Cultural Differences – Observation #1

As I highlighted in my post “10 reasons to live abroad at least once in your life” cultural differences are one of the most interesting things about living in a different country. There are some things you barely notice and others that jump out right in front of you. In my “Cultural Differences” series I am going to attempt to capture some of these and how I have dealt or I am dealing with them.

Observation #1 – It’s Still a Man’s World in Asia

As much as it pained me to write the above it rings true around Asia. Now if you’re reading this and you’ve lived in Asia and are thinking, “no way,” “she’s crazy” or “what on earth is she talking about” that is fine. I am sharing this based on my experiences living and traveling around Asia. So don’t go all Charlie Sheen on me please!

I have always taken pride in the fact I am an extremely independent, strong woman. I have always stood on my own two feet and have made things happen for myself whether it is professionally or personally. No, it hasn’t always been perfect or easy, but I have done it. I am very proud of that fact actually. This little bit of information should give you an idea of why this particular cultural difference has been a hard pill for me to swallow.

Living in places like San Francisco for 6 years and Sydney for 4 years I found that women were treated equally for the most part. Yes you can argue it still isn’t a level playing field in the corporate workplace for women but that is an entirely different conversation we won’t get into today. What I am referring to is just the day-to-day living, how women are respected and treated the same as men. For example if you (a couple) walk into a hotel, restaurant or anywhere really, whoever greets you will generally look at both of you or engage both of you. That has just seemed to be the norm for years of my adult life. When I first started visiting Ozdane in Singapore I noticed quite quickly it wasn’t the same at all. First I thought it was just my imagination but after a few visits to different restaurants, bars, hotels and traveling to different places in Asia I knew it was the reality. I didn’t know how to handle it. It was foreign to me. It felt strange and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

What do I mean exactly? Here are some examples to help paint the picture:

#1 – Conversation at GNC in Singapore yesterday when I was buying some vitamins:

Clerk: Do you have a GNC membership?

Me: Yes the number is XXXXXXXX.

Clerk: Please enter your password.

Me: Done.

(Silence as he’s ringing up my purchase)

Clerk: Is this your husband’s account? (Ozdane is ALWAYS my husband in Asia. They wouldn’t even bother with boyfriend, partner or fiancé.)

Me: It is under my FIANCE’s name but it’s our account. Is that a problem?

Clerk: No OK. You are eligible for 35% off a purchase. Did you want to use that today or wait?

Me: Oh great! I will use it today please.

Clerk: (hesitates and looks at me) Will your husband mind if you use the discount today?

Me: No, my FIANCE won’t mind if I use it. He will be fine with it.

Clerk: Did you want to call him to make sure?

Me: (the lava inside me slowly bubbling up to the tip-top of my head) No, I don’t need to call him, thank you. He won’t care that I am using the discount today. It is OUR account.

Clerk: As long as you are sure. (with a doubtful look on his face)

Me: Yes, I am positive, thank you. (silently counting backwards from 10 in my head)

Now you can’t tell me that would happen over buying vitamins at GNC in the US can you? I have the account number and password so obviously I have the details. How many GNC accounts are getting hacked these days anyways?! Yes an easy and practical solution would be noting my name on the account, which we will be doing to avoid re-living this incident.

I came home, told Ozdane and we had a laugh. After all, what else can you do in these situations?

#2 – Checking into a hotel here in Asia the person at the reception desk will ALWAYS look at Ozdane, address him, ask him questions. They do this because he is the man, plain and simple. I practically have to interject with a comment or my own question to get them to even look at me. I’m not the type of person who wants/needs constant attention but come on, I’m not invisible either. I was thinking about that in contrast to our experience the other week when we arrived at our hotel in Sydney. Ozdane was still outside and I went to start checking us in. When Ozdane walked up the gentleman behind the desk and I were chatting away about the flight, weather, Singapore, you name it. We were both addressed when asked how long we were staying, if we were familiar with Sydney, etc. It was refreshing and I loved it. If anything he was chatting with me more about shopping, the spa and so on. Ozdane even mentioned he noticed it after we walked away. He said he did a double take when he walked up and we were chatting away because he too has become accustomed to this cultural difference here in Asia.

#3 – The man’s chair will be pulled out for him before the women’s chair (not always, but enough to notice.) This doesn’t apply to some high-end establishments we have been to though. I’d say more of the middle-of-the-road dining experiences. I can’t speak for everywhere in the world but I do know in the US the opposite is customary. I am not saying I am a princess who needs my chair pulled out for me every time I sit down so no judgment please! I am simply saying this is opposite to what I’d say most of us are accustomed to in terms of etiquette.

Something else I find funny along these lines is that I am almost always referred to as Mrs. Paterson. Of course I don’t mind the Mrs. Paterson part, as I am excited to become Mrs. Paterson sometime in the next year! Lucky girl I am! However, there is no consideration to the fact you may have your own name, not be married or maybe married but kept your last name. The funniest part is all my identification has my last name but it is like they completely ignore it. The first few Singapore Airlines flights we took together the flight attendants would always say, “What would you like for dinner Mrs. Paterson?” I’ve learned that sometimes it is easier to just smile politely than try to explain details living here. Ozdane always would look over and laugh. I think he secretly loved it! :)

Like I mentioned in my post “10 reasons to live abroad…” one of the most interesting parts of the experience is learning about different cultures. So everything I am describing is exactly that. I don’t get mad or upset about it but rather just accept it because I know that is just how it is here. It took some time for me to be OK with it but I am now. They don’t mean to be rude or offend you, it is just the norm.

Stay tuned for more posts on the little cultural differences I have picked up on living and traveling in Asia.


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