Personal Narrative Within a Cultural Context Journal

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Personal Narrative in Cultural Context

Today is a lovely fall day in Brussels. The leaves have turned to gold and red on some of the trees and those leaves float to the ground, some spinning and tumbling, painting the sidewalk with their glorious colors. The breeze has a bit of a bite to it, and some passers by do not have enough clothing for this season; but I am wearing a warm sweater, drinking hot coffee on a patio with my computer, my thoughts and recollections about culture and humanity.

I have traveled widely, including to Africa, and any thinking person who takes an interest in the wider world outside one's own cannot help but be shaken to the moral bones by the less fortunate souls in the world and the horrific conditions people are forced to live in.

As mentioned, I live in Brussels and attend Vesalius College, far away from the human disasters playing out in the horn of Africa. The genocidal mass starvation of millions of people is a subject I don't dwell on. But later when I review the news online and read the papers, I will say a silent prayer and hold a good thought for the children and mothers especially who are living in pathetic refugee camps and begging for a tiny bowl of rice that they may not get because the well-armed warlords control the food brought into Sudan by the United Nations.

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Meantime, except for a few years of my life, I have been in Belgium; indeed I did attend high school in Switzerland between the ages of 16-18. I am Russian by ethnicity, but culturally I find Russia an alien place too often a place where rudeness rules and there is overpowering evidence of masculine behaviors that are out of control in too many instances. You might say one of the drugs of choice in Moscow is testosterone. Of course I am exaggerating, but I am also making a point.

TOPIC: Journal on Personal Narrative Within a Cultural Context Assignment

Since I was raised in Europe, I am European through and through, I am a product of Western values with an understanding and appreciation of the diversity of life throughout the world. I love most places in Europe and in fact I have traveled around the world and have found joy in discovering the cultures of every continent except Australia and Asia.

I have not always been a good student scholastically, although I consider myself a student of the world and its many cultures. In high school, I had a tendency to not like classes that didn't particularly interest me. And if I didn't like a particular teacher, I would not do well in that course. However, now that I have been attending classes at Vesalius College, indeed from the first day I was there, my grades have all been A's and B's -- of which I am very proud because I work hard to succeed.

Discussion

"Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster…" (Hofstede on Cultural Dimensions, ITIM International).

My grandparents live in Russia, near Moscow. I go to visit them with my parents once or twice a year, and it is always interesting, if not culturally difficult for me. In fact cultural shock is a better way of putting it. Let me explain a situation that will help reveal this problem. Two years ago I visited my grandparents and while there, some distant cousins and other relatives came to call on my grandparents. My grandfather is a retired toolmaker, a hearty soul who shows the strains of having labored hard all his life, but he is in reasonable good health. Having gone through the transition from a totalitarian society (Soviet Union) to one that is at least attempting to be democratic, he has it all, from Khrushchev to Gorbachev and now Putin and Medvedev.

About an hour and a half before my grandmother -- a kindly woman who keeps a very neat house and cooks wonderful traditional Russian meals -- was planning to put dinner on the table for the nine of us, I went for a walk with a cousin, Sergei. We stopped at an outside cafe and he ordered a drink of vodka. I had Russian tea. Sergei and his parents are from very rural Russia, and while my ability to speak Russian is fluent, my accent gives away the fact that I'm very European. He is in his early twenties, tall, in good shape, with some facial blemishes and missing a couple teeth, but otherwise a nice looking man.

I try to compensate for that accent by translating the word into English and then back to Russian, but I get laughed at. So Sergei and I are having a conversation and he mentions that the people in his cultural group in his community very much dislike the typical European woman, and in general he finds that Western women "are pretentious" and they are all "out looking for a rich American husband so they can stay home and watch soap operas and movies."

I smiled and quickly changed the subject to the architectural theme used in a building near where we sat. He went right back to his point. "You are very pretty, I see you wear provocative clothes and make-up -- is that how you will find that rich husband?" he said with no trace of kindness or joviality in his expression. "Maybe an American will attend college in Brussels and he will be attracted to you?" he went on.

"Thank you for the complement," I replied nervously, and quickly took inventory of what I was wearing (a dark blue sweater, semi-formal slacks, conservative earrings, my hair in a pony tail, a little bit of eyeliner and lipstick, a bracelet and a modest silver ring but no other jewelry) and asked him where he got his ideas for such a remark directed at me. In past visits to Russia, I have found men to be very blunt, often somewhat rude, especially to women, and here was a classic example of that kind of ignorance and indifference to others' feelings.

I wasn't sure of the right word in Russian for "provocative" so I asked him in French (he had said he studied French in high school) what he considered provocative about my attire. He didn't answer. I am a woman blessed with an attractive figure due to my exercise and healthy eating, but a conservative sweater and slacks certainly shouldn't be considered provocative. That said, I did notice Sergio glancing at my breasts from time to time, which is not unique to Russian men by any stretch of the imagination, but I connected his wandering eyes to the use of the word "provocative."

I excused myself to use the women's rest room, hoping to break the tension that Sergei was creating, and to frankly have a moment to compose myself. Maybe this was a rude Russian joke, I thought to myself. When I come back, he may say this was just a ruse to get me to open up about myself, or maybe if I totally change the subject he'll let his point drift away into the early spring air. I was being challenged and I needed to have some perspective.

I took my time coming back. I had told Sergio I had to make a phone call to my roommate in Brussels to remind her to pay the rent. While away from him, I remembered the three steps David Pinto described in dealing with differences. First of all, he emphasizes that a person needs a "double perspective" to be able to view any situation from two "different points-of-view" when a person is in an intercultural situation (Pinto, 2000, p. 170). Looking at the viewpoint from my culture juxtaposed with the viewpoint from his culture, I did come to a more calming sense of the situation. I conjectured that Sergio is basically a harmless rural redneck, with limited cultural understanding of others. Moreover, he probably watches Western TV programs like "Desperate Housewives" or reality shows like the Kardashians, among others. How else would he come up with those absurd ideas about my values and me?

Pinto asserted on page 170 that if a person truly tries to understand another individual from a radically different culture, the first person (me) might not "be irritated by that behavior" (170). Pinto goes on, when a person "from an F-system" finds people from a "C-culture" to be "ill-mannered and inhospitable," then by gathering information and being open to understanding the F-system person it is likely that C-culture individual won't irritate the F-system person as much. At least that's the theory.

So as I approached the table where Sergio was waiting (he was on the phone laughing at or with the person he was speaking with), I remembered Pinto explaining that "severe clashes between norms and values" result from neither person understanding the other's culture. That was… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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