Monday, April 24, 2017

Our culture is in the toilet...material culture

1 - please take out your ipads and search for a picture that represents American culture.  Save that picture, then:

Yesterday we examined two metaphors for understanding culture: The card game and the fishbowl. Take a minute and think about how each of these is like a culture.
2. Turn to a person next to you, the older partner share how the card game was a metaphor for culture.
3.The younger partner share how the fishbowl is like a culture.

Today, let's examine a real life cultural situation. The Danish mother visiting NYC. For example, it is normal for Danish parents to leave their babies in a buggy while they eat inside a restaurant. American culture, especially New Yorkers do not accept this. But this is very accepted in many Scandanavian cultures. So when a Danish mom left her child outside in a baby buggy for over an hour while she ate dinner in a restaurant, it created quite a stir among New Yorkers.
 In this scenario, who experienced culture shock?  Ethnocentrism? And, who was culturally relative?

Could sociology have helped all of the participants to be more understanding of each other? Have you ever been to a foreign culture and experienced culture shock?

My best example of culture shock was the Japanese toilet. At first, the experience can be a culture shock as the traditional Japanese toilet is very different from ours. As we examine this toilet as well as other cultural components we must remember to be culturally relative. In other words, try not to be ethnocentric, but in stead understand each culture from its own perspective.

When understanding culture, sociologists examine material culture (things) and non-material culture (gestures, language, norms, values). Material culture often reflects non-material culture. 

In the case of the Japanese toilet, not only does it look and function differently from ours, but it also represents fundamentally different non-material culture. The Japanese are very germ conscious and they try hard not to spread germs. They also do not have a lot of furniture - they do not sit on furniture in their houses so why would they sit on a porcelain throne in a bathroom? And finally, they are used to sitting and squatting in positions difficult for westerners.

The Japanese do have a "Western style" toilet that  is more like the toilet we are used to however, it still represents differences in both - its material and non-material culture.

In either case, the point is that there is nothing natural about culture.  In other words, there are no weird ways of doing things that come quite natural to us.  There are only different ways of doing things.  And material culture, although physically different, often represents a different non-material culture, such as a different way of thinking about the world.

Another example would be how people eat around the world.  That is, what utensils they eat with.


  1. I liked the story you shared in class about your stay in England, With using both utensils. Honestly I think the Brits just hate us, and there's another reason.

  2. i could never imagine sitting or stuqtting while goin to the bathroom. it just doesnt make sence to me!! i dont even want to know how you did it.. ha

  3. I think the Japanese are very smart and efficient with the way they use toilets and other necessities.. If we, in America were that smart, imagine all of the sicknesses/germs/diseases, and even other things, that wouldn't be around!

  4. I think the Japanese toilets are also a really good idea. It seems much more cleansy, although I could never imagine going to the bathroom like that. I feel like my legs would get awfully soar!

  5. i think its so cool how you have to adjust to new cultures when you're in someone ese's country. you didn't have a choice if you wanted to adapt or not. whn you gotta go, you gotta go.

  6. I find it to be soo interesting how other countries that have similar aspects to America, still have outrageous ways of doing certain things, like going to the bathroom. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to get used to going to the bathroom in something like that.. It'd take monthes haha.

  7. It was really interesting learning about toilets in class. It amazes me how going from one country to the other, even the toilets change. People go to the bathroom different ways in different countries. Crazy.

  8. I think culture shock is a daily phenomenon that we all face at one point or another. Just the fact that the toilet is like that is a bit on the more funny side of culture shocks, counting all of the practice it must have taken to master using that thing.

  9. I've definitely felt culture shock before, not even just leaving the country, but going to some of my polish friends' houses. So it's interesting how diverse America is, that we have all different types of lifestyles in our own country that we may not even know about. This lesson was tight though.