Strong Culture or Lack Thereof

In light of the attack on Barcelona yesterday, I’m once again reminded of the problem of culture, or the lack of strong culture.

If I go to Thailand, I meet Thai people not Germans. Going to China means meeting Chinese people not Argentiens.  Traveling to Malaysia does not mean expecting to experience Ethiopian culture. Immigration and the cultural milieu of people adding and modifying the native culture enhances most countries. General Tso’s chicken, for instance, is wholly an Sino-American creation. I still enjoy General Tso’s chicken even though it didn’t originate in China. However, most countries do not have immigration as their bedrock principle. They may welcome immigrants but they remain … Chinese or Thai or Argentine. Take it or leave it. 

Take the Country, Leave the Culture


Modern Europe’s problem seems to be that ‘leave it but stay’ is an option. If a country’s people work so hard to be open-minded to immigrants or refugees that there is no delineation between the immigrant’s old country and the new, the new will be vulnerable to losing the very characteristics that made them attractive in the first place. A country’s norms, its mores and values, the very things that makes it a distinctive place to live.

Similarly, if an immigrant works to integrate into his/her new country’s culture, that person must be welcomed. I don’t believe this necessarily means converting to the majority’s religion or eating things one doesn’t want to. But it does entail respect for the history and traditions of that new country. A Spanish Jew probably wouldn’t frequent the Museo del Jamon in Madrid but it’s not affront to him for it to exist. A French Muslim should probably understand that the hijab or niqab isn’t in line with French culture. Conversely, a visitor to Saudi Arabia shouldn’t expect to find a pint of Guinness out in the open. You don’t have to like it (and I sure as anything dislike Saudi Arabia’s Islam) but a native people have the right to decide their their norms.

Take the Country, Take the Culture

No nation handles influxes of new people particularly well. There are always enclaves where immigrants and foreigners gather. Chinatown or Deutschetown, Polish Hill or Little Italy. In many ways, a first generation immigrant simply cannot fully integrate into his/her new country and it’s sometimes just as difficult for the second generation.

culture-hands-around-the-worldRecent refugees to Europe may not have a choice about where they’ve ended up. Many wouldn’t have left places like Syria or Iraq if they didn’t fear for their lives. But once there, it’s paramount they assimilate with the new country and that the new country expects and welcomes such assimilation. Both must happen – assimilation and acceptance.

I am not advocating for the establishment of establishing exclusionary standards, which only natives can reach. Even If I moved to Spain, my Spanish would probably always be worse than my Englige. My Ma Po Doufu will never be as good as deliciousness to be found in Chengdu (esp. since I make it with beef, not pork). Let me say again that there is a inter-cultural milieu that is engendered when immigrants and natives mix which benefits all parties. Closed borders make for closed and stagnant countries.

Still, not providing clear customs and expectations for immigrants and not welcoming those who then attempt to assimilate extracts a cost. If people try to integrate into a new society and are rebuffed, it will sour them on that place. It creates a sense of unwelcome and forces the immigrant to withdraw, and often to lose faith in that place. Those who lose faith can sometimes lash out against the culture and place they so desperately wanted to be part of. It’s important for European countries and all countries who want

(Yes, to some extent, I do hold America to a different standard but that’s a topic for another time).

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