It's Cultural


Last updated 7/17/2018 at 10:29am

As a well-traveled North American, I'm fascinated by culture. I've been in every Canadian province and most U.S. States. In Nova Scotia, my wife and I were treated like family by complete strangers. Trust me, this does not happen in New Jersey. Americans are more likely to say "um" than "eh." Canadians are more likely to apologize than our American cousins. When I cross the pond to Europe, the rules change further.

I tried to tip a waiter in Germany, and he looked at me like I had three eyes. People bowed to me in Hong Kong. In Italy, folks tried to kiss me on the cheeks. This never happens in Manitoba. If two Canadian farmers find themselves closer than about two feet, they get chest pains.

My son lived in Uganda. When he first arrived, he strolled down a busy street with his new friend Milton, who reached out and took his hand. As they walked hand in hand, Steve kept reminding himself of what he had read: this was a sign of friendship. Nothing more.

If you've ever been to Spain you may find it strange that many sleep after lunch. In Argentina, you're expected to show up at least 15 minutes late to social functions. Bulgarians nod their heads to say "no," and shake them to say "yes." In Japan, it's impolite if you don't slurp your soup. In parts of China and India a hearty belch shows appreciation for the meal. I tried this on my mother. It never worked.

Native American cultures place a high value on respecting elders, but many in the west want nothing to do with old age. We nip, tuck, diet, Yogacize, wear Spandex, dye our hair and visit 4.5 million "anti-aging" websites. Too many westerners view the elderly as quaint and expendable.

Not so in the East. In China, when a person asks the age of another, the younger will apologize for their youth. The older assures the younger, "It's okay, you can still have a glorious future by aging." The older people get, the more enthusiastic they are about it. Those 50 and beyond are accorded special honour, and respect for elders is counted as one of the highest of virtues. I like that.

Respect was a sacred commandment when I was a kid. As was saying, "No Sir," "Yes ma'am," and "Thank you."

An older lady always tried to kiss us kids on the cheek when she came to visit, so I climbed out a window once to avoid her, but we were taught to respect our elders, or we likely wouldn't live to be more than about twelve. Age was a badge of honor, not something to be feared.

In Leviticus 19:32 the people of Israel were told, "Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God."

Proverbs 16:31 calls gray hair "a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life" (ESV).

"Grow old with me," my dad said, "The best is yet to be." And this is true as we seek God's kingdom first.

First Peter 5:5 says, "You who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders." The best education I ever received was at the feet of older people.

And travel can provide a good education as well, but be warned: Don't pop, chew, or carry gum in Singapore, eat or drink on a train in Japan, blow your nose in public in China, order a cappuccino in Italy after 10:30 a.m., point at your feet or touch someone else's head in Thailand.

Phil Callaway is a speaker, best-selling author and host of Laugh Again Radio. Check it out at


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