East-West Cross-Cultural Lessons

When you come to Turkey from America you must remember you are coming from an individualistic society in contrast to a collective/hierarchical society.  Relationships are all important and money is not as important as friendships.  Everything is centered around the relationships of a particular family or group.

Life is based on group decisions.  A proverb says,”The one who runs ahead runs alone.”
This culture is shame based so to be expelled from the family or community is the greatest fear.

For example, in the West, which is a guilt based culture, people break the law and either pay the penalty and/or are forgiven.  Yet in a shame based society, loss of face, exposure of wrong-doing, and rejection are powerful deterrents that lead one to work toward social acceptance.

In this society “privacy” as foreigners know it is hard to come by. The entire community is involved in all of life’s issues and to not let others be involved is rude.  Here one’s contacts or circle of friends is more important than the rule of law.

In Turkish culture time is not as important as friendship, family, and being with people. Westerners want to “do something” whereas Turks are more concerned with being with their friends and family.  Westerners tend to be independent and self-reliant, but in Turkey one’s identity is bound up with the group.

Eastern culture views accomplishment as less important than maintaining relationships. Westerners tend to talk through their problems, but in Turkey politeness/harmony are more important than openness and honesty.  In the East, appearance and seeming respectful or honorable is more important than dishonoring oneself through self-disclosure.

Westerners tend to view accomplishments as a gauge of someone’s value, not birth or status.  Easterners see personal goals are subject to the group’s goals.

Westerners tend to have shallower, short-term, casual relationships. Easterners look at relationships as developing into obligations, duties and resonsibilities to each other.

These cultural perspectives are represented in the following proverbs:

Western Proverbs

  • A penny saved is a penny earned.
  • Time is money.
  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
  • You’ve made your bed now sleep in it.
  • A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.
  • There is more than one way to skin a cat.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
  • A squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Eastern Proverbs

  • Two captains sink a ship.
  • The sick man must be in bed, the soup in the bowl.
  • The sheep separated from the flock is eaten by the wolf.
  • One hand doesn’t clap two hands do.
  • Many ants kill a camel.
  • A lake forms a drop at a time.
  • A guest comes, with 10 blessings, eats one and leaves nine.
  • The master of the house is servant to the guest.
  • Do not speak of rope in a hanged man’s house.

In coming to Turkey people will learn alot about themselves and others, as we see what things are important, what values one has, and what rules or directs one’s life.