What do you think of the Asian culture

what is the human?

"The British ambassador had arrived in Tehran a few days before us and his reception was as splendid as an unbelieving dog could expect from our prophet's lieutenant ... but when it came to etiquette, trouble arose endlessly."

An incident described by James Morier in the "Adventures of Hajji Baba from Isfahan", which could have happened like this or similar.

"He really was the most stubborn of mortals. First of all, it was about the seating arrangement. On the day of his audience with the Shah, the ambassador refused to sit on the floor. He insisted on a chair that could only be that far - and by no means further - from the Shah's throne. Next, he refused to take off his shoes ... The third point was his headgear. He announced that he would take off his hat when bowing to the Shah. He was not dissuaded from that when he was pointed out that it was a great impropriety to bare your head in front of the Shah."

As a diplomat, James Morier lived in Persia at the beginning of the 19th century, where he may have made his own experiences with the foreign culture. Today's diplomats are very familiar with the etiquette of their host country. But to really understand another culture, it is not enough to know about its "etiquette".

Psychologists have interviewed hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, biologists have looked for reasons for cultural differences in human evolution and made them visible with images from the brain. They all come to the same conclusion over and over again: Culture shapes our thinking, our perception - even our feelings much more strongly than previously assumed.

"Culture is the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes one group of people from another."

"So it's a concept that works at the group level. So it's not a concept that differentiates one person from another."

Geert and Gertjan Hofstede are father and son. Geert Hofstede was probably the first to systematically record the differences between cultures decades ago. It took ten years for the social psychologist to define his results under the name of "cultural dimensions". Sociologists and ethnologists are still working with them. In the meantime, however, Geert Hofstede's son Gertjan has also made an important contribution to understanding culture. He is a biologist and professor at the University of Wageningen:

"I have now come to believe that culture is a biological adaptation. Culture is part of our nature. Every human group needs culture in order to solve the problems that it is confronted with."

In essence, all the problems that societies struggle with are the same. How should one resolve conflicts? How to deal with the resources or organize the relationship between the sexes? Clarifying these questions is vital for any society. It finds expression in a very specific culture. A human society without culture is not possible at all. It becomes all the more difficult when people switch from one culture to another.

"When I was six and had finished first grade, we went to Holland first because Indonesia was originally a Dutch crown colony and my father was looking for a job there and couldn't find anything. Because of that, he tried to do something in Germany and that worked out pretty quickly. And where he got his first job - in Viersen - we settled down. "

Linda Hardjanegara-Jauw is unsure why her parents left Indonesia. As a child, she missed the lush green, bright sunlight and bright colors of her home. She couldn't understand what drew her parents to gray Germany. There are several stories about this in the family. The father hoped for better prospects in his profession as a doctor in Germany. The family also belonged to the Chinese minority and were discriminated against in Indonesia. She hadn't really belonged there already. Linda Hardjanegara-Jauw:

"Besides me and my siblings, there was another pair of siblings, who were also Asian, they were Koreans. Otherwise there were no or few Asians in this small town. And if you ever hear something like 'Chinese, Chinese, egghead with cheese' and 'Ching Chang Chong, shit in a box' and not just once but several times, then you feel that it is discriminatory. At that moment you just want to be like the others and you don't know why you are not allowed to do that and can. "

Who does it belong to? And who is not? Geert Hofstede believes that it is about symbols, heroes, rituals and values. Only those who know them are part of it. Linda Hardjanegara-Jauw:

"When I was around twelve years old, the first tea parties started, and spaghetti Bolognese was absolutely in, and I didn't even know what it was and everyone was looking at me as if I came from the moon and I wanted to But not to admit that I didn't know that. But then it was noticed when I was asked if you wanted Parmesan and I didn't even know what that was. And so, oh yes. that I didn't know any of this. "

At home, Linda's parents still live in the Sino-Indonesian culture, which has its own symbols, heroes and rituals.

"For example, when I was younger, I always addressed my parents in the third person. So I never said," Can you give me the butter ", but rather" Can mommy give me the butter ". But over the years it has changed that changes. Now I'm using you too. "

Symbols and rituals of a culture can easily change, but not the values, what is perceived as good or bad, normal or abnormal, beautiful or ugly. Even children adopt the values ​​of their parents and their culture. In the course of time they appear almost natural. Cultures can differ extremely in their values. In Germany, for example, divorce is a completely normal matter, in countries like Egypt or India it is considered a shame. Breaking away from the values ​​of one's own culture is extremely difficult. Linda Hardjanegara-Jauw

"It's somehow also very typical that one perceives the Asian itself as inferior, for example all Asian women emulate the Western ideal of beauty. So it's nice to have a straight nose and not a flat nose. And big eyes are just beautiful and high cheekbones are not nice. So it is also typically Asian that you feel inferior to yourself and everything that comes from the west is of higher quality. "

April 1945: The German troops withdraw from the Netherlands. The soldiers repeatedly confiscate bicycles in order to move faster. In 2009, 64 years later, the parish priest of Nijkerk received a letter. In it, a former soldier asks to find the owner of a bicycle that was leaning against the church walls in 1945. The writer of the letter had taken it and wanted to make amends.

This story illustrates how we define the boundaries of our cultural group and how they can shift over time. People form a so-called moral circle. Within this circle there are moral rules that all group members adhere to. Outside the circle, these rules do not apply. In 1945, when the soldier stole the bicycle, the Dutch were not part of his moral circle for him. Over the years, however, this soldier has reflected on what had happened and also broadened his moral circle in the process. Geert Hofstede:

"We are born, and in the first few years of our life we ​​learn exactly the things that we need for cultural life. And then it is puberty, then it changes, then we are completely culturally programmed and we take that with us . We always carry that with us. "

Geert Hofstede has defined the fundamental aspects in which "cultural programming" can differ. He developed the "cultural dimensions" after evaluating a survey of 116,000 IBM employees.

"The first thing that came out was how to deal with power, with violence."

In every society, even in simple hunter-gatherer cultures, there are power differences. The power distance index shows how a society deals with this unequal distribution of power. Even in Europe there are clear differences, as the story of Jean Baptiste Bernadotte shows.

"Because the Swedish nobles considered their own king to be completely incompetent, they asked the French general Jean Baptiste Bernadotte to become their king. He consented and gave his first speech in broken Swedish. This only caused roaring laughter from his audience After that, the French never spoke a word of Swedish again. "

Historians report how difficult it - for the French - Bernadotte found it to get used to the egalitarian Swedish society, in which even a king could be laughed at. But power distance is only one of at least five cultural dimensions. The avoidance of uncertainty is also particularly noticeable. How willing is the willingness to take risks and live without guarantees? In many poorer regions, the avoidance of uncertainty is only weakly pronounced, in contrast, very large in industrialized affluent societies such as Germany. Linda Hardjanegara-Jauw:

"But when you are back in Indonesia, for example, and look at it, the life of an individual is not worth that much, like here, here it is really worth a lot. And it is not worth that much there. I once said that I almost drowned in the floods and everyone didn't think it was that bad. It's just not that bad. Here we almost live in pampers and cotton wool. And there people can relax in the uncertainty, and take one by one the things that are to come. "

Another cultural dimension: the masculinity or femininity of a society. In masculine societies, competition and competition are very important. The stronger wins. In feminine societies, on the other hand, peaceful solutions that do justice to all parties are sought after in conflicts. Perhaps the most interesting cultural dimension is how much a culture tends towards individualism or collectivism. So much has not been written about any other of Hofstede's cultural dimensions. The United States is proven to be the most individualistic culture. Gertjan Hofstede compares the people in such a culture with the molecules of a gas, which individually float around freely, collide with each other and then fall apart again. Collectivist cultures like China are different. Gertjan Hofstede:

"In a collectivist culture, people are like atoms in a crystal, they have a fixed place, they can't move, they have duties that come with their place."

Linda Hardjanegara-Jauw: "For example, when I get on the bus or wait on the bus, I feel the others as others and I don't talk to them now, whereas when I am in Indonesia and wait for the bus, then I am talking you immediately, because we have something in common, we are waiting for the bus together. "

When Geert Hofstede published his study results on the cultural dimensions in the early 1980s, he was repeatedly criticized. He was accused of being based solely on questioning IBM employees and that they were not necessarily representative of their culture. In the meantime, however, several other large studies have confirmed the existence of the cultural dimensions. And new ones have even been added.

"The dimensions also depend on the questions you asked. If you don't ask, you won't get an answer. When we worked with a questionnaire made by Chinese scholars, we found that there was another dimension We called it long-term between short-term orientation. In the long term, the Chinese, who always think generations ahead and generations back, are: 'We are in a line of generations.' And the United States is pretty short-term. A career depends on being able to make a profit in three months, and the Chinese think in ten years. "

According to Geert Hofstede, the fact that China thinks in the long term could lead to the country getting its environmental problems under control. The increasing wealth of the People's Republic also affects the cultural dimensions. Gertjan Hofstede:

"National cultures change under environmental influences. For example ecological factors. If a country can no longer feed the people, then the culture changes because the people die. Wealth has a lot to do with it. When a country gets richer, it changes the culture. The fastest culture change we saw was in Korea. Korea was a country that got rich faster than anyone else. But conditions changed too. They brought a former president to court. Well a complete change in values, so that the people who always had the power came to justice, and that has to do with the fact that the country has become so much richer, the education has become so much better and the people have become more critical And that Korean culture is a feminine culture where you try to solve problems peacefully. "

The cultural dimensions developed by Geert and Gertjan Hofstede help to better understand the differences between cultures. But how deeply do these cultural differences affect people's everyday thinking and perception? Can different thought patterns be demonstrated in people from different cultures? This is exactly what brain researcher and philosopher Georg Northoff studied at the University of Ottawa in Canada. After studying Eastern and Western philosophy, it struck him that there is obviously a very different conception of the human self in Asia than in the West.

"In Western culture, the self is always viewed as an entity that is independent of its context. This is how the 'self' was understood in Western culture, and that goes back a long time in philosophy. In Asia, they have a completely different concept of the self. There the self consists primarily in a relationship to the mother, to the parents and then also to the wider social context. This means that the self is understood as an entity in the European-Anglo-American region and as a relationship in the Asian region. "

Georg Northoff started with a first experiment. While they were in an MRI scanner, it showed Western and Asian test subjects pictures of faces and pictures of houses.

"When test subjects see faces, for example, facial perception is in the corresponding facial center of the brain - that is a certain region in the brain that is specifically responsible for the perception of faces - that is much more activated in Westerners' faces than in Chinese and Japanese test persons, who tend to look at the face in context. In return, other brain regions such as the visual cortex are more strongly activated in Asians than in Europeans. "

For Europeans or Canadians, faces are something special. They have their own brain area responsible for this. Asians also put faces into context. Experts like Georg Northoff now assume that the fundamentally different self-concepts of cultures are behind it: In the West, people think more analytically. One concentrates on individual dominant features, divides the world into its individual parts. Asians, on the other hand, tend to think holistically. They perceive the big picture and give the relationship between objects and people more importance than dominant details. Northoff:

"My self-experience is like the glasses of how I perceive the world and also perceive the other. If I experience myself more in an individualistic sense, this also affects my perception of the other person and also my relationship to the other person and then vice versa Of course, too. And that's how certain cultural patterns come about. "

A study carried out by Ying Zhu from Beijing University shows how differently Asians define themselves. She also asked American and Chinese students into the MRI machine. A number of adjectives appeared on a monitor - for example "childish", "wild" or "brave". The subjects were then asked to indicate whether an adjective applied to them or not. The result was in line with expectations: in the cerebral cortex, those brain areas were active in all test subjects that the researcher knew beforehand that they were related to self-perception. In the next round, the test subjects had to state whether the adjectives applied to a person who was unfamiliar to them. For the American students it was President Bill Clinton, for the Chinese it was ex-head of state Rongji Zhu. This time the "self-regions" in the brain remained inactive in all students. It got exciting in the last round. The question now was whether or not the adjectives applied to one's own mother.The Chinese test subjects showed almost the same activation patterns as in the self-assessment. The Americans, on the other hand, reacted like a stranger. For Ying Zhu, the experiments only allow one conclusion: for the Chinese, the mother is more or less part of the self. That is why judgments about them trigger the same brain activation. In the strongly individualistic USA, on the other hand, the ego is primarily defined by demarcation, and this demarcation is evidently made by American students towards their mother.

"The heart of perfect wisdom
Form is nothing but emptiness, and emptiness is nothing but form.
Form is identical to emptiness and emptiness is identical to form.
And so it is with sensation
Perception, mental power of form and consciousness.

Sariputra!
All things are really empty.
Nothing arises and nothing perishes.
Nothing is unclean, nothing is pure.
Nothing increases and nothing decreases.
In the void there is no form, no sensation, perception, mental power of form and no consciousness, no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body or mind;
there is nothing to see, hear, smell, taste, feel or think
no ignorance and also no end of ignorance,
"

The Heart Sutra - a central text of Buddhism. It should make it clear that only the dissolution of the ego leads to the redemption of suffering and thus to enlightenment. Buddhist monks try to achieve this goal in many hours of meditation. It is also worth striving for in the Buddhist culture of Tibet.

"Both groups have one thing in common - that they don't emphasize the self so much, but that they abstract from the self and come into a state of not-self. They want to focus on their own ego, try to detach themselves from it - and have them accordingly these subjects, the Tibetans and the Buddhist monks showed much less activation in precisely those regions that are related to their own self. "

So it is not only possible to demonstrate different self-concepts in the brain. The extent of the ego can also be seen in the activation of the brain.

"I don't feel like I belong to either one or the other. So when someone says: 'Oh, you're completely German.' Yes, then I think: 'Well, OK, if you think so, then I'm completely German.' And someone else says: 'You are completely Indonesian.' I like: 'Yeah, OK, good.' But I am neither one nor the other. So that creates a conflict because I don't feel like one or the other. That is a conflict in the sense that one has no roots like others. But it is at the same time a great advantage because you have the greatest freedom. "

Linda Hardjanegara-Jauw has always given her life a different direction. As befits an Asian woman, she initially met her family's expectations and studied dentistry. But she was never really happy with this job. Eventually she went to the United States and studied film there. For a while she worked as a freelance filmmaker. She now addresses her experiences with two cultures in her art. One of her works is an object made from prayer beads from various religions: a rosary, just like a Buddhist mala, has 108 pearls.

"In my work it's a mixture. The aesthetics are definitely Asian. But the structure and the conception in there is definitely something that comes from the West. Concept-making in general is something that is completely alien in the East , I think. The way in which concepts are understood in the West is really strange and that is something that I have acquired in the West, the concept-making. "

The differences between cultures are often the first thing that catches your eye. The similarities are much greater. At least that's what someone who ought to know believes: Christoph Antweiler is an ethnologist at the University of Bonn and has studied a wide variety of cultures. He has summarized his experiences in a book. It is called "Heimat Mensch" and is about what we all have in common.

"If you just see that we are here in Cologne, we have certain experiences in how we treat relatives, respectful relationships, age differences, and so on. And when we go to Indonesia now, at first glance we see huge differences that, for example, old people are generally respected much more. But if we then look a little deeper, then we see similarities and we are sitting here in Cologne, we think of Cologne clique culture-specific forms, which, by the way, could also be examined ethnologically, but the phenomenon of relative favoritism can be found in all cultures of the world. One could say metaphorically: patterns in diversity. There is a cultural diversity that is incredibly large, but there are certain ones Patterns and also limits of diversity. "

In fact, there are things that are handled similarly in every culture. Antweiler:

"Example sexuality: There were always the theses: 'There are cultures' - and there were always dreams connected with - 'cultures in which sexuality is completely free.' Ethnologists have looked for a long time and they haven't found it. And they won't find it either. "

The brain researcher and philosopher Georg Northoff deals with cultures at the brain level. But the more he deals with the cultural differences, the more the similarities catch his eye.

"The content that we have is different. The religious content is different in Asian cultures than in Western cultures. The content of relationships, the content of perception, the content of one's own self are different in different cultures. But these terms still appear - the concept of self, the concept of the environment, the concept of perception - in all these cultures. So there is a certain uniformity. Once you have this conception, then you cannot say that this cultural content is higher than that. There is a certain freedom from values. "

At the moment, however, completely different theses are popular in this country: "Germany is abolishing itself". Thilo Sarrazin fears the decline of our culture. In doing so, however, he does not rely on facts, but uses xenophobia with skillful rhetoric, i.e. the fear of everything foreign that resides deep in people. Gertjan Hofstede also explains Sarrazin's success with the structure of our culture.

"Germany has a risk society. The culture is masculine and avoids insecurity. That means that it is often possible for politicians to make themselves popular with xenophobic statements. And that makes it even more important that Angela Merkel and other people in leadership positions themselves Put it against it. People don't feel good because they don't know, our moral circle is still good. If there is strong leadership in Germany and also with a heart - then I think this is very necessary now so that people feel better so they don't embrace that stupid 'foreigners out' rhetoric that would be very bad for Germany and not for Holland either. "

Change is vital for a culture. A culture that statically insists on what has been valid for hundreds of years cannot last. Immigrants bring new influences that may sometimes create problems, but can also help in the further development of a culture. Gertjan Hofstede:

"That is also a law, one could say, of evolution. When something new happens, a crisis very often, then evolution can find a new direction. If nothing happens, evolution does not come out on a path that it already does has been received. "

Linda Hardjanegara-Jauw: "The way we think is just a corset that is imposed on us at a very young age. We grow up with a corset, and at some point we no longer perceive the corset as a corset, because we we are so used to it that we perceive it as our second skin. So that is so that we think we already identify with it. But basically it is a corset, but when you recognize it as a corset and take it off at some point , only then is it possible to communicate with others. "