Welcome to the new series that basically named itself! We’ve just landed in a new continent that is about to challenge us in completely new ways. Some will undoubtedly be intriguing and funny little things we’ll have to adjust to. Others will surely be frustrating or beyond comprehension. Finally, there will be cringe-worthy moments certain to have us questioning why we ever left the comforts of home in the first place.
Each article in the series is intended to be an opportunity to learn, grow and share. It is our collection of observations and information from the different cultures we visit from our subjective anthropological perspective. We never intend to shame or shed negativity on anyone else’s way of life. Wherever we can, we will do our best to understand and explain how to respect and behave in a given place. Though sometimes, we may only be able to share on what NOT to do, as we figure out life as a local through our embarrassing mistakes and faux paus moments.
Culture Shock! And The Sorry Complex
To kick off the series I definitely want to poke fun at one of the most famous stereotypes we deal with as Canadians. Most have heard the jokes, especially if you watch ‘How I Met Your Mother’, about how apologetic Canadian culture is. That’s saying it nicely I guess. Most jokes state that you could punch a Canadian in the face and spill their beer and said Canadian would apologize for running into your hand and offer to buy you a drink! I’d be willing to bet that has never happened, but to a certain degree, absolutely, we apologize for everything. It’s more of a reflex than a heartfelt “I’m sorry”, and most of us may not even think about it, but that absence of acknowledging that you may have possibly, in some minor way bothered, obstructed, touched or dismissed another person has become a very loud silence since we arrived in Hong Kong. Not once have I been apologized to for anything here! Not even when the airline lost my bags!
(That’s a whole other story to be tackled.)
My attempt at an explanation:
Canada is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, that kind of room to roam has given way to a culture that really values personal space. Our bubbles are significantly larger than most city people around the world could ever afford. And in Hong Kong, one of the most densely packed, international cities in the world, people are accustomed to living on top of each other, literally. The high rises in the city are astronomical. If they took the time to apologize for being in the way, or smacking you with a handbag on the train, or stepping on you while they walk with their face glued to their phone screen, or letting their air conditions continuously drip on your head…. Well, let’s just say there wouldn’t be time for anything else.
I hope you can read my sarcasm on this one. I truly don’t expect to be apologized to constantly. The culture shock is the realization that it is the country I come from is the one that does things differently, not the rest of the world. The apology is really just such a common practice for me that it feels palpably absent. It would be easy to be constantly offended if I don’t adjust my expectations, no matter where I am. And given that in general, the society here in Hong Kong is extremely cordial and respectful, I am in for a huge shock once we move into much less international, metropolitan and say, culturally similar countries.