Back in August there was a great post on a blog named Musings From an American-Nepali Household (read the original post HERE) that showcased some diagrams done by a Chinese artist named Liu Young who spent some time in Germany. He has illustrated in great simplicity some of the differences in how eastern and western cultures approach life.
Blue = West Red = East
Way of Life
Que When Waiting
Three Meals a Day
If you've never been to Aisa, or conversely if your from Asia and never been in the west this may not make a whole lot of sense, but I assure you that every single picture captures a difference that one begins to notice very prominently when you spend a serious amount of time in one region and you are from the other. The diagram on punctuality on the Eastern side is being very generous...I'd say that little red line could extend another ten minutes or so to the right. I'm not sure I've ever seen someone early here.
These, and other, differences can be a cause of some serious misunderstanding and frustration if you don't understand the cultural differences. For instance the contacts illustration highlights how important and intertwined networking is in eastern cultures. For instance there is no widely used non-personal contact information like yellow pages available widely in Nepal, which is a pain for someone from the West, but in Nepal everyone knows someone who can connect you to this guy who can get you what you want. That's how it works. To us it seems inefficient and convoluted but it underscores the importance of personal relationships and how people use their relationships with others to create very complicated social hierarchies with a tremendous amount of moving parts in the east.
The que when waiting diagram is another classic, and anyone that has been at a busy counter in Asia can relate to the chaos that is a complete lack of a line. Being patient and passive will get you nowhere. Even after all this time here, I still have to remind myself that people aren't trying to be rude when they cut in front of you at the store check out...though I'll admit after all this time it still takes me by surprise on occasion. This picture also highlights how driving is done differently, in the west it's an orderly line where people stay in their lanes, in the east your only limitation seems to be where your vehicle can physically go. A friend of mine were discussing this at one point while observing a Nepali traffic jam, and she mentioned that although we find the traffic here quite crazy, Neapli people think it's insane how fast we drive in the west. She related a story of how a nepali man in the US was quite frightened when driving 50mph down a road coming toward traffic that was going at an equal speed. In the US we just assume everyone will follow the rules and stay in their lane, if you're from Asia you don't make that assumption.
While I have some Nepali friends here, I spend most of my time with other westerners, strangely enough. Thus we bring our own habits to how we interact, despite being in a place that does things completely differently. The party diagram is a great picture, and you immediately know if you're at a western or eastern party based on how people are interacting. Nepalis are much more inclusive and their parties are all about everyone participating together. Westerners mingle in groups shifting over time, but we definitely don't get in circles and sing or what ever. As the anger diagram makes clear, if you've done something you shouldn't have at a party just because a Nepali is smiling at you doesn't mean you haven't pissed them off.
It's not the big things that separate us so much, but the daily small things that you don't think about. It's not really religion and philosophy as much as what is considered common courtesy or how to operate a toilet.