We do not normally say that we are experiencing ‘cultural clash’. The term has always been associated with ‘bigger issues’ such as the dispute on minaret in Switzerland or the issue of Islamophobia in America after 911 – which not all of us would be involved on a regular basis. Also, in such cases there exists a clear cultural difference between the West and the Islamic cultural. However, cultural clash does happen at smaller scale and between even groups which are traditionally from the same cultural root. For example, as the number of mainland Chinese immigrants increases in Hong Kong and Singapore, local Chinese are finding it harder to understand lest getting along with their mainland brothers and sisters. A simple explanation to this is the fact that mainland China’s experience of ‘cultural revolution’, and the acceptance of Western culture – to a certain extent – by the post-colonial Singapore and Hong Kong, has created a gulf between the two groups. Thus, cultural differences do occur between groups which share the same hereditary root. Of course we can argue to what extent can we define ‘culture’. As this would be best dealt with properly in other places, a simply definition of culture would be: a set of values, myths, narratives and rituals which give a sense of belonging and identity to a group of people. Myths and narratives here refer to stories which normally include key legendary figures and events which shape the values of the group. For example, Steve Jobs, and his story, have become, to a large extent, a legend and narrative which shape the values of Apple.
Now, not only that we can experience cultural clash with people which share the same cultural root with us. We face it locally. With that I mean we would face felt cultural tension not only in foreign places with foreign people. Rather, one may be feeling culturally distanced with those that are geographically close to him or her.
For example, a friend who has just returned from a Western country was hit by a car while he was on a zebra (pedestrian) crossing. He was so accustomed to the western society’s respect for law that he forgot that he is now back to his home country, where drivers have the habit of disregarding the pedestrian crossing. Is my friend now at home? He is at the country where he was born and raised where he shares a large part of his cultural root. However, he is not ‘culturally home’. There is deeper issue underneath this seemingly trivial matter. There is a clear cultural differences on the outside – different countries, hence customs, habits, and drivers. There is also a subconscious cultural habits formed within the few years my friend spent oversea. He has, to a certain extent, not just adopted the way-of-life (in crossing a street!) of the West, but may have also buy in to the value system of that culture! Perhaps the fact that since he has been so accustomed by their way of crossing the road or driving shows that he has somewhat, in his soul, accepted their culture and has become one of them? If so, can we say that he was a white man when he was crossing the Asian road and had a cultural ‘crash’?!
Well obviously in this case, my friend has been away for a while and got ‘converted’ by another culture. However, as mentioned, there is still no guarantee that if one is to stay put in one place, he or she will then be exempted from such ‘clash’. In today’s world it is not uncommon to have immigrants staying next door of us. Sometimes people from the same country could also live very differently due to their cultural difference. So we are all open to cultural clash.
No wonder missionaries over the ages are vulnerable to ‘reverse cultural shock’ as their re-enter into their home church and and home country. If ‘locals’ are subjected to cultural clash, imagine the shock missionary would have when they come ‘home’!