The world is a great and glorious beast, full of beautiful places and different cultures. The vast majority of people in the world love going travelling or on holiday, exploring the world and experiencing countries and civilizations that are different to their own. It’s something we celebrate, it’s something we love.
But if really gets on my tits when people point out cultural differences in a negative light.
Now, I’m not talking about really significant cultural differences that can be considered offensive or downright immoral to some people. I’m not getting into the hijab debate, the death penalty debate, or what have you. These are important differences that I feel should be discussed and have no place in the topic I’m bringing up.
But so many people comment on minor cultural differences that exist because all cultures are different. In itself there is nothing wrong with that; you can be curious and want to know the reason or origin for a cultural difference. Go ahead and ask questions, I’m down with that. But it’s when people at as if these tiny cultural differences are wrong that I get peeved.
Let’s take the American vs British cultural differences, seeing as that’s been quite prominent on the web recently. There are a lot of differences between our cultures, and it gets commented on all the time because of our shared language. It’s easier to be confused by a culture that uses your language differently than by a country who just uses a completely different language. For example, the French call perfume “eau de toilette” which literally means “toilet water”*. Personally I’ve never heard anyone say something along the lines of “that’s wrong”; reactions tend to be laughter and comments of “that’s so weird”. You’re commenting on the difference in language and finding it funny; it’s a perfectly acceptable response to me because you’re not insinuating that a culture is wrong for their use of language.
But my God, the amount of times I’ve heard the “it’s not a cookie it’s a biscuit!” argument. No one get all up in arms because the Spanish call a biscuit a galleta; it’s a different language. But because of the common language we can get that much more obsessed with the differences. And that’s understandable, but why do we have to keep insisting that our respective ways are the correct ways?
I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of this in the past before acknowledging my acts of petty ignorance. And the big reason for this post is that I still don’t know why I ever did it. It’s probably because I didn’t think about it too much, but these days it just gets on my nerves more and more. Why can’t we just see a cultural difference, shrug and move on? I know most of these kind of comments aren’t intended to cause offense, but it doesn’t take long for the distasteful ones to come along…
Oh just bugger off. It’s this kind of attitude that keeps our cultures so separate, impedes us from bridging the gaps between nations. Sure that’s in its extreme form, but by ignorantly making these backhand comments you are in no way helping towards the cause of cultural acceptance. I’m not going so far as to claim you’re being racist, but is there really anyway to claim a rude comment about someone’s different culture is a positive action?
We shouldn’t be telling people they are wrong for their cultural differences. It pisses me off when I see something like that. But hey, if you are curious about a cultural difference or get irritated by one, I can understand that. I’d rather you made the effort to educate yourself on that matter though, so as a Brit I’m going to answer some common cultural questions to try and help the matter. There are only really a handful of these questions I consider valid and also know proper answers to. For questions like “why are British people so polite?” for example, it’s futile to try and answer them because the answers are literally: our culture is different to yours. Theoretically there could be an actual historical reason behind our inherant politeness that someone could try and document, but then again why should be have to? We’re culturally polite, I don’t understand why we should feel the need to justify that.
But do enjoy these questions that are worthy of answering. Feel free to ask more and I’ll answer if I can. I’d also love to see people from other cultures talk about their own experiences with cultural questions.
Why do British people say Maths instead of Math?
The root word is Mathematics. It’s plural because it is a multi-disciplinary field. Hence why we keep it plural when we shorten it.
Why do British people call their mom “mum” but don’t say “dud” for dad?
We spell “mum” differently to you. Word spellings change and evolve depending on pronunciation. We happen to pronounce “dad” quite similarly. We don’t pronounce dad as “dud” so why would we change the spelling?
Why do British people say “Happy Christmas” instead of “Merry Christmas”?
We do still say Merry Christmas. We say Happy Christmas as well. The reason mainly being the meaning behind the word “merry”. In the UK “merry” doesn’t just mean “pleasant”, it also can mean “intoxicated”. Historically the word had even more meanings: “Merry-bout” (an incident of sexual intercourse) was low slang from 1780. “Merry-begot” (illegitimate) is from 1785. Apparently our dear Queen doesn’t like all the connotations (especially the modern drunk one), so she wishes people a “Happy Christmas” in her annual broadcasts to give the intended message. This may be where we started to use “Happy Christmas” more frequently.
Why do british people pronounce “th” as “f”?
Countries have regional accents. The UK is not exempt from this. The Cockey and Essex accents are well-known for pronouncing “th” as “f” in the UK and “th-fronting”, as it is called, occurs in other languages as well. The first reference to th-fronting in London speech occurs in 1787. By 1850 it appears to have been considered a standard feature of working class speech in the city, and had the same status in Bristol by 1880. Although th-fronting is found occasionally in the middle and upper (middle) class English accents as well, studies found that there is still a marked social difference between working and middle class speakers. Th-fronting is often viewed negatively because of this.
Why do British people lose their accents when they sing?
Here is a brilliant article on the subject. To summarize: “When people sing, their regional accents are obliterated by physiology, phonetics, and the music itself. In effect, their accents are neutralized. And if they sound American, that’s because the general American accent is fairly neutral itself.” Some Brits deliberately try to keep their accent when singing. I’ve personally found this very difficult to do.
Why do British people format the date dd/mm instead of mm/dd?
Historical reasons aside, it all boils down to how we speak these days. In England when we speak the date, we will say: “Thursday the 24th of May”, which puts the date before the month. Americans tend to say “Thursday, May 24th”, which puts the month before the date. People in Britain tend to claim that our method is “logically” correct because the date format corresponds to how often the date is changed. The day changes everyday so it comes first, the month is changed every month so it comes second, and then of course the year. But obviously this is saying “Americans are wrong” so I don’t indulge in this practice.
* To expand on the subject of “eau de toilette” because it’s interesting: the French word for perfume is actually “parfum” but “eau de toilette” is sometimes used even in other countries because it is a brandof weak perfume designed to be applied after showering. The same concept as using the words “vacuum” and “Hoover”. Hoover is the brand but we can use it the same way we use the verb “vacuum”. Though the phrase does translate to “toilet water”, in French the term “toilette” means both “toilet” and “bathroom activity”. In French we say “faire sa toilette” to mean “have a wash”. So the phrase actually means “scented water for use after your wash”.