This article will be the first of a serie of articles relative to culture and how it impacts who we are and our thoughts and behaviours in society. It seems important and necessary to understand what is a culture and to define how important it is for everyone to then, understand better cross cultural phenomenon. To this end we will focus on a cultural phenomenon called the “Indian syndrome” to understand how our culture impact our personality and how culture can define who we are.
Since my childhood, I had the chance to travel all around the world thanks to my parents. Traveling means discovering a new country, crossing borders, meeting people and discovering a brand-new culture. Never the less, the change of scenery is sometimes so strong that people become crazy in front of all the customs, traditions and such different lifestyles. Thus, it’s in India where this phenomenon seems to be the most surprising and shocking.
When I’ve heard about it for the first time, I was really intrigued and suspicious about it. How a cultural shock can be so strong that people become crazy? So, I started making some researches about the “Indian syndrome”, and I found a book “Fous de l’Inde – Délire d’Occidentaux et sentiments océaniques” written by Régis Airault. This man is a French doctor and psychiatrist who lived in India for years and he is the first one to name the syndrome and to describe it. Several occidental tourists travelling in India have been struck by this indescribable trouble. In fact, after a few days in India, the cultural clash is so strong that some can fall in a psychic trouble. It’s very often along with panic attack, deep sadness and loss of identity and landmarks. This trouble usually ends after a come back to their homeland and culture. After my researches, I realised that was a serious phenomenon, not an isolated one. But how is it possible that the loss of cultural markers can create such a confusion?
I understood that our culture is maybe more important for each of us than I thought. This time, I started making researches focused on our relationship with our culture.
First I think it’s important to define what is a culture. The anthropological meaning of a culture is everything that unite a group of people, and which differentiate them from the other. Thus, when we ask the question “who are you?” the answer is very often an enumeration of belonging constituting our culture. Moreover, we usually consider that a culture defines us, which is quite conflicting when we know that an identity is usually what makes you different. As a first conclusion, we can say that culture seems to be a part of our identity, but our identity isn’t only our culture, risking losing our singularity.
Never the less our culture still plays a role for the building of our own personality. In fact, it can be a driving force which allows you to emancipate yourself from your cultural group. Moreover, I think that our personality is an opened dialogue between our culture and the different cultures all around the world. Even if our personality isn’t only defined by our culture, cultures always have an impact on our personality.
At this point, I started understanding what made this tourist become crazy: our culture seems to be a part of our identity, which means the loss of our cultural markers involved the loss of a part of us, creating confusion and an interior pain. But I went further, trying this time to understand how to adapt myself in an inter-cultural situation as a trip or a group of work.
I continued my research in taking an interest to Lévi-Strauss. He defined culture as an inertial system, a set of habits and ideologies that proved themselves before. Never the less the perpetuation of this scheme means constantly trying to stay different from the other cultures. This phenomenon of “identification-repulsion” is the origin of the ethnocentrism which can be defined as the reject and the judgement of the other cultures, considering ours as the standard. But this vision is the very antithesis of an inter-cultural vison and I disagree with this vison of the different culture. In fact, we must make an effort of acceptation, trying to forget the foundations, principles and ideologies to maybe understand behaviours and costumes from another culture. This is cultural relativism, which is in my opinion, the founding pillar of cross cultural management.
Never the less, the cultural relativism presents some limits. In fact, it doesn’t mean accepting everything on behalf of the right of differ, otherwise it will become cultural relativism naïve as Lévi-Strauss called it. Everything will be relative to the culture which they come from, making acceptable Nazism ideas and acts for example, because through a Nazism point of view, it was acceptable and necessary.