‘East Is East and West Is West’
By “Awake!” correspondent in Taiwan
WHEN a friend extends his hand toward you with the palm down and motions downward with his fingers or his whole hand, what does it mean? This depends on whether he is an Oriental or an Occidental. To the Oriental it unmistakably means “Come here!” But to the Westerner it likely means “Stay there!” or, perhaps, “Get down!” There are many little things that make East and West different.
Western manners generally dictate that a person should keep his mouth closed when chewing and avoid making undue noise. A new missionary in Japan found that this did not please her host, a doctor with whom she was studying the Bible. When remaining for a lunch of noodles after completing the study, she tried to eat quietly and to use the chopsticks skillfully. Finally, in disgust, the doctor remarked, “You cannot even make a noise when you eat noodles, can you?” The surprised missionary explained that, while they were tasty, she found it hard to eat quietly but was trying. He then pointed out that she should be making a noise—the more she would slurp the better, for it would show that she was enjoying the noodles! It took some effort to adjust her thinking, but eventually this missionary learned to slurp her soup and noodles quite well. But five years later she came up against another problem. On a visit to the country of her relatives, she shocked them with her slurping. Again she became aware of the fact that there is a difference between East and West.
Similarly, burping or belching after a meal to show satisfaction is usually frowned upon in the West. But, in Taiwan and other Oriental lands, such things are excellent compliments on the quality and quantity of the food.
There is even a marked difference in the way tools are used. The Oriental carpenter pulls the plane, while the Western carpenter pushes it. For the Westerner the cutting stroke of a handsaw is the pushing stroke, but for the Oriental it is the pulling stroke. Correspondingly, the saws differ. The Western saw is heavier and longer than the Oriental one and is wide near the handle. The Eastern saw is wider at the far end and usually has two sets of teeth, fine on one edge and coarser on the other. In view of the finished product, though, both tools have their merits and serve equally well to get the job done.
“Ladies first” is a common expression in the West. An Oriental waitress who is not too accustomed to serving foreigners, however, may suddenly stop serving the man first and embarrassedly excuse herself as she moves things to the female customer’s place first. Yes, in the Orient the man comes first in almost all things. He is the first to enter a door or a vehicle. In earlier days, a wife would not walk alongside her husband but would walk a step or two behind him. While this has disappeared almost completely now, it is still customary for the man to precede the woman.
These examples illustrate why it has been said that ‘East is East and West is West and never the twain will meet.’ But adjustments can be made that can make people with varying customs feel right at home with one another. This has been the experience of Jehovah’s Witnesses serving as missionaries in foreign fields. They have come to realize the importance of not insisting on holding on to the customs of their native lands but appreciating those of other peoples. They strive to imitate the example of the apostle Paul, who said of himself: “Though I am free from all persons, I have made myself the slave to all, that I may gain the most persons. And so to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews . . . I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some. But I do all things for the sake of the good news, that I may become a sharer of it with others.” (1 Cor. 9:19-23) In so doing, these missionaries have also found that adjusting to varying customs can add interest and color to one’s life and promote a wholesome spirit of friendship and understanding.