If you live in a big city, or if you are new living overseas you are surrounded by many different cultures. Although you are “exposed” to these cultures, you are not part of them, and you probably don’t really understand them. If you really spend time in a particular culture, you will reduce friction with that culture to a point. You will eliminate (reduce) your lack of understanding. You will know more about people’s sensitivities from that culture. What initially seemed strange to you, you’ll get used to and be familiar with.
However, there are certain things that you might not be able to get over. Stumbling blocks. If people from another culture just don’t cooperate in certain ways, or have values that are deeply unacceptable to you, or insist on discriminating against you (and perhaps blaiming you of discrimination when they are the ones doing it.) How can you get beyond these problems? No amount of familiarity with the culture will help.
Whites and blacks in America are working together and spending more time with each other. We are getting used to each other, but the difference in attitudes about crime, police, social graces, music, language, lifestyle and other issues will continue to divide us no matter how well we know each other.
I was raised in America, and got to know Indians in high school a little bit, and in college. But, I knew fun Indians from the upper class when I was young. The minute I was in a spiritual group with more run of the mill South Indians (where the Master was not run of the mill, but formerly ran a mill in Tamil Nadu as a CEO) I began to see the real character of Indians. Everybody started out nice. But, once you got beyond the small talk there was a barrier. Many cultures have social barriers. With South Indians the barrier starts after the small talk. With Mexicans it starts before the small talk. With Arabs, they first make friends with you and then outcaste you. Each culture puts their barrier in a different place it seems.
The real problem started many years after I got used to Indians. I lived in India for a few months at a time on various occassions in different parts of India. And yes, the culture differs a lot from Maharashtria to Kerela, to Tamil Nadu, etc. I did not spend time in Northwest India where Hindu-Muslim tension is high thank God. I was down South where everyone is docile. But, we began to have a problem with noise. People would abuse their privelege with loud speakers, and cause disturbances in meditation. I asked the authorities to help stop this problem, but there was a refusal to cooperate. The problems didn’t stop, and my complaining got louder and louder. It got to the point where they kept telling me to be more tolerant — but, by this time it was dozens of people who were involved and telling me to be more tolerant. After my complaining got to the point of screaming, they got to the point where they could no longer tolerate my complaining, yet wouldn’t lift a finger to stop the noise pollution that happened everywhere I went in the mission. So, instead of solving the problem, they removed me.
So, although I got to know Indian culture — the culture of sweeping problems under the rug, and when those problems come out of the rug to sweep them under the rug again instead of solving them. India is a culture where you remove the one who complains instead of solving the problem. It seems that understanding Indians doesn’t help me get along with them better. It helps me get along with them worse because I’m so allergic to the nonsense that most of them give me. I’m sick of the excuses, the lies, the bullshit. Why is it that there can’t be Indians who have integrity, who stand up for what is right, and are sensitive to how others feel who have different feelings from themselves? Do such Indians exist? I haven’t met a single living one — only the spirits of deceased gurus who I have relationships with.
I guess it will all end soon. My guru says that the Hindu-Muslim conflict will leave every single North Indian dead within our lifetime. This is not my prefered way of solving the problem. But perhaps this is God’s way of doing to India, what my Indian spiritual group did to me — removing people instead of solving the problem.
My advice to anyone learning about another culture by being involved in it is — what you see is NOT what you get. You will find out things about the culture that you were not expecting and that are so horrible that you won’t be able to deal with it. You might find good things too. And one more thing. If you want to learn about a nice culture, try the Thais. Apart from their morality infractions that they are famous for, they are very nice people — I’ll vouch for them.