Reverse Culture Shock Hits  

Thursday, 15 January 2009

I’ve been back in the UK a few days now, but I still feel I’m living in some kind of alternative reality: In my absence, what I think of as England has been replaced by a loud, ignorant and rather course facsimile of itself. I have always been proud of my country and my heritage, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile my concept of what that means to me with what I see around me. For example, in my mind – and, incidentally, that of people from other countries that I have met recently – the overriding image of British people is one of courtesy, reserve and politeness. The reality these days is, alas, anything but.

I must admit to being somewhat confused – caught between my image of what I think constitutes the British ideal, what others think of as the ideal, and the reality as I have observed. I really can’t decide. All I know is that I am finding it difficult to readjust to modern British living, made even more so by the fact that, actually, I don’t want to readjust to modern British living.

This evening I met a former BA pilot. Nice guy, obviously well travelled and very familiar with Japan. But only as a tourist. In conversation, he clearly had no idea – not even the beginnings of an understanding – of the depth and significance of Japanese society and its customs. More importantly, he had no desire to understand. In conversation he described social situations that would be excruciatingly difficult for Japanese people, in a manner that made it quite clear he considered himself above such concerns; the local rules of social convention didn’t apply to him because he was British. 

It is easy to point the finger and laugh at things that look odd to us. But this, surely, is the very definition of ignorance. The challenge is to try to learn and to understand. This is something that we, as Brits, have traditionally been quite good at. Or so I have always thought. Perhaps the reality is that, with my desire to go beyond the superficial, it is me that is out of step. Like I said, I’m confused: But from where I am standing at the moment, the Japanese way of life seems infinitely preferable.

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