Comparing Cultures: Sharing is Caring

One of the biggest differences I notice when traveling to Kenya is the socioeconomic status that I automatically have. White people are assumed to have money (which is generally true since they have money to fly to Africa). Nonetheless, the stereotype bothers me.

When I lived here, I was once told on a public bus that my fare was double because “my skin is the color of money”. People laughed and I refused to pay more than anyone else, but I realized that the attitude was indicative of people’s attitudes towards Westerners in general. “Buy me lunch” and “What did you bring me” are phrases you will hear often.

This has bothered me because it’s so different from what I am used to. A Japanese person would probably starve to death before asking you for a handout. Americans usually split things 50/50 and don’t ask for much either. Besides the fact that people generally have more money in Japan and America, I come from cultures where what you earn is yours to keep.

African culture is different. It’s tribal and family-oriented. Everything the head of a family earns is dispersed among the members of the family, at times even distant relatives. This is a way of creating social capital so that in times of trouble, you have someone else to rely on. Since white people have money, it is a natural extension of this culture to ask us for it in times of need.

We have also perpetuated the idea that we bring free money by doing projects, building businesses and giving aid with no accountability, often to the detriment of African countries. If you want to read a lot more about this, see my Other Writings section where I talk about how aid played a part in destabilizing The Democratic Republic of the Congo.

When it comes to money, I’m not saying that African culture is worse than Western or Japanese culture. I’m just saying it’s challenging for me because I’m a white person in Africa and it’s different from what I’m used to. In fact, in the face of a rapidly disappearing government social safety net in America, I think we might learn something from Africa’s caring and sharing mentality. They can’t rely on the government for anything here so they have to support each other to survive. We might be there sooner than we think in America.

What did you think about this post? If you like this blog, please subscribe to get e-mail updates. To find out more about what I’m doing in Kenya, see The Food Source website!

Ok maybe they're not totally wrong...

Ok maybe they’re not totally wrong…

 

If you want to read more about why the culture is this way, I’ve heard African Friends and Money Matters is a great resource.

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13 thoughts on “Comparing Cultures: Sharing is Caring

  1. The odd thing is, while Japanese would never ask for a handout, I’ve had quite a few students here in Japan – as a joke – ask me to give them money or candy or food or whatever I have. While I usually blow them off, I’ve recently opted to fulfill their requests. This is such a gift giving culture that these actions speak deeply to their heart. And they ask because they expect the answer to be no. Seeing the astonishment on their faces is worth it, and I appreciate that there isn’t actually an expectation that I was going to comply with their request, thereby truly making it MY decision.

    • Yeah that’s an interesting point, I hadn’t thought about that. I suppose gift giving in Japan is a whole other aspect of the culture since you are expected to reciprocate

  2. Great. Hope you can make your connection. Get some help if you need it so you will know where to go. Praying for u. Xoxo

    Mary Alice Brumley Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. Not attempting to hijack, but you’re hitting on some major themes of mine here…

    “Our rapidly disappearing social safety net,” how I wish that were the case. It seems to me that the Welfare State, with all its downsides, is here to stay until its own errors are its undoing. The Affordable Care Act, on top of the absolutely insane unfunded liabilities in the social spending department, are only heralds of the disappearance of the social safety net in the sense that any self-destructive policy cannot go on forever; as a man cannot consume an unlimited quantity of poison. Until that time, the Welfare State is on a trajectory only to expand beyond its already wild enormity.

    While I take pride in any observed American reluctance to accept a handout, I think you hit on a point I would make in reverse: Just as you note the presence of local, family, voluntary safety nets precisely where gigantic compulsory ones are missing, we can remark that where gigantic compulsory safety nets prevail, the natural tendency of human beings to take practical care of those around them is remarkably, even pointedly, absent.

  4. Great post Daniel! There certainly is a lot of truth to this. The mentality of being responsible for your whole family even exists among African migrants in the West. As soon as an African person starts making somewhat of a living, the most important thing for them is to send it back home (even if there is no immediate family back home). They prioritise sharing their wealth over things that some may consider to be basic necessities, such as owning a home, etc.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip!

    Hanna

  5. Here in Australia it is very much an opposite culture. The cult of individuality seems to go hand in hand with exclusivity and everyone for themselves. It would be nice to have the combination of a societal inclusivity with sharing to everyone and a good level of social welfare or wellbeing. Perhaps the Scandinavian countries have achieved that the best. They do have extremely low incarceration rates compared with countries that totally rely on own resources with very little social welfare.
    Anyway, a good post.
    Food for thought.

  6. African culture is about community and communal living. Western individualism is a great hinderance to peace and unity. I pray one day that people wake up to the fact that the divisions have been created to speaprate us and will not come to any good. Thank you for visiting my blog.

  7. I watched the video about your aquaponics model system and thought it sounds great! The concept of empowering people to support themselves is the right way, I’m sure. I’ll be checking on your posts and hoping for your success!

    • Thank you so much! I grew up in Japan so some of your experiences sound familiar. I am definitely considering going back as it’s “home”, more than anywhere else anyway

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