In the fall of my freshman year at Western, I was standing in line at the Saugeen-Maitland Hall cafeteria, waiting to pay for an overloaded tray of food. The student in front of me picked up his student ID to give to the cafeteria clerk before realizing he didn’t have it. Seeing this uncomfortable situation, I immediately offered to pay for his meal. I was even going to insist, if I was not faced with a dry refusal combined with suspicious looks from the student and the employee.
I’ve received my fair share of weird looks since arriving in Canada in 2013, looks that most international students are very familiar with. Where I come from, people rarely indulge in outdoor activities for fun, have a strong and unreasonable fear of dogs, and find it extremely rude and inappropriate to ask for money from acquaintances. exchange of textbooks or other course materials rather than giving them away for free. These are all hiccups that have happened over the years.
There is always that part of me that wants to step up and defend itself. I wish I could have explained to the students and cafeteria staff that what I did would have been met with extreme gratitude and appreciation for where I come from. It would not be considered “weird”; in fact, such behavior is considered the norm, regardless of a person’s financial or social status.
People’s judgment of what is “normal” or “strange” is primarily defined by their culture: the behavior expected of the average person. While most people are aware that these norms vary across cultures, many of us have an innate attachment to our ideas and expectations of normality. These expectations are the building blocks of stereotypes. We use our perceptions of the behavior of an average individual, or what we think is average, to draw conclusions about a group of people.
However, over the years I have realized that a strange thing starts to happen when people are exposed to different cultures through travel and immersion. This attachment to our definition of normal is gradually fading away, dissolving with it the stereotypical and critical ideas that many of us have despite our best intentions.
When everything gets “weird”, nothing is really “weird” anymore. That’s what it feels like to enter a different culture. Coming to this country as a foreigner, I can comfortably say that a lot of things were initially strange to me; like the way people dressed, walked and talked. Soon enough, I could no longer maintain my default expectations of how people should behave, leaving me with a much more tolerant attitude.
This is not to say that abnormal behavior does not exist, but rather that our concept of what is normal should be much more inclusive. This inclusion can only become possible through cultural exposure, which normalizes what once seemed abnormal, inappropriate or even completely wrong.
Most social norms are not based on fundamental values, moral beliefs or religion; they are nothing more than a meaningless average. This group average implies that there is something wrong with people who rank above or below, whether or not they belong to that group.
For Canada to stand up for the values ââof multiculturalism and diversity that it so strongly advocates, people must broaden their definition of normal by abandoning this preconceived mean. Maybe newcomers will receive less weird stares in the future.