Monday, May 11, 2015

Culture and Cultural Shock

So it is a global village I heard, the word is one big village! One might assume we all understand the same things the same way or even think the same way. But this obviously isn’t the case. 

What brings the differences then?? Culture! 

Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. 

Culture can be defined as the ways in which people relate themselves to their physical and social environment, and how they express these relationships. 

·         Influences our expectations of what is appropriate or inappropriate (eg. a guy wearing a piercing to               church) 
·         is learned (how the Ghanaian volunteers would say 6:30 but the UK volunteers say half 6) 
·         reflects the values of a society 
·         frames our experiences 
·         provides us with patterns of behaviour, thinking, feeling, and interacting 

Team member Adam has his ears pierced - this wouldn't be acceptable in most Ghanaian Churches

In summary, culture affects every aspect of daily life - how we think and feel, how we learn and teach, or what we consider to be beautiful or ugly. However, most people are unaware of their own culture until they experience another! In fact, we don't usually think about our culture until somebody violates a culturally-based expectation or we find ourselves in a situation where we have the feeling that we violated somebody else’s cultural expectations, but are uncertain how. 
Now, let’s dive more into one practice is Ghana, precisely Ashanti Region.  Let us have a look at Puberty Rites which is called ‘Bragoro’ in Akan. 

Puberty Rites 
These ceremonies mark the entry of young women into adulthood. 

In the Akan culture, women represent the beauty, purity and dignity of the society and are guarded against corruption by our traditional laws and regulations. The most lasting impressions about life and the character of children are built during their early and formative years, which they spend mostly with their mothers. So the Akans believe that they need properly trained mothers with good morals to bring up good children. It is therefore little wonder that the initiation of women into adulthood is given more prominence in the Akan society than that of men.  

Under the supervision of the queen mother of the town or village, in collaboration with some female opinion leaders, young women who have had their first menstruation are secluded from the community for a period between two and three weeks during which they are taught the secrets of womanhood. During this period of seclusion the girls are given lessons in sex education and birth control. They are also taught how to relate to men properly so that they can maintain a good marriage and their dignity in the society. 

After the period of seclusion, a durbar is held which is attended by the chief and almost everybody in the community. The newly initiated women are dressed scantily with very beautiful African beads and cosmetics showing off their vital statistics. Young men of marriageable age troupe there to feast their eyes on the young women and to select their prospective wives.  

Amidst drumming and dancing the rituals are carried out with the spirit of Oynankopong Kwame, Asase Yaa and the departed ancestors are invoked to bless the participants and ensure their protection, blessing and fertility during their period of motherhood.  

A traditional meal called eto is prepared for the young women. It is usually decorated with hard boiled eggs. The young women will then have to eat the meal, and swallow the eggs whole. It is believed that, when the eggs are bitten into, the young women have bitten and crushed their wombs and they might be barren. 

According to traditional law no woman is allowed to get married without haven gone through the puberty rites and every young woman must remain a virgin prior to this. These laws ensure that young women grow up disciplined enough to control their sexuality and to prevent them from premature motherhood and unwanted babies.

So important are these laws that any woman who gets pregnant or breaks her virginity before the rites are performed is sometimes ostracized together with the man she has fornicated with. On top of that, a heavy fine is imposed on the guilty party after which purification rites are performed to rid the society of the negative repercussions of their actions.  

An example of traditional African Beads - here worn on the waist underneath clothing

Cultural shock 
Culture Shock is a term used to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment. This term expresses the lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate. The feeling of culture shock can usually set in after the first few weeks of arriving in a new country. It is a normal part of adjusting to new foods, customs, language, people and activities. 

Symptoms of cultural shock
·         Insomnia or a desire to sleep too much or too little. 
·         Changes in your temperament, getting angry easily at things that usually wouldn't bother you, depression,        feeling vulnerable, feeling powerless. 
·         Anger, irritability, resentment, and an unwillingness to interact with other people. 
·         A feeling of sadness or loneliness. 
·         A feeling of being lost, overlooked, exploited or abused. 
·         Identifying only with your own culture and comparing negatively to your own country. 
·         You wish you were home and have a strong longing for your family and friends back in your country. 
·         Unable to solve simple problems. 
·         You are trying too hard to absorb everything new about the culture. 
·         Feelings of inadequacy, lack of confidence, insecurity, loss of identity, not fitting in, and doubting your           ability to succeed. 
·         You start developing stereotypes about the country and its culture. 
·         You may start developing different obsessions such as: over-cleanliness; over-tidiness; over-eating; over-       drinking. 
·         You feel you can’t have a normal conversation with anyone. 
·         Having a feeling of helplessness, and thinking you need help from people in your own country. 
·         Being afraid to do new things or go to new places. 

Examples of cultural shock 

Nudity among women 
It is common to see in France, women who are topless at beaches. In other places women might wear a bikini, here in Ghana, women still find it uncomfortable that’s why we usually wear almost full clothes at beaches. 

Do you dress modestly enough? 
At the other end of the spectrum are women who must cover most of their body; including their arms, legs, ankles, neck and even their face like the Bedouin Woman and women from Muslim countries who’s custom is to dress this way mainly to enforce female modesty.  

People enjoying the water at Kintampo Waterfalls - Some fully dressed

Is it polite to pick a winner? 
Most of us are taught from an early age that it’s just not polite to your nose. One must use a tissue or handkerchief and blow our nose into it, then put the tissue in your pocket until you can dispose of it later. In some parts of Asia, the thought of blowing your nose into a tissue and saving it for later is disgusting. 
You’re probably wondering, well how do they blow their nose right? 
Tutorial: How To Blow Your Nose In Parts Of Asia. 
Cover one nostril and blow out the other so whatever is up there will get blown out like a projectile and hopefully land on the ground. That’s it. 
This may sound gross to you but blowing your nose in a handkerchief is way more gross to them. 

Toilet paper: essential or not? 
Brace yourself for more culture shock: You probably think toilet paper is necessary. 
Ha, you are wrong, You don’t need toiletpaper! 
In some cultures like India they use their hands to wipe themselves after using the toilet. I know what you are thinking. 
WHAT! They use their hands to wipe their bum? 
Yes it’s true. Using toilet paper to wipe your bum bum is consideredinappropriate and dirty because it smears it around down there. Indian people consider it much cleaner to use your hand and water. 
In case you are interested in ever going to India or anywhere else where toilet paper is not readily available, I thought I would give you an education on bathroom Etiquette. 
Tutorial: How to use the toilet without toilet paper in India! 
Usually there is a bucket filled with water and a smaller container in the bucket called a dipper to scoop out some water. 

Kidnap and marry 
Latwoka , a tribe in Sudan has a very weird marriage tradition. If a guy wants to marry a girl, he kidnaps her. After kidnapping elderly people of his family go to girl’s father and ask for her hand. If girl’s father agrees he beats the guy as a symbol of acceptance and if he doesn’t agree, the kidnapper marries the girl forcefully. 

Semen for the breasts 
The Masai also believe for the girl’s breasts to develop, she needs a healthy man to seriously give her some lessons in sexual intercourse, by sleeping with her. These are girls between the age of 8 and 13. The warriors are mandated to have intercourse with these girls before the onset of puberty; their clitoral initiation to indicate that they are ready for marriage. Since they are also young and cannot conceive, the Masai believe the healthy semen of young warriors will give them the boost or hormones they need to develop their entire body. Warriors are an example of what is healthy and respected among the tribe. Their semen is seen as what every pre-puberty girl requires to develop breasts and to grow into a real woman. 

What can you do about culture shock? 
Some people find it impossible to adapt to other cultures while others adapt more easily. 
Your best chance at overcoming culture shock is to adapt to your new culture and try to understand the history and reasons why the cultural differences exist. 

Look at it as a learning experience to gain a new perspective and develop a better understanding for that other culture. 

You just might see things in a whole new way and find it easier to adjust and deal with the differences. 

It’s these differences that make travel so interesting. If you want everything to be the same, you can always just stay home 

TIP: Once you understand the reasons, you begin to see necessity may be part of the reason why culturaldifferences exist. 

Thank you for reading,


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Nyc piece..Dis vry informative.. My 1st tym hearing of sum of de above cultural practices. Pls kip up de gud work.