Last week, my new American adviser ordered Pizza for his students during our meeting with a new faculty candidate. He told me that he ordered vegetarian and turkey pizza in addition to the common pepperoni pizza that Americans love. Although he knows me for couple of months only and without asking me he figured out that I don’t eat pork.
On another occasion, while with some graduate students at a restaurant an Asian student who I have worked with for six years acted surprised that I don’t drink alcohol, mind you we have been out many times and we discussed this matter many, many times.
I don’t assume people to know that because I am a Muslim I don’t eat pork and don’t drink alcohol. I actually like it when people ask me about my religion or culture. It tells me that they want to know something about my culture, religion or my background. But I find it strange that some people don’t put effort to learn about other people’s common culture habits no matter how many times they were exposed to that particular culture.
Some people, especially those who have travelled a lot, have a high Cultural Intelligence. From the above two examples you can easily figure out who has a high cultural intelligence and who doesn’t. Cultural intelligence is a learning process and hence we are not assumed to have a high cultural intelligence. But ignoring to advance our cultural intelligence rate is called Cultural ignorance or Cultural Intolerance depending on the reason for not caring to learn about other cultures.
Cultural differences between different nationalities or races are so extreme it can range from minor unharmful custom like smiling to strangers as Americans do or heterosexual men walking hand in hand like Arabs do to braking the law or even putting oneself in danger like I did.
In my first year in the U.S., I once was shopping at Walmart (mega shopping center) very late at night when I noticed a group of teenagers, three boys and one girl, whispering and trying to approach me as if they want to talk to me. I stopped just to confirm my hunch. Three of them stepped away a little bit and one [brave] boy came closer to me with a $20 bill in his hand. He said “Sir, can you please buy us beer?” I of course replied “Sorry, I can’t.” I then heard the girl shouting at him “You can’t just ask a stranger.” Although, there is only one reason that made me say “no”, which is because it is against my religion to drink, buy or sell alcohol, I felt it is wrong because those kids were really young, not even 16 or 17. Also, thanks to my addiction to American sitcoms I know a lot about American culture even before I came to the U.S. I know that serving or buying alcohol to minors is illegal (21 is the legal drinking age in the U.S.).
Next, I am going to share a story that was the stupidest thing I have done because I acted out of kindness. My cultural intelligence at that time was definitely ZERO.
to be continued…