Sunday, November 8, 2009

[05] Evaluating Intercultural Behaviour

Singapore, being a multicultural society, has had its share of cultural conflicts. These misunderstandings used to pervade entire communities, but now people are generally more respectful towards each other's cultural practices, thus avoiding the occurence of large-scale conflicts.

The absence of major conflicts does not mean that we can be complacent and pay little heed to etiquette when interacting with other. I find the following minor (albeit slightly unpleasant) incident to be rather telling.

A group of friends, inclusive of people of various races and religions, were having a meal.

Wayne* (to Aishah*, a Muslim): Y'know, I think you'll look better if you trim your eyebrows.
Aishah: My religion doesn't allow me to do so.
Wayne: Haven't you ever considered trimming them? My friend did it and she looks prettier.

Aishah went on to explain about Islamic practices but Wayne did not appear to be receptive.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.

Click here if you're interested to find out a bit more about fitrah, the most pure and natural state of being in Islam. (I know there're people who know more about this than I do, so please correct me if I'm wrong!)

It could be that Wayne was simply insensitive, but I believe that this is not an isolated case. Although people of different races get along pretty well nowadays, there is still a lack of sufficient knowledge about practices and beliefs of other cultures. As a result, we might unknowingly offend people around us.

That said, we should still be forgiving towards others, for only then will Singapore remain peaceful and harmonious.


  1. I do think that singaporeans are generally getting very cocky and arrogant. A little more sensitivity on our part would make our country a better living place. Sensitivity should be a language spoken by all cultures.

  2. Dear Jinghui,
    Relating to 'Aishah', if I were in her shoes, I would have been taken aback at what 'Wayne' has to see.

    From my point of view, 'Wayne' could have rephrased his statement and turn in into an enquiry or a question. He could put it this way: "Aishah, what is your say on eyebrow trimming?"
    What made Wayne appear insensitive earlier was because it seemed as though Wayne was commenting on the way Aishah looks, and to some people, this may be offensive. By saying it in a nicer, suggestion-like manner, Aishah may not be too quick to defend her looks and maybe provide a less subjective opnion on eyebrow trimming. In this case, Wayne will not appear offensive while Aishah will not seem as though she was trying to fend off some discriminative views about her religious culture.

    Although I have to admit, it is rather silly that something as trivial as eyebrow trimming brings out the 'ugly' in people. Ironic. (: