to do things that made her unhappy just for the sake of her parents. I totally understand that. I don't want to be a doctor or lawyer just because of my parents. All Asian kids have felt that before. But these wishes come from a place of love and concern. Our parents just want us to live comfortably and face no hardships in live. When it comes to health, Asian families are serious.

In Asian cultures, weight is often commented on and criticised openly within a family. Aunts will discuss how so-and-so gained weight and doesn't look good. I noticed this a lot with Korean and Chinese families too. This sort of criticism can be hurtful, but Asians hope that this will compel someone to change through diet and exercise. My mom will comment sometimes if my "legs are looser" and right away, I'll go to the gym and work on it. They don't say these things to hurt you, they say it to compel you. In Asian families, there is no pretense. You don't have to worry about speaking politely or with pretence. Honesty and openness is key. Parents will tell you the 100% truth. They'll tell you if you're fat, if you're not doing well in school, if you're life goals are ridiculous etc... Western parents try to be more gentle and caring. Eastern parents care more about honestly, although it may be brutal.

I think this was pretty comprehensive. If you have any contradictions or additions to make, please comment and let me know! I may have generalised too broadly in certain areas and I'm open to corrections~


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