At 14 years old, I worked at a grocery store alongside two Muslims and one Black American. This was my first time working with people from different cultures.
I did not note a significant cultural difference between us Whites and the Black Americans. However, the Muslim workmates, who were both female, always wore their religious attires that covered all their body including the hair. Another major difference was toilet etiquette and personal hygiene. I learnt that they were required to enter the toilet with their left foot and leave with the right foot. Also, while we use tissue paper after using the toilet, the ladies used water to clean their back passage. This Muslim principle of hygiene is known as Qadaa’al-haajah (A-Islam.org, 2018). The principle also requires adherents to remain silent while using the toilet and prohibits men to touch their genitals with the right hand (Tradoc DCSINT Handbook No. 2, 2006). The Muslim ladies’ lifestyle was primarily centered on the Muslim religion.
The African American workmate was a Christian like me. Although we did not go to the same church, we had common religious beliefs. Christians believe that God is the creator of heaven and earth and Jesus Christ is His son who was sent to save mankind from sin (BBC, 2009). Christians believe that their relationship with God is justified through the Jesus’ death and resurrection. Besides my religious differences with the Muslim workmates, we ate similar foods and spoke English although they sometimes spoke Arab to each other.
Learning about the Islam toilet etiquette baffled me initially but I later accepted our cultural differences. The exposure to a different culture, language, and race made me aware of our differences as human beings and I learnt to embrace diversity.
I never experienced any obstacle when working with people from different languages. Although we were all uneasy with each other at first, we later established close friendships and worked cohesively.
Stereotypes are developed when people lack sufficient knowledge of a particular group. For instance, a person who meets a confrontational Black can assume that all Blacks are confrontational. Stereotypes are harmful because they often lead to unjustified treatment and other forms of discrimination (Momentous Institute, n.d.). Whenever someone makes a false assumption about a certain group, I challenge them to learn more about the group and emphasize that we are all different and we should, therefore, accept to live with our differences.
When working at the grocery store, I learnt that the Muslim ladies dashed out at specific hours to go for prayer. I severally offered to perform the ladies’ tasks while they went for prayer. Even though the tasks were overwhelming, I understood that religion was central to them.
Besides African American and Arabs, I have also worked with Indians.
Indians were the hardest to work with because they always shunned me and claimed am a racist because it is the nature of Whites. They never changed their perceptions towards me despite my efforts to develop good relationships with them.
My major lesson learnt from experiences with diverse cultures is that we can get along even if we have different backgrounds. Cultural differences have fueled unfair treatment of others including violence. Once we embrace our differences, we will gain knowledge of different cultures and benefit from diversity. For instance, working with Arabs challenged me to prioritize my religion. I also learnt that most people judge others wrongly because of the bad experiences they had with a person from the particular group. Instead of making assumptions, we should develop interest in learning other cultures and judge people individually not according to their groups.
Al-Islam.org. (2018). Lesson 22: Rules of the Toilet. Al-Islam.Org. Retrieved from https://www.al-islam.org/elements-islamic-studies-allamah-saeed-akhtar-rizvi/lesson-22-rules-toilet
BBC. (2009). The basics of Christian beliefs. BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/beliefs/basics_1.shtml
Momentous Institute. (n.d.). Why stereotypes are harmful. Momentous Institute. Retrieved from https://momentousinstitute.org/blog/why-stereotypes-are-harmful
Tradoc DCSINT Handbook No. 2). (2006). Arab cultural awareness: 58 factsheets. Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence US Army Training and Doctrine Command. Retrieved from https://fas.org/irp/agency/army/arabculture.pdf