The Chicago Files

A CANADIAN EXPAT'S EXPERIENCES AND OBSERVATIONS LIVING IN THE WINDY CITY!

Cultural Norms

It’s Saturday morning, and that means I am graciously staring out at Lake Michigan with a jumbo-sized coffee mug within reach, and thinking about this past week’s moments.

It’s interesting to me that a lot of my most thought-provoking moments seem to occur on the train or in grocery stores.  I have yet to figure out why this is so; nonetheless, I do have a ‘grocery store tale’ for you this morning!

After yet another hurried day, I stopped by my local grocery store to pick up a few things for supper (ah yes, a Canadian term which, when used here in the US, is often met with, “You mean ‘dinner’, right?”).  I noticed a young East Indian woman standing behind me, holding a bouquet of flowers.

Now at this juncture in my grocery store story, I must point out that my Canadian DNA kicked into high gear; that is, I turned around and said to the woman, “Oh please, go in front of me, you only have one item.”  It is the norm (and quite frankly considered rude NOT to offer the ‘line-jump’ to someone behind you if they only have one or two items and you are sporting a myriad of foodstuffs).  With hesitation, she moved in front of me, flowers in tow.

But what she did next made me immediately realize that my intention of kindness was not received as such.  After placing the flowers on the ‘belt’ (is that whey they call it?) she quickly grabbed the bunch and moved back behind me to her original place in line.

shopping-cartoon-4

I had never experienced this before; you know, doing something kind for a stranger only to have it ‘refused’ for lack of a better term.  I wasn’t sure if I had unknowingly insulted this woman, or heaven knows what I had inadvertently done without purpose.

I felt an explanation was in order.  I turned around to her and gently said, “I’m from Canada and we always feel it is the polite thing to do to let someone go in front of us when they are only carrying an item or two.”  With a slight smile of understanding she replied, “It is nice to meet you.”

Here is what I learned from this seemingly unimportant occurrence.  It is so incredibly important to have empathy and mindfulness when it comes to the cultural norms and values of others.  There was a complete disconnect of understanding between me and this young woman.  I thought I was doing something nice; you know, it’s the “Canadian way” to be helpful and kind.  The young woman might have taken my gesture as controlling or inappropriate because I am older than she is, and perhaps moving in front of someone older than yourself in this circumstance is considered rude.

I find this utterly fascinating that neither one of our thoughts was ‘wrong’.  There was no need for feelings of ‘wrong-doing’.  Isn’t it interesting that we become so incredibly accustomed to our own cultural norms; however, it is only when we experience a different gesture or action from a culture other than our own that we have a realization of different ‘norms’ in the world.  In other words, we simply act in what we call our, ‘normal’ roles, and only truly identify that which we see as ‘normal’ when compared with other cultures.  This is our ‘normal’, and perhaps someone else has their ‘normal’.  What we need to remember is that neither ‘normal’ is wrong or incorrect.  Doesn’t it make sense for us to see the similarities of thought?  I see my grocery store invite as the ‘right’ thing to do literally as much as the young woman sees it as the ‘wrong’ thing to do.  The similarity is that both are the ‘norm’ to each person.

Norms We know there are misunderstandings that take place around our culturally diverse planet every minute of the day.  I wonder what it would look like if we began to hook into the fact that our views might be different, but what we call them are really the same thing (i.e. my normal, my values, my culture).

Am I going to let someone else holding a lone box of butter go in front of me at the grocery store?  Most definitely.  Will I be insulted if they choose to wait behind me whilst I have my cavalcade of cookies and such move down the belt towards the cashier?  No, I won’t.  I’ll simply smile and provide them with a ‘maple leaf moment’.  “Hi, I’m from Canada and…………………..”

Be Polite

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34 thoughts on “Saturday Serenity: Canadian Cultural Courtesy

  1. Don says:

    Beautiful way of thinking Cher.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Well hello, Don!! It is wonderful to hear from you!! I hope all is well with you and Jane in the UK! Why thank you so much; I really appreciate your thoughtful words as always! Cher xo

      Like

      1. Don says:

        Thanks Cher. Yes we are pretty well settled now. Bought a home in a little village called Eccles in the beautiful County of Kent. We moved in about two weeks ago after living in London for about a year. Very happy and just love the UK.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. seaangel4444 says:

        Ah, that is brilliant news, Don! I have never heard of Eccles; I shall have to look it up and see what I am certain is a gorgeous place. I’m so glad you love the UK!! I know it was a culture shock when you first moved there! Cher xo

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Don says:

        Thanks Cher.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. We do that here too. Let someone ahead with a handful of items or if they have a young child etc. We say supper and dinner too and we could each use a different term but could be on the same Street. It is funny how culture works! !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Well hello my dear and thank you so much for stopping by, “The Chicago Files”! Oh do you? That is wonderful to hear! It is funny how culture works, isn’t it? Cher xo

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great story and a beautiful way to deal with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Why thank you so much, Hilary! I really appreciate your (always) thoughtful words! Hello from Chicago!! Cher xo

      Like

  4. I agree with you Cher and it is very difficult to know, which rules to follow, when we meet other cultures. I see this very often here in Spain too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Thanks, Irene! Oh is it? Then you know precisely what I mean! It is easy to be ‘offended’ by something we aren’t sure about; however, I think it does everyone good if we do not allow ourselves to jump to conclusions! Cher xo

      Liked by 1 person

  5. John says:

    I routinely allow others with fewer items to go first, have for years. When my sister and I were kids my mother always called the evening meal Supper. We have more in common than you think it seems. ❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Well you are Scottish, and I am of Scottish heritage on both sides of my family! I wonder if that is where it comes from, John? 🙂 Cher xo

      Liked by 1 person

      1. John says:

        Not sure but I sure do the same thing. I can recall only one instance where I’ve seen the ‘cut ahead in the line thing’. My lineage is most certainly Scottish. So many of us here in the States and Canada are European.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. seaangel4444 says:

        We do have a lot in common, don’t we John? Cher xo

        Like

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Why thank you so much, Tonya! Cher xo

      Liked by 1 person

  6. nikibayard says:

    ha ha, you and your big cup of coffee and Canadian ways… I would have done the same thing at the grocery store…
    apart from the inspired moments, they seem to come to me when I am about to step in to the shower, most inconvenient!
    xx,
    loved this.
    Nx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Hello my dear! Ah, I know what you mean! Inspiration can arrive at any moment, whether or not we can use it at that time is another story! Cheers to you! Cher xo

      Like

      1. nikibayard says:

        use it…? i gotta remember it first 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. seaangel4444 says:

        *biggest grin*!! xo

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Helen Jones says:

    This is such an interesting tale, Cher! I always do that too, courtesy of my many years in Canada, letting someone go ahead of me if they only have one or two things. And I confess I sometimes get a little miffed when I don’t get the same treatment haha! I hadn’t realised it was just a Canadian thing to do, so there you go 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Why thank you, Helen! I always ‘assumed’ it was an, ‘everywhere’ thing, but I do not see it here, to be honest. Yes, I get miffed too when I don’t have someone let me go in front of them when I have a bottle of water and the person in front of me has enough food to feed 2 armies! *grin* Those Canadians, eh Helen? Cher xo

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Helen Jones says:

        What are we like, eh? *grins back* xx

        Liked by 1 person

      2. seaangel4444 says:

        Yah, no doubt, eh? *biggest grin* Cher xo

        Liked by 1 person

  8. In Australia too we always let those with less items go first. In the country meals are dinner & tea, in the city lunch & dinner. Which can get confusing.

    Like

  9. We Canadians are so polite 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      We most certainly are, Christy! Cher xo

      Liked by 1 person

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