I was exposed to a full blast of culture shock on my recent trip to Britain. A cousin, who was raised in the UK, was involved in a bitter argument with his father. He said something to him that I would not have said to my own father. I had my own reservation about the outburst and I kept my opinion to myself until his mother confided to me.
Being brought up in the east herself, she said that she could only blame the Western upbringing. I could not dispute it but the fact that it was she and her husband who raised him amused me. It was obvious to me that as a parent, she saw no fault in the way she brought him up. I thought I had to say something to support her and I searched hard for something positive. I told her no matter how hard parents can try it was up to an individual to respond to upbringing. However, I did say that where one was raised had very little to do with it.
Perhaps she confused the environment with local culture. In the West, children are allowed a greater freedom of 'discussion' with parents that has no defined boundaries. In the countries like my cousin lives, children are encouraged to indiscriminately speak their minds. It is part of the democratic system and the privileges that go with it. Here in the Gulf and elsewhere in the east, you learn to 'hold your tongue' when elders are involved. Parents of the eastern countries enjoy the right of disciplining their children well into their adulthood. I guess my aunt and her husband lost that right when they decided to immigrate to Britain.
I met up with my cousin and he brought up the subject. He said he regretted it and he would apologise but was waiting for the right moment. To me, it was a lame excuse. There is no right time to say you are sorry but now. I don't think he would ever do it because he lives in a different environment. British parents smack their children almost anywhere in the world but in their own country. For people like me, laws that ban parents from slapping their children are absurd. I understand the law is to prevent child abuse but I guess they are having problem to define how far you can discipline your child. A slap on the wrist is acceptable but would not that lead to harsh punishment? That is why British legislators, to avoid controversy, ban physical child discipline altogether.
That brings me back to my aunt's argument. She blamed her husband for not taking any action when their son insulted him. "I would have slapped him and would not have cared about his response," she told me.
I have not heard about any parent slapping a 54-year-old man but I guess there is always a first time for everything. The worse thing he would have done was to report his own mother to the police and the best thing was to walk away quietly. I guess his mother would never know now how he would have reacted. To me, the idea of the 'slap' came up fifty years too late. And history repeats itself.
My cousin, I hear, enjoys the same treatment from his children as the one he inflicts to his parents. Culture shock or not, we should respect the heritage and customs of all countries.
The only thing to remember is that parenting takes another form when you settle away from home. Think about it before you pack your children and cross the distant horizon.