A Cultural Metaphor

While reading the book, “Understanding Global Cultures: Metaphorical Journeys through 31 Nations, Clusters of Nations, Continents, and Diversity” I have taken the time to write short journal entries which show a reaction to several of the metaphors used to explain the nuances of culture. It’s written by Martin J. Gannon and Pillai Rajnandini. While it is a textbook, it is still an interesting read, blending historical events and explanations of various cultural customs.

Thai Smile

After reading the chapter on the Kingdom of Thailand, I was first intrigued by the fact that they have a king. He plays an important role in Thai culture and is very much respected among the Thai people. The king does not get involved in daily government operations, but because of the great amount of respect that he commands, he can ask government officials to step down. This is a power he has used before to remove the prime minister from office. One thing that really negatively influenced my perception of Thai culture was the fact that YouTube was banned after a short satirical video about the king was went viral. Although “the red-shirt faction are pushing for the abolition of these laws,”(30) the fact remains that this is a government that limits the speech of their citizens to some extent. The name Thailand translates to land of freedom, but a freedom that emphasizes order as well.

Another concept I found interesting and unique to Thai culture was the wai, to bow with one’s hands together in a praying motion. This practice is key to discerning who is of higher status and therefore more important in the social class ranking. The person who bows lower is of lower social status, while a much more superior person may just simply nod their head. Apparently this practice comes from ancient tradition of submitting in a battle. “If a blow was not administered, the victor was signaling that a two-way relationship of fealty had been born, but one in which there was a clear superior and a clear inferior,”(32) a process that has shaped Thailand into a very stratified society. Within this stratification of classes, respect is still expected and given.

As within many cultures, a network of relationships is necessary to living a normal life. The Thais refer to this concept as guanxi, and it is strange to find someone without this. One’s guanxi can have enormous impact on their decisions. The example in the text about a Thai woman who did what her mother asked even though it was completely against her own beliefs, because not doing it was enough to be exiled from her mother’s guanxi.

Buddhism has also had a major effect on shaping the Thai culture. They believe in not swinging too far to either side of the scale of emotions and projecting a happy medium called the concept of “middle way”(35). This belief contributed to the exceptional diplomatic and negotiating skills seen in Thailand. This also applies to the Thai people’s love for smiling. Their smile doesn’t mean the same as it does elsewhere, but instead it conveys the Thai’s distaste for people who complain or are constantly expressing negative emotions. Lastly is the Thai idea of accepting things as they are, or mai pen rai. This idea really enforces the idea that Thai people have an external locus of control.

Mexican Fiesta

In my opinion, the Mexican fiesta makes an excellent metaphor for several reasons. Mexican culture puts a lot of value on having strong family ties and relationships, which contributes to having large parties where nobody would feel left out. There is also the love of food and wanting to provide for their friends and family at these parties. Mexico’s history can also be used to describe why there is such a focus on the fiesta. From the time Hernando Cortes came to Mexico in 1519 to the time Mexico gained their independence in 1820, the native people were never shown any respect. The creation of three distinct demographics within Mexico, with the minority Spaniards in control, has led to a present day Mexico where the people and their connections are emphasized first and foremost.

Gannon, Martin J., and Rajnandini Pillai. Understanding Global Cultures: Metaphorical Journeys through 31 Nations, Clusters of Nations, Continents, and Diversity. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2013. Print.

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