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Pet Sins May 2006

Black-Asian friendship crumbles in the face of cultural differences

I had a black American friend who said she really enjoyed hanging out with me (I'm Southeast Asian) because I brought her to Asian restaurants. She said, "This is so cool. I really like how Asian people have a culture. Black Americans have lost touch with their origins."

My opinion is that everybody has a culture, whether old or new. Culture is just a way of life. And not necessarily related to race, nationality etc. So I don't think Americans, black or otherwise, are any less "cultural" than Asians.

Anyway, this friend keeps talking about how my culture is so cool, and how she likes to collect Asian movies etc. Sometimes when we discuss Asian culture, she even talks like she knows more than Asians, sometimes even insisting on her opinion when clearly I am better informed and have the first hand experience.

Then we started having communication problems on unrelated matters - she likes to call what I say "Bullshit!". By Southeast Asian cultural standards this is pretty rude.

So I tried to explain to her I didn't like this, and the other ways with which she puts me down. I politely told her I believe she meant no harm, and that this difference in perception was a cultural difference issue. But she dismissed the explanation of cultural difference as "bullshit!"

By then it was clear that this friendship was not going to work. All through our friendship, I tried my best, in typical Southeast Asian style, to be considerate of her feelings, polite, attentive, and always did things with the intention of making her feel good. I always worried about hurting her feelings. I didn't expect her to conform to my cultural standards, but clearly, I was not getting out of this friendship even a little of what I was putting in. And also, by dismissing the possibility of "cultural differences" being a potential problem in our friendship, she was in effect setting her cultural standard as the "default" behavior which I must follow.

Anyway she took the initiative to terminate the friendship. I was more hurt by her rude and arrogant attitudes than by the termination of the friendship. I tried salvage the friendship by speaking to her as sensitively and gently as I knew how. Yet she responded to my attempts to be sensitive to her with even more rudeness and insults. (Even then, I try to keep in mind that what is rude and insulting in my culture might not be rude and insulting in hers)

Even until the end of the friendship, she claimed she is "open-minded" and "accepting". She does not see that experiencing someone else's culture is more than eating their food, watching their movies or going to their cultural festivals. It is also about understanding different modes of behavior and expectations.

I do not think it is a black-Asian cultural issue. I have other black American friends who do not behave like her at all. I think it is more an American cultural issue. (or at least an issue with some Americans) I think when some people think they have "no culture", they see themselves as the norm in behavior and expectations. And when someone does not react the way they expect, they do not think it is because of differences in social upbringing, but see it as as a deliberate attempt to not get along.