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Pet Sins July 2004

Different cultural attitudes towards vocalizing pain

It was interesting to read the article Non-East Asian women and their experiences dating East Asian men and also the story about Hai Zhou and Xiu Lan. The articles bring up the point about East Asians being less expressive of their emotions, regarding public display of emotion as weakness. This point reminded me of a conversation I had with an old Chinese lady in Singapore. She talked about her experience watching both Chinese and Indian women give birth in hospitals in Singapore. She said the Indian women screamed loudly in pain, while the Chinese women bit their lip and tried not to cry out. The Chinese nurses would scold the Indian women for being 'weak' and not able to 'tolerate'. The Chinese woman thought that Chinese women were of 'better caliber' than Indian women because she judged them by Chinese standards.

I think it is a rather unfortunate combination of nurse and patient from 2 cultures with different attitudes about expressing their physical pain. To the Indian patient, the Chinese nurse must have seemed cruel, harsh, and unsympathetic. However, I've met some members of the younger generation of Chinese who think differently. They see no shame in yelling when they are in pain.

We all see the world through the lenses of the cultures which have shaped us, and it is not unimaginable that sometimes (or most times) we can't see another way of acting or being that is not like our own. We simply don't know any other way. But it would be nice if we could be more aware of other ways of behaving so that we don't unfairly judge others by our cultural standards. There are some things that are moral absolutes - there is no culture in the world where people are praised for committing murder or abandoning their parents. But screaming in pain is not an immoral thing, and should not be used as a gauge of a person's caliber, just my 2 cts.

One of my friends a white woman who lived in Japan, received this comment from a Japanese female through the grapevine. It is another example of different cultural attitudes towards voicing one's pain:

One day, my [white British female] teacher, crashed into a running Italian man and hot coffee was spilt on her, burning her. My teacher was shouting many swear words non-stop. I think more than twenty. So I felt those words very strong and we can tell English women like some bad swearing. Japanese women are always saying nice words, even when we are burnt.