The world is getting smaller: flights are cheaper and quicker, perpetual travel more accessible to a generation of digital nomads, and the internet and Skype have made the ‘videophone’ dreams that science-fictionists dreamt about for years a banal, international reality. What Country Fits Your Manners, Immigration for economic, romantic or political reasons keeps societies fresh, inspired and culturally rich.
And perhaps what’s most romantic about this tightening of the human fabric is that we’re all from the same place originally. Fifty thousand years ago, our ancestors began to spread out from Africa and colonize the world, and now – to be deliriously utopian about it – we’re all reconnecting again on the internet.
What Country Fits Your Manners?
As fear-mongering politicians attempt to stir up racial hatred and intolerance in the name of defending their petty domains, it seems like an important opportunity to take a look at how our international cousins have developed in those five hundred centuries that have since passed. To identify what we have in common and to celebrate our differences.
We’ve been discovering, invading, converting and repopulating our way around the world a long time now which makes for some interesting overlaps in culture between geographically disparate places.
Take England and Australia, for example: the latter’s history as a penal colony for the former remains a sensitive issue, but what has proven beautiful about the relationship in the long run is how the new world descendants have developed a way of life that retains aspects of British propriety while evolving its own unmistakable flavor. In the nearly 250 years since Captain James Cook ‘claimed’ Australia for the Brits, waves of immigration from Europe and Asia have melded with generations-old Australian families and a troubled history of indigenous integration.
So now, although you will see little difference between the amount of personal space desired by Australians and English people, both nationalities greet with a handshake and consider prompt arrival at parties to be the done thing, you will probably be familiar with the idea that English people consider their Australian cousins to be a little too laid back and informal while Australians will accuse the English of being uptight. It is an affectionate relationship that does not preclude the shared celebration of the nations’ respective music and TV cultures, and of course a shared queen.
Britain has, of course, a colorful and controversial past of colonizing or otherwise exploiting foreign lands, which makes the UK’s recent indication of departure from the European Union all the more ironic. The Brits colonized Singapore, for example, in the nineteenth century, where its location as a transport hub made it an appealing prospect to tightly-moustached aristocrats with pound signs in their eyes. Although Singapore has been independent again for over half a century now, English remains the main language for use in business and work.
European influence on American culture
Interestingly, despite early European influence on American culture through colonization and immigration, shared approaches to tipping in restaurants and hotels have not so much been handed down from the original settlers as picked up by American-born tourists in the nineteenth century. Following the civil war, wealthy Americans made their way to Europe for vacation and – it has been suggested – brought the custom back with them to impress those back home with their newly cultivated European aristocratic sensibilities.
If many believed the culture of tipping to be inherently undemocratic, automatic tipping remains prevalent in the States today, a trait it shares with other European-tinged New World nations such as Argentina and Colombia. While tipping rarely happens in Asian countries such as Japan or South Korea, perhaps the continued culture of tipping in Singapore (at least for very good service) is another hand-me-down from 144 years of British rule.
So where do you fit into all of this?
Well, many of these and other national traits are general rules which may be subverted or ignored by individuals and micro-cultures. While it can be respectful and sometimes safer to be aware of these customs before travelling it is also important to remain open-minded and historically aware when enjoying the company of far-flung relatives from whom our ancestry may have splintered many decades or centuries ago.
Of course, cultures develop collectively so many such generalizations can be good indications of what to expect – which may be useful if you are one such individual who does not conform to the expectations of the land where you were born. Maybe you’re interested in finding somewhere that better suits your desired way of life?
If so, or even if you’re just interested in looking further into our shared and contrasting customs, you’ll enjoy checking out this new infographic that breaks some of our daily behaviors into national tendencies, so you can see just what countries share with others. It’s a fine way to recognize the things that make us unique while honoring our long and tempestuous family relationship as a fifty-millennia diaspora from the continent of Africa