Ethnocentrism is a phenomenon that occurs in all cultures. It refers to people’s tendency to judge other people’s behaviour or actions according to the standards of their own culture. It results in people believing their own culture’s way of life is the ‘right’ way. An example of this is to describe Americans as driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road instead of ‘left-hand’ or ‘opposite’ side.
Such generalisations, often made without a conscious awareness that we've used our culture as a universal yardstick, can be very inaccurate and cause us to misjudge others and make false assumptions about other people’s cultures and customs. For example:
- An Australian sees an Asian person sniffing loudly. Australians think everyone should use a handkerchief or tissue to blow one’s nose and consider sniffing to be rude.
- An Asian person sees an Australian blowing his nose on a handkerchief or tissue. Asians view handkerchiefs and tissues as unhygienic and are often repulsed by blowing one’s nose.
The view that one way is ‘right’ and therefore the other is ‘wrong’ could lead to false assumptions about the other person’s culture.
The following points can assist you to be more culturally sensitive:
- Acknowledge the differences in social customs, family life, definitions of normal practice or dietary habits.
- Be aware of your own practices and avoid using them as a means by which to judge others.
- Be willing to learn by asking questions and seeking clarification when you encounter unfamiliar ideas or behaviour.