What Circumstances Might Come Up Where You’ll See This Difference Between “Me” and “We” Rearing It’s Ugly Head?
1. As early on your first date, perhaps. You might ask her, in a gentlemanly attemptto express grace and generosity and good manners, “Where would you like to go for dinner?” That simple question shows your own cultural bias – that simple question comes from YOUR values — that you value her opinion as an individual.
When she giggles shyly, looks down, and says “up to you,” you’ll probably think she actually means that! And if she doesn’t eat a bite, you’ll be mystified at why she didn’t speak up in favor of another restaurant, unaware that it is her cultural bias to defer to the wishes of the group or more “powerful” individual – in this case, you.
2. If you become assertive about your own opinion to her, or in front of her friends or family. You could be in a social situation with her friends or her family, and say something as simple as “I think these dried shrimp are horrible, terrible, no-good nasty things! How on earth can you people eat them like popcorn?” in what to you is a normal, confident, manly tone of voice. That’s YOUR cultural bias – to express your opinion, stand firm on it, and defend it against all comers.
When she (and the other people) laugh, change the subject, or ignore you, you’ll probably be mystified. It’s HER cultural bias to avoid conflict in any form, and from that bias it’s good manners to keep your opinion to yourself, or avoid the confrontation entirely bysimply eating something else to maintain harmony within the group.
3. When (not if!) her relatives ask you “personal” questions. You might feel like it’s horribly rude when her mother or her aunt ask you bluntly “How much money do you make?” You’ll feel “violated,” – maybe even get visibly uncomfortable. That’s YOUR cultural bias – it’s private, and you have an absolute right to your privacy.
When she (or her relatives) press you for what you consider to be “private” information about yourself, that’s HER cultural bias – as part of the group, there is truly no such thing as privacy!
4. If she asks you for money for gifts or help for her family. This is where Thai women earn a really bad “rap” – Westerners simply don’t understand the deep cultural difference at work here. It’s YOUR culture to assume that others, particularly older family members, can take care of themselves. Not only that, you consider it “rude” or worry that she’s taking advantage of you when she asks for financial help!
When she asks you directly for money, or tells you that her father is sick or her mother could use a new stove or her uncle needs to replace his motorbike, it’s HER culture to assume that you will help them – cheerfully and willingly! After all, you’re now part of her “group” and that’s what people do!
5. When you want some quiet time alone with yourself. You, as a Western man, may need to take some time to pursue your own hobby, your own interests, or just sit and watch a football game or boxing match on TV. It’s YOUR cultural bias to assume that everyone needs to spend some time alone. It keeps you sane, balanced, and healthy.
When she “invades your man-cave,” chattering away while you’re trying to adjust the carburetor or interrupts your TV time to ask if you want to eat, it’s HER cultural bias to assume you need company. After all, you need to be with the group to be sane, balanced and healthy.
In a “Me” Culture Like Yours…
In a “We” Culture Like Hers…
|You were raised to take care only of yourself and your immediate (nuclear) family||She was born into an extended family who will always protect her in exchange for loyalty|
|Your identity is based on who you are as an individual||Her identity is based on the family group or social network to which she belongs|
|Speaking your mind is a characteristic of an honest person||Harmony should always be maintained and direct confrontations avoided|
|You are expected to act on your own behalf||She is expected to act in the interests of her “group” and powerful others|
|You are expected to have your own opinion||Her opinions are driven by the “group” she belongs to|
|Your individual interests prevail over collective interests||Collective interests prevail over her individual interests|
|The purpose of your education is to learn how to “learn”||The purpose of her education is to learn how to “do”|
|Diplomas increase your economic worth and/or self-respect||Diplomas increase her status and allow her (and her group) to enter higher status groups|
|Your relationship with your boss (or employees) is a contract based on mutual advantage||Her relationship with her boss (or employees) is perceived in moral terms, like a family link|
|Hiring and promotion decisions are supposed to be based on your skills and rules only||Hiring and promotion decisions take her “in-group” into account|
|You have (and everyone else has) a right to privacy||The group has the right to invade her (and everyone else’s)private life|
|The highest goal of your life is self- actualization||The highest goal of her life is harmony and consensus in society|
What to do When “Me” and “We” Collide
When these cultural biases for the individual versus the group crash into each other (and they will!), what will help you most is something easy to say but difficult to do: become aware that it’s not personal!
Since you’re coming from a background where expressing yourself and your own opinion is natural, healthy, and right – and she’s coming from a culture where expressing herself and her own opinion is unnatural, unhealthy, and wrong – the burden is on you to be self-aware. And from that place of self- awareness, express yourself gently, calmly, and lightly.
Tell her about your awareness of the differences between you. Show her you respect her concern for the group, by not being too aggressive or forceful when you communicate. Express how much you appreciate her desire to “not make waves” and her concern for your well-being.
And oh so gently declare your “boundaries.” Explain about the concept of privacy –that you are uncomfortable discussing some things in public. Help her understand that your desire to spend time alone doesn’t mean you’re angry or unhappy with her. Set limits about how much money you have available to help her family. Encourage her to ask for what she wants, express her opinion, or take time for herself – and reassure her that doing so will not upset you, make you angry, or make you care less for her. Awareness, patience, and calm are the attitudes that will help you most!
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