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Culture clash

Runa Rahman explores the experiences of young people from other cultures growing up in the UK.

Where are you from?

For many people, this question isn’t as easy as it sounds. If you live in Britain but your family comes from somewhere else, do you answer ‘Britain’ or your family’s country?

Many people feel like there is a part of us in both countries and to pick one country over another is to chip away at our identity. We belong to both countries, we belong to both cultures and because of this ‘sitting on the fence’ we may feel like we belong to neither. 

Religion is often intertwined with culture, and if we compare Western cultures to a culture where Islam is the predominant religion, there will be stark differences and apparent contradictions between them. For example, in some Islamic societies it is forbidden to shake hands with the opposite sex even if it is in a formal setting. However, in western culture, a handshake can denote a way of sealing a deal or  welcoming someone.

How do you think someone should handle a situation where they cannot shake the other persons hand due to their sex, but the other person’s hand is outstretched already and it may be an interview for a university or a job?

Clothing also often distinguishes a culture. Some may wear more traditional clothes at home and yet Western clothes outside, others may mix and match. Although fashion sometimes adopts ideas from other cultures, it may still be slightly awkward to wear a longi/macawis  (traditional male clothing) instead of jeans to a friendly setting. However, Western culture has trickled into societies abroad and where, women wearing trousers would have been unacceptable in some countries a few years ago, it is more common there nowadays.

To find out more about these different cultural experiences, I asked Mohammad, who was born in Djibouti but later brought up in Britain and Tahmina, who was born in Britain yet brought up according to her family's traditional Bangladeshi culture to talk about their lives.

How accepted do you think you would feel if you went back to live in the country your family came from?

  • Mohammad  'At first I wouldn't say that I'll be fully accepted within their social framework as I'm from "outside" and I don't think I would fully accept them either. I would probably be a bit more sceptical as to whom I'll class as a friend and who to trust, because most of the time the people that you don't know are only talking to you to become friends and take advantage of the fact that you’re from a first world country; you’re just a shining beacon of opportunity to them.
    However within the family and relative circles, I would have to say that there seemed to be a stronger sense community and I felt more secure and accepted because unlike the UK - where everyone is isolated within their own rooms doing their own things like browsing a computer or reading a book - I got to spend more time with my own family and I learnt a lot.'

  • Tahmina 'I won’t feel accepted as although I am originally from that country I do not fit in with their rules and regulations. I have been brought up in a different way with a completely different environment and everything will seem weird and different, forcing me to change the way I think and act in order to fit in.'

Which culture do  you relate to the most?

  • Mohammad 'There are some aspects of each tradition that I don't agree with - such as drinking and partying in Britain or the view that women don't have rights in Somalia. Personally I have a mixture of both - almost like a pick and mix if you like - butif I was pushed to state one culture it would have to be my own home country’s traditions as are they are largely influenced by my religion'

  • Tahmina 'A little bit of both. Mainly Western - although when I look at the Western clothing such as wearing a bikini on the beach, I would always think that was uncomfortable. However, my way of thinking is largely influenced by Western culture as the Asian culture can sometimes smother a person’s decision by blackmailing them with religion. Where in Western culture any decision is largely up to the individual, in the Asian culture it may filter down to choosing family over one’s own happiness in some cases.'

Which language do you think in?

  • Mohammad 'English.'

  • Tahmina 'English.'

Do you ever feel like you do not truly belong to either culture?

  • Mohammad 'Not at all, I believe that no matter how long you stay away from your motherland, you could always come back and relearn your traditions. It’s like if you take a duckling away from its family and raise it with a family of chickens it will not learn how to swim; however if you reintroduced it back to its original environment and family, in time - however long it maybe - the duck will learn how to swim again.
    English culture is exotic and very diverse. It is always changing and there are many new things we can learn from different cultures and diverse opinions. These can be combined into a set of social rules and morals that can judge whether your actions are acceptable or not.'

  • Tahmina 'Sometimes, as although I may find Western culture easier I will have to avoid aspects of it it due to my religion and there are aspects of Asian culture and people's thoughts about it that I dislike the culture. So - yes - I do sometimes feel that I don’t belong to either culture.'

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