Cultural differences

Individualism and family ties

11:48 AM

Summer haze on hiatus!

My fellow blogger just wrote a post today that I felt inspired by read it here, she raised the topic of family care in the US. She had a couple of people commenting how cruel we are in the west not taking care of elders and having no family values. This is actually a common stereotype many Indians have about people living in the West, and no they make no distinction of culture and country, the WEST is one big mean entity filled with evil and sexy corrupted girls running in their underwear stealing money from their too soon divorced husband and young people locking their elderly parents away…if that was so simple!

What those Indians going strong on the nasty family values and too individualistic nature of the Western world often fail to understand is that just because it’s culturally different from what you grew up used to doesn’t make it evil, because then boy oh boy I could go on and on about things around here too and fall into the stereotype and bashing game they often submit my fellow westerner.

So let’s talk Western culture for a moment shall we? We’ve been blamed of being individualistic in nature like it was a disease rather than a positive thing, mostly because we live in nuclear families and enjoy the hard earned fruit of our labour instead of supporting elders. First, just because we don’t support elders the way it is done in India doesn’t mean there is no support at all. In Switzerland every working citizen give a chunk of their income into a national pension plan called “AVS”, it’s withdrawn at the source by the employer and paid to the national fund. The money taken to working people serves to pay the pension of those who are retired right now, when the working citizen retire the national pension fund will calculate how many years that person worked and paid the “premium” and pay him that money back, money that will be given by the next generation of working people. The system has one flaw because right now my generation still pays for senior citizens that never contributed to the fund because it’s got introduced a few decades ago. People have less kids nowadays and the unemployment rate is higher, meaning that when my generation retires there will be less people in their youth working to fund us. not that it is the whole point here, the point being that even if we don’t look like we are supporting the elderly we actually do, just because people in India don’t know the depht of the system abroad doesn’t mean we are insensitive cruel individualistic people.
Because if you want to talk nasty individualism, I’ve seen some in India, where people take the law into their own hand to serve them personally and nobody else, decide that for some reason they are entitled to bigger windows in a high rise building they can just alter the outer structure of the building to suits them 9if you don’t believe me go see what the phase 2 of the NRI complex in Navi Mumbai looks like, it’s dreadful), and that because they perceive themselves of higher social status or caste or possibly both they can just push through a crowd, litter and inconvenience everybody else. That my dear is evil individualism, and yes it occurs in India, so much for being better than the West you point your finger at huh? In fact I am willing to bet that those who travelled abroad saw much more civism, and cleanliness and respect for the common good there than here, but we are diverting from the topic of family ties and I don’t want to engage in a West vs India match in matter of individualism.

I remember being in a discussion with my sister in law in Delhi once, about college education and how in Switzerland and yes in US even more than in my home land kids WORK to pay their tuition fees. She commented it was unfair and that parents must bear the full cost. Sure in India this is how it is done, there are child pans, savings and parents having different priorities. That doesn’t make the West cruel. The culture is different, and it starts with the whole school system. India has a school system more focused on learning fact as such by heart and repeating them in the exam, it’s a very result oriented system. The system in many a European country is more focused on HOW the kid reached the result, they want to see how the child thought and figured out the answer, and encourage kids to think outside the box to get to it. No one system is better than the other, in fact if you want a something superior you should blend the western system with the Indian one equally. But that doesn’t change the fact that kids are given independence to think on their own and manage by themselves, and that includes parents making their offspring financially responsible early too. Allowances are usually given at an early age, and what falls under the personal management of the child with said allowance along with it. Generally it starts with a few Swiss francs a week to buy you own trinkets and candies, when you run out of money, parents don’t foot the bill for more candies, so you learn to set your priorities “Do I really need to buy so many candies when they prevent me from buying my favourite comic book?” As kids grow so does the allowance, and so does the responsibilities, that’s when you start realising that no mom and dad will not buy you that 50CHF doll, but that if you manage your money the right way you might be able to get it in 2-3 months, or less if you offer to help do the chores around the house and get an incentive. Now don’t go telling me that it is evil to tell your kids that everything has a price and that one must work for it? It is also perceived that we are all rich in the West, what those uttering these words do not realise is that the cost of life is higher, and we are obligated to pay loads of social insurances straight out of our gross income before it hits our bank account. In the State of Geneva when I was working that was 10% taken at the source, and then there is still 20-30% that goes into income tax (I don’t remember the exact figure, I was a minimal wager so exempted from income tax), you also are compelled to have a private medical insurance, and a civil insurance (covering any accidental damage you might cause to others). Each member in your household has to have their own medical insurance with a separate premium. Once you paid all the bills, there isn’t much left for frivolities. Beside most parents and grandparents open a saving account for their kiddos that cannot be touched until they turn 18, so some of the money is there to pay for college, but it’s never enough, and one need to work…that’s how it works in the West, it’s different, not cruel and insensitive.


Then there is the still hot topic of senior citizens, as already stated, we support them even if is not obvious. And some people in India call us mean monsters for putting our parents in retirement homes. First thing first NOT all senior citizens are in homes, many still live in their own home and function well. And all the senior citizens I know who went to a retirement home did so out of free will. They want to go because they feel they can’t function alone and want to be in the company of peers and not have to worry about cooking meals and have medical personnel on site, have activities planned for them the whole day long and enjoy their golden years to the fullest possible. And they know it would not be fair to ask their kids to work all day to support them and then cook and entertain them in the evening, beside many elders are fully aware that even if you close your eyes really hard you will not make the generation gap go away, in a retirement homes they get to be with people born in the same era, who know what the great depression was like, how WW2 affected them personally, and nobody can blame them or their kids for allowing them to be among like minded peers, just try fitting in a place where you don’t get any sense of belonging, even if you have your kids with you.

When DH was on assignment in  Switzerland in 2008 he told me many time how amazing it looked to him to see senior citizens out in the world, going swimming, socialising, going to cafes, joining book clubs, going on bus excursions with people their age, not letting a thing such as a walking cane confine them home.
he was particularly amazed by my maternal Grand mother who is turning 82 this year, who suffered a massive pancreas inflammation in 2005 along with the removal of a cancerous tumour on the kidney, and has mild heart problem and Parkinson, a widow still living on her own, still cooking, doing grocery shopping, meeting her friends at the cafe daily, going for a long walk everyday, going on mini trips with a cousin several times a year, playing cards, scrabble and reading. She never let her age dictate what she could do or not do, and certainly not health issues tell her she was too old. Same with the mother of one of my friend he saw still going for a swim in her pool ever morning and tending to her garden the whole day at 85, this lady lives in her own house next door to her daughter…so much for Westerner not living near their parents huh?
He hasn’t met my other Grand Ma who is also turning 82 this year, and was still skiing in her 60’s until she broke her leg, but she still goes to the municipal pool in the Summer to swim a mile a day, goes on excursions with her friends, tend to her vegetable garden, play cards, go to cafe, do all of her cooking and household chores alone. She has one son in Portugal, one living in the next town and my dad who is right now in New Zealand enjoying his own retirement touring the world on his sailboat, he has been at it since 2007 and it has been his life long dream to do so, he saved his whole life for this one trip, not letting age dictate anything either, granted he got an earl retirement for being in the police corps for 30 years.
To DH it sounded amazing, because in his own family and the India he knew, people start complaining they are old at 60 and use it as an excuse to stay home and do nothing, or limit their trips or to start planning living with a son in another city even if they hate the idea of leaving their city, simply because they are over 60. Never mind they are over 60 and in the pink of health and not a single aliment in sight. In the India he grew up in he was left to think you are old at 60 and need support at all cost, and that you can’t go travelling the world anymore. To him it was an eye opener as to how it is perceived we treat our elders in the west and how it really is.  He will tell you that thinking one is old at 60 is now idiotic enough.

So just because we do things in the West, doesn’t mean we are cruel, heartless value less people, each society function differently, and one must adapt to it, so let’s put this stereotype about westerners not caring for their family shall we?

4 comments

  1. There are two types of people in this world...Indians and westerners....lol. At least that's what I hear a lot. The west is a big place - over 200 countries that a lot of Indians don't recognize are all very different. Many Indians seem convinced that they are somehow above the rest of humanity but that's just not true. The things that happen in other countries, happen here too. I know some old Indian women that live alone in their old age here. Their children aren't caring for them. Just because they don't have nursing homes in India doesn't make them evil but it's hard to get some Indians to understand that.

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  2. Yeah so many imagine the West is all the same and that even though I am from Switzerland I am following American culture...so far from the truth, in fact each country in Europe has a very distinct and different culture, just France and Switzerland which are neighbour don't have the same culture at all, and don't get me started of cultural differences between French speaking states and german speaking one in Switzerland, if you are from abroad you might not even know that such a tiny country could have that much cultural differences between regions. Pretty much the same as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have a lot of cultural differences and that South India and North India differ in so many way too.

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  3. An interesting article indeed. We Indians, are sometimes one of the biggest hypocrites. We tend to make jokes about dark-skinned people. We call our own brethren from the NorthEast as Chinkies. We make fun of special needs people. We make fun of vertically-challenged people. And worst thing is we dont mind doing that.
    But, as soon as a so-called Westerner does the same, we are foremost to get hurt and would not stop until and unless, an apology is provided.

    It was an interesting article indeed because though I knew about the social welfare system, got an even more better insight through your article.

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  4. Thank you for your comment.
    Yes indeed hypocrisy is the word, the notion of racism is also something sketchy, I had Indians tell me that when people in markets quote 5 times the regular price for a good to a foreigner or try to rip them off on an Auto fare simply based on the assumption that light skin = foreigner and foreigner = rich that actually isn't racism at all, this is...Opporunity taking to make more money but then should they be assumed to be criminals or terrorists aat the custom in the US then that is pure racism...never mind that both cases are racism in the first place since in both case an assumption is made based on skin colour. I quit trying to explain that a long time ago :(

    Beside if I dare pointing out that racism is perpetuated by some Indians, I'm called racist for suggesting such a thing.

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