04 June, 2013

Unexpected cultural divide

Many years ago an older friend with three children, who had five siblings, some of whom were single, told us it was a challenge to cope with the differences between the single aunts and married siblings. The singles had more resources: time and money, to heap upon nieces and nephews than the married ones did.

Divide between multiple children families and single children families
This level of formality for the end of middle school
seems extreme to my Australian eyes. The next day
an elaborate lunch was organised after numerous long
meetings (in classic Japanese style, the numerous
meetings, that is).
Now I'm finding a similar divide, not in my own family (all our siblings are married and have children), but with fellow parents at school. There seems to be a larger number of one child families around and I find that difficult. Mostly because they have more resources to devote to that single child: time and money. I love my kids no less, but my time and energy has to be split between the three of them. And our budget too, accommodates three children, not just one.

This becomes especially noticeable at school events. We cannot be at everything all our kids do. Nor do we have the time to devote huge amounts of it to one child's celebratory event. I guess our laid-back Australian-mess comes out then too. We just don't do formal celebrations to quite the level that other nations seem to.

I'm a conscientious person and I find that I struggle with guilt on these occasions. I say, "No," to participating in or planning various events, but then suffer with guilt. Occasionally it all gets a bit much and, instead of thinking about things rationally, I start to get resentful about a situation and other people. Not right thinking, I know, but I do struggle with it.

Divide between Western and Asian cultures in celebrations
Last Friday and Saturday were classic examples. Despite CAJ being a largely American-style school, about 1/3 of the students are Japanese by nationality (and many others have American nationality, but have one Japanese parent), another good percentage (?17%) are Korean. Both Japanese and Korean people are big on ceremony. This strongly influences the school in many ways. We keep hearing from people who've been around here longer than we have about the changes that have seeped into the school over the years (I'm thinking especially about the ones that aren't Leadership Team directed).

So, we end up with large celebrations at the end of middle school. Something that doesn't happen in Australia or America (as far as I know). I had to pull myself into line on Saturday and realise that what we were seeing happen was significant to those from different cultural backgrounds than my own. Different, not wrong. And because it was significant to others, it was important to honour them.

So, I got a double dose of culture shock at the end of last week: from Asian families with only one child.

Culture shock doesn't end after those first couple years of life in another country. Sometimes it broadsides you later on too!


Laurie Elliot said...

This one made me smile.

Imagine me with 5 kids in Japanese school! Never more than 3 in the same school at the same time, mercifully. But imagine trying to split the time (one hour) fairly for open house. The significant stuff always seemed to happen in the 40 minutes I wasn't present.

Up here most the single child families were also single parent families - but otherwise much the same... too much money for my very small budget and definitely too much fuss for my taste.

But what, really made me smile was the memory of our last child telling me, when she graduated from middle school, to skip the PTA celebration ("You hate drinking anyway, Mom!") and use the money to take us all out to the cinema to see "Lord, of the Rings." So that's what we did! Lots of good memories!

Peter Yonge said...

In the UK we don't necessarily even have a graduation ceremony from high school. I took my last exam, then simply stopped going to school, no fuss... So CAJ was an eye-opener, and pretty daunting at graduation time for our older boy. Still, we left Japan that year, and it was just as our younger boy finished middle school, so it was a helpful closure for him to have a "do" with his MS classmates then.

Wendy said...

I'm glad you're smiling Laurie. I'm glad too that someone else feels uncomfortable with all the fuss. I didn't mind the ceremony so much as all the fuss the parents went to to organise a "simple" meal the next day.

Peter, we had almost no graduation in Australia. Certainly no gown or hat. We had a special assembly that parents were invited to, but it was during the school day and we wore our school uniforms. We did have a student-organised dinner/dance on the evening of the last day of school that was very formal. I had my hair done and a special dress made!