Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, May 29, 2012
THE daily circuit through the Internet turned up two comments about different cultures that share a common perspective. See if you agree. Here’s the first:
Culture is everything. That is a politically incorrect thought that can get you in trouble as much as we suspect it is true. In other words, government, economics, and social policy are critical, but themselves are driven by the minute-to-minute culture of everyday people. Germans pick up trash; in Athens, Greeks toss it. Germans do not honk; Italians do not not honk. In Libya or Egypt the pedestrian is a target; in Switzerland he is considered perhaps your father or grandmother. A bathroom in Germany is where someone else uses it after you; in Greece or Mexico, it is where you pass on the distaste of using the facility to the sucker who follows you.
I watch fender benders a lot. In northern Europe, addresses and information are exchanged; south of Milan, shouts and empty threats of mayhem follow. When I check out of a German hotel, I know the bill reflects what I bought or used; when out of a Greek hotel, I dread all the nonexistent charges to appear, and a “50/50 split the difference settlement to be offered. Germans like to talk in the abstract and theoretical; with Greeks it is always “egô” in the therapeutic mode. I rent a car in Athens and expect charges for “dents” to appear; in Germany only if there are actual dents. Add all that up — and millions more of such discrepancies repeated millions of times over each hour — and you have one country that creates vast wealth and another that cons to land vast wealth it did not create.
And here’s the second:
The results of employing best practice were brought into stark relief when I first arrived in Japan and noticed everything worked. This was after boarding from Heathrow Airport where escalators were broken, floors dirty, and workers surly. Narita airport positively sparkled in contrast and this impression is continued throughout the country. Japan still has social capital so even the “dodgy” areas are nice and safe.
The Japanese pride themselves on performing their tasks to the best of their abilities whether CEO of a zaibatsu or FamilyMart sales assistant. This gives the worker purpose and pride for themselves while the air of competence and effort spreads a virtuous cycle among others. Compare this to its polar opposite – a unionised UK public sector worker such as those found in immigration, council offices, or perhaps worst of all the sprawling civil service complex in Longbenton, Tyneside. Here you find slothful, incompetent, indifference, petty jobsworths who care only about getting through the day with the minimum energy output until time arrives when a pension can be claimed.
The second fellow goes so far as to include a photograph of a Japanese convenience store. I tend to take things like that for granted; there’s one just like it a five-minute walk from my house. It would seem that not everyone in the G-whatever countries is so lucky.
Here’s the conclusion from the first post:
This week I am walking in German cities along the Rhine that were nearly leveled in 1945. Not long ago I visited Detroit, which was booming in 1945. The latter now looks like its own homegrown B-24s bombed it yesterday, the former as if they had been untouched in the war that Germans started. Ponder those interchanged fates, and why and how these respective American and German cities got to where they were in 1945, and then again to where they are now.
Most of the major Japanese cities were leveled, too. They didn’t stay that way either.
In 2000, my wife and I visited my parents in the U.S., and we took a two-day break for a side trip to New York. When we got back to my hometown, people asked her (through me) what surprised her the most. Her answer surprised even me: We were taking a walk near the hotel, and at a small intersection everyone ignored the traffic light and crossed the street. On the other side of the intersection two police cruisers were parked at the curb. The four officers were standing in the street chatting. Of course they didn’t even notice the jaywalkers. Why didn’t the police do anything, she wondered.
When I interpreted her answer, the laughter of the listeners contained as much incredulity as it did mirth.
The observation in the first passage about the Swiss considering pedestrians to be perhaps their father or grandfather also reminded me of Japan. I live in a quiet neighborhood in a small town, but in some places old ladies still cross the street whenever and wherever they feel like it, regardless of the traffic, assuming that people will stop for them.
People always do.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 10:41 am and is filed under Social trends, Traditions. Tagged: Japan. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.