Culture Shock and Ethnocentrism

The culture shock could be a great lesson in the value systems and understanding differences between humans. The reason that culture shock happens is because we’re not equipped to deal with these different perspectives. Due to the way we learn about our cultural background, we are all ethnically oriented. The term is derived from the Greek roots, meaning the word “group” or a group of people. It refers to how our perspective or perspective on the world is centered around our own personal style of living. Ethnocentrism believes that our individual behavior patterns are the best, the most natural, beautiful, or righteous. So, people who are not in the sense that they behave differently, are living with standards that are dehumanizing and unnatural or untrue.

Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s culture is superior to all others. It is how people generally feel about themselves in comparison to non-natives. There is not a single person living in the world today who isn’t ethnically oriented to some extent regardless of how open and liberal they declare themselves to be. Everyone will find an aspect of another culture unpalatable whether it is a sexual practice or a manner of dealing with family members or friends or a dish which they can’t enjoy with smiles. It’s not something to be ashamed of as it is the natural consequence of being a part of any culture. But, as an anthropologist who studies other cultures, this is something we must know about, in order that if we’re tempted by judgments of value about a different style of living it is possible to look at the situation objectively and consider our own bias into consideration.

Ethnocentrism can be seen in many aspects of culture–myths, folktales, proverbs, and even language.  For example, in many languages, especially those of non-Western societies, the word used to refer to one’s own tribe or ethnic group literally means “mankind” or “human”.  This implies that members of other groups are less than human.  For example, the term Eskimo used to refer to groups that inhabit the arctic and subarctic regions, is an Indian word used by neighbors of the Eskimos who observed their strange way of life but did not share it.  The term means “eaters of raw flesh,” and as such is an ethnocentric observation about cultural practices that were normal to one group and repulsive to another.  On the other hand, if we look at one subgroup among the Alaskan natives we find them calling themselves Inuit, which means “real people” (they obviously did not think eating raw flesh was anything out of the ordinary).  Here, then, is a contrast between one’s own group, which is real, and the rest of the world, which is not so “real.”  Both terms, Eskimo and Inuit, are equally ethnocentric–one as an observation about differences, the other as a self-evaluation.  However, Inuit is now seen as a more appropriate term because of its origin.

Another instance of ethnocentrism in language can be seen in the genesis of the English word barbarian. The word was initially a Greek word it was used to describe people who lived on the edges of Greek society. The Greeks refer to these people as barbars due to the fact that they could not comprehend their speech. The word bar-bar is the Greek term for the sound that dogs make which is similar to our bow-wow. The Greeks in a classic case of ethnocentrism regarded those who could not comprehend to be at the same level as dogs. They were also not able to be comprehended. They didn’t grant these individuals the status of human beings, as the term eskimo confers them the status of a subhuman.

Moving from myths to language and folktales, we can find an excellent illustration of ethnocentrism in the myth of creation that is told by the Cherokee Indians. According to the story the Creator created three clay representations of a man before baking the three in the oven. In his excitement to be able to appreciate his skill, he took the first one out of the oven prior to it being baked to perfection and noticed that it was light. He waited for a few minutes before removing the third image. It looked perfect, with a rich dark reddish brown. He was so happy with the result that he sat admiring it, completely unaware of the third picture. He finally smelt the smell of burning but when he was able to get it out of the oven, it was already burned and was completely black!

Food preferences are probably the most well-known aspect of ethnocentrism. Every culture has its own preferences for specific types of food and drinks, as well as also strong negative feelings towards other people. It’s interesting to realize that a lot of the ethnocentrism we experience is in our heads, not our mouths. For it is possible to taste good until we know the source. We’ve all heard stories of people being served an entrée of a snake or horse meat, or anything else that is equally offensive to American culture, and then saying how delicious it was, until they were told what they’d consumed, and they became grumpy and demanded to be exiled.

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