// Patrick Louis

Cross Culture Frustration


It’s not uncommon to hear, from persons that relocated to a new country, discussions related to the dissatisfactions with the new land they’ve set upon or the land they’ve just left behind. Apart from the stifling reply, “they’re just not used to it”, what else is hiding behind this phenomenon.
Let’s dissect this case.

The discussion usually takes two sides, the side of someone emerging from a society to another for more opportunities, or the side of someone looking for the discovery (or re-discovery) of cultural roots and communions in another society. This is not limited to those cases but those are frequent enough to deserve to be mentioned above all else.

It is important to note the reasons that made the persons move because context is everything. With it, we frame our behavior and future interpretations.

We start our journey with luggage provided by the society we come from, or, so we think. We take lenses out of this luggage and begin our frustrated appraisal of the views that are newly presented.
Colors seem to be confounded, some missing, some distorted. The combinations and arrangements appear distasteful. This isn’t the order of things we’re used to. This may be or may not be what we’ve heard the order of things would be like. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.

We feel like everyone is out of place.

We all think that the way we live is the best way to live. We all think that we see the world as it is, that we’ve come to the best possible conclusion about our direction in life. However, that’s just our definition of normality. And this normality isn’t even ours as most of it happens without us being there. We often can’t justify why we do what we do or why we like what we like.

Emotions come first and justifications later.

What is normal? How to redefine it? Let’s go back to our disgruntled traveler which might utter the following exclamations:

  • “There is a lack of freedom here!”
  • “Why can’t everyone keep it to themselves?”
  • “You can’t have your own personality and be diversified here.”
  • “Those rituals are so barbaric and useless, just a waste of money!”
  • “I want to talk to individuals, I don’t want to talk with networks”.


  • “Everything is too practical and utilitarian, where’s humanity?”
  • “Nobody asks me about my life! Nobody cares!”
  • “I feel left alone, there’s nothing to be part of!”
  • “Friendship isn’t real here. Everything is goal oriented.”
  • “There’s nothing sacred here.”

Those are some relevant superficialities that jumps out when hearing the “frustrated” conversations.

If you see a world full of individuals then you’ll want a morality that protects those individuals and their individual rights.

You’ll emphasize concerns about harm and fairness.

But if you live in a society in which people are more likely to see relationships, context, groups, and institutions. Then you won’t be so focus on satisfying individual, you’ll have a more sociocentric morality.

Which means that you place the needs of groups and institutions first, often ahead of the need of individuals.

If you do that then a morality based on harm and fairness won’t be sufficient. You’ll have additional concerns. And you’ll need additional virtues to bind people together.

  • The Righteous Mind

One side is perceived by the other as restricting freedom and individual choices, the other as being selfish and not respecting the greater goods.
Why should we have to live as single individuals, for one’s own goals and interests, how will the group thrive, what’s my purpose if there’s no higher order call — one side may say.
How will I socialize if there’s no starting point of trust with each other, if they aren’t part of my “clan” of beliefs.
Why should we be judged based on our religious views, political views, or network of relations — another side may say.
Why live in an environment where I’m perceived as my inherited beliefs, and other superfluous attributes that I can’t control, instead of whom I want to be and create myself as.

The new mentality appears different and frightening — different acting, different social dynamics, different manner of building the “self”, different definition of who we are within the society. In addition, we hate being wrong, and we like confirmation. We create a cocoon and hide ourselves in it repeating the hokum over and over again. And we are afraid of the unknown — afraid that the stable self we’ve built to be part of a society is not a self that could partake and feel comfortable in the activities of another society.

However, those last three sentences are wrong. Whenever we hear the frustrated discussion it means that the person hasn’t reached the state of fear but is in complete disillusion. We’re blind to our own views and when this isn’t the case then fear takes on. Fear is uncertainty.
It’s frightful to have society lift us up as a way to construct ourselves and then suddenly loosing this cherished society. It’s also frightful to have this sense of self-direction and suddenly have to adhere to rules and morals to get around in the new society.

To go past this we have to stop constructing ourselves as the vision and start being the authors and selectors of parts within visions taken amongst the panoply of available ones.

This sounds complex…
Where do we start if our own perceptions are erroneous?
Where’s the true best society?

Reading this article is a start in itself. We need to ask questions and take angles at issues we haven’t thought about before. This can’t be done alone, it requires contact with others and their environment because it’s rarely ourselves that can reveal our assumptions. It might be difficult to wear the persona of someone else but less tedious to reach a level of appreciation and respect. To an extent, this means we’ll have to loosen the tight tie with the culture that nurtured us. To move it from an inherent section of ourselves to something we own instead. It takes time to be engulfed in the fluidity of cultures and even more to start belonging to one of them, at least for a short period of time.

Let’s reiterate:

The selfishness is not about selfishness but an embrace to self-direction. Egoist is not the same as egotistic. The culture “asks” this from its members to function well.
The communality is not about barbaric and useless rituals but an embrace of shared bounds and respect, a strong base that everyone relies upon. The culture “asks” this from its members to function well.

So every culture has their standards?
Should we let them be?
What about me?

Cultural diversity doesn’t rhyme with pureness and cleanliness, it’s not about separation nor appropriation. When choosing to be part of it we’re not obliged to succumb, morph and agree. Furthermore, it’s not all relativism and subjectivity where everyone likes what they like, do as they do, and don’t intermix. There are limits and truth in the vagueness, because most of it is unwritten social agreements, to guide us on our path. It doesn’t have to be a binary choice either: we can be part of multiple cultures and juggle with them. This is called cultural sharing: individuals willingly choosing the parts of diversity to create a plurality of cultures within themselves. Certainly, the number of values they can pursue is finite and that discrete factor makes the choice even more deliberate and when pursuing and reaching for new limits there always need to be room for the possibility of human understanding.

Now let’s stop for a while and think about everything we’ve described thus far. Take a step back. Let’s think about our own case or the case of our friends. What we’ve mentioned is not entirely true.

The real truth is that the moralities, world-views, and constructions of the self of the persons with higher “modern” and western education within any society are more adhering together than with the views of the host country; their perception of the self is about self-authorship. The opposite is also true, individuals lower on the social class and without education are more similar altogether world-wide; their perception of the self is about self definition via communality.
It’s not that countries differ in their essence but that the demands of the way the citizen builds him/herself in it differs. Less modern societies have fewer demands of its individuals and provide an in-place system to direct them. Modern societies moves the burden on the individuals and asks of them to provide the structure and system for themselves, it is not intrinsic.

Some persons are more inclined to feel that their home country is not apt at fulfilling their needs. Be it because we think it’s not offering the support it should, or be it because we think it doesn’t offer the liberty that we would like. What modern and less modern societies have in common is that they both need a system, structure, and order.

Nonetheless, deliberate choices are heavy and stressful. Delegating the role of systematization to the country instead of the self makes it less painful. The citizens don’t have to find their own meanings, don’t have to find their own goals, don’t have to find their own roles. There’s already something predestined for them, a “perfect plan”. Community, religious, political, gender, professional.

And when someone with that mindset moves to a country where they are required to define their own self then it seems as if everything is out of place, that everyone is selfish and that no one cares.
And when someone with the other mindset moves, usually in vacations, to a country with predefined rules, they may feel as if everyone wants to tamper with what they’ve created as their structure. Though this reverse case is less frequent than the previous one.

Both try to find what they’ve left in what they’re discovering: their assumptions.

What would be convenient is to take both approach as external and not internal. We can entwine group bounding within a structure and system that we’ve particularly chosen from a set of plurality and cultural sharing. This while still remaining open to suggestion and knowing that all those are on the fringe of ourselves and not defining who we are.

In conclusion, if you can take away an idea from this article it’s that, we need to stay playful with the expansion of our mind. To take whatever we know lightly and detach it from how we define ourselves — To have fun questioning our views. We need to increase the diversity within us and to do that we need more uncertainty and conflicts. All of that while being deliberate, the only intention and motivation is to be open to possibilities.

Cheers my fellow mind travelers!


  • Kant about the Enlightenment
  • Let’s Know Things - Cultural Appropriation - Colin Wright
  • In Over Our Heads - The mental Demands of Modern Life - Robert Kegan
  • Others in Mind - Social Origins of Self-Consciousness - Philippe Rochat
  • The Righteous Mind - Jonathan Haidt
  • Beau Lotto: “Deviate” Talks at Google


Here’s a metaphoric reply I left to someone that was feeling such cultural frustration, it might be more meaningful than this whole post.

Suffocation comes from a feeling of being repressed, imprisoned, limited. The reason for that might be that you feel you’ve reached the end of a road where you see no other alternative paths, at least paths that you don’t see you can fit into. I can relate to that, it’s uneasy and painful.

You want to run away from this road to one that you’ve seen is already paved and well maintained.

However, that other road requires from you, to be able to navigate it, a new mode of transportation, maybe something you are not used to. Something that requires way more from you then you require from the road itself. It’s high speed traffic. It might be as frightening as staying in the prison-state-of-mind.

When you have easy alleys here, though unmaintained, it’s roads that you walk on foot, a lot of the time avoiding potholes. It feels weird and hard to navigate the narrow and potholed infrastructures using a mode of transportation suited for the high speed traffic. You might feel limited and even crushed, looked at by everyone as the weirdo who doesn’t accommodate. You might even feel pressured to just give up what you think defines who you are, the way you move in the world.

It’s the same way in reverse, you can’t walk on foot on the big infrastructures provided for high speed traffic. The burden is all on you, no one is going to stop to have a discussion about which path you should take, you’re on your own to decide your destiny. You might feel alone when everyone is in their vehicle going their way, past you, not giving a glance. At least it might be what you think from the perspective of the one on foot.

Think about that, maybe this metaphor is far-fetched but it’s as close a feeling I could come up with. I have no clue where you stand and I’m not here to judge. However, you have to realize that your suffocation comes from a discrepancy between how you perceive the world should be and how it is.

Your prison is your own vision. You don’t have to picture the environment as a road imposed on you, that you have to move on and with. Roads are there for a reason, it doesn’t mean you should feel pressured by what’s happening on them nor that you should want the road to change for your own way of progressing.

What is required from the road is required by the most number of persons using it.

They are there to use, not for them to be imposed on you, nor to make you feel imprisoned. They are there for you to make the most use of them. What you see as non-functional has some functionalities you might not see at the moment and I’m not going to give a lecture on that, you probably don’t want to hear that. What you want to hear is that there are high speed roads alongside the alleys, and yes there are, everywhere, you just have to find them and the people on them. And there are alleys next to high speed roads, so if you feel like you can’t keep up with the pace you can take refuge in them.

If you want to have a more in depth discussion I'm always available by email or irc. We can discuss and argue about what you like and dislike, about new ideas to consider, opinions, etc..
If you don't feel like "having a discussion" or are intimidated by emails then you can simply say something small in the comment sections below and/or share it with your friends.