Navigating cultural difference

Photo courtesy of Taiamai Tour: Taniwha Mihaka

I was at an event the other day and took my two boys with me. It was a beautiful event. When it was time to eat, my baby, who is eight, asked if he could go up and get some kai as according to him he was starving. Eight year olds seem to be always starving… Anyway I told him that he had to wait until we are told to go up. His reply was “but I’m a kid” and my reaction was “at this type of event kids wait till last to eat but you can come up with me”. Needless to say he looked very confused.

I thought about this more as the day went on and as I watched him at the event looking and learning as he negotiated cultural differences. I realized that in his world, which consists of being Māori and Cook Island, it means that kids come first. They eat first, get the best seats at events, and get the best bed options when staying over and attention they need from a range of people not just their parents. Coz in our world it definitely is taking my whole village to raise these children…..

It made me think about how we have to constantly negotiate and learn to navigate many cultural lines in order to fit into and embrace our ever changing culturally diverse society. There are both positive and negative experiences and I have never really thought about how this has actually occurred, until my baby bought it to my attention. Of course now I can think of many examples. I also thought about how we in many ways facilitate this navigation and negotiation ourselves whether directly or indirectly, positively or negatively. Below are some light hearted stories that come to mind.

1. When I took my big boy out of kura kaupapa Māori and put him into mainstream schooling he had to learn to navigate the Pākehā system very quickly. He was bought up in kohanga reo, so mainstream was extremely different for him. He couldn’t understand why at this kura they did not start with karakia and that they wore their shoes inside. Needless to say he took his shoes off everyday. This led to the teacher announcing that if other people wanted to do this they could. As the weeks went by, on picking him up after school I would see more and more shoes lined up outside the classroom.

2. My nephew and son went on a camp for a week. On return I asked how it was and they said they loved it, but my nephew’s only complaint was “Aunty, but they didn’t have any rice”. I broke into laughter and had to tell him that not everyone eats rice. He gave me that ‘what are you talking about?’ look. My nephew who is Cook Island/Tongan is used to having rice everyday in his house. My husband was the same – every day there needed to be rice or the meal was just not complete. In his family the orientation to becoming a true family member was your ability to cook rice, and not the rice cooker kind, it had to be with a pot and water using your finger as the unit of measurement.

3. At the mainstream school my baby is at, I was one of the parents that made noises about setting up a Māori unit considering the high numbers of Māori students in attendance. After a couple of years and a number of meetings, which was supported, they now have a whānau unit up and running. This is a great thing right? Meetings were held to get parents to decide if their kids were going to be enrolled within the unit. I naturally thought of course yes, my baby would be in the whānau unit. But oh no, no, NO, my baby decided that he was not going to move thank you very much! and took all the liberties he could with reminding me that I didn’t even ask him. So after a bit of negotiating and using the “I am the parent” line, he won. Well that and my mother’s words that also echoed in my head around my big boy wanting to leave kura kaupapa and not forcing him to stay, as he might end up hating school and transferring that to his culture.  So we decided to let my baby learn from his friends experience in the unit to see if he will enter next year. Here’s hoping…

Navigating cultural difference is an ongoing event. I am aware that I am still constantly navigating and negotiating cultural lines everyday. The biggest learning is still coming to terms with my own culture, like negotiating and navigating different iwi, different dialects, different protocols let alone other cultures I interact with everyday. The key for me though as I get older and hopefully wiser is the learning and reflecting, which in this busy world full of technology, constant noise (geez i feel old writing that) and being so dependent on time (got to get here, do this now or yesterday) it gets harder to fit the learning and reflecting in.  That’s why I love it when you learn through the eyes of your children or those children around you as it quickly teaches you valuable and insightful lessons.

What did I take from today? Did I learn something?

One Comment

  1. Amber Nicholson

    Navigating cultural difference is such a big kaupapa for us all. And I think that is where the issues with your other blog “confronting the racist within” stem from. Sometimes these tensions seem insurmountable. But I think there is always a balance to be found. Thank you for your insight Rachel.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s