The Inuit Asian cousin connection

‘We’re your asian cousins from another mother,” said the Korean speaker at the Asian Insights Seminar at Ilisimatusarfik earlier this year.

Are Asians and Greenlanders really that similar or different?

At the seminar, the professor explained the similarities between the two countries, describing why Greenland and Korea should work together. It prompted me to consider how Asians and Inuits live life. I’m thinking specifically South-East Asians and Chinese Asians as my frame of reference unless I say otherwise. I should also note that Asians are very different from each other – I mean, it is a whole continent after all. For example, it’s okay to say you’ve put on weight in some Asian cultures, and completely inappropriate in others. Here are a few ponderings about the cousins:

On bargaining

In Asia, you have to bargain in markets. You have to be dramatic: sometimes the seller will start at a high price knowing that the buyer will begin at a ridiculously low price. The seller may even tell you off if you offer a price they think is outrageous. You would then react by walking away. The seller may then change his or her mind and yell at you to come back. It’s a sort of game with lots of theatrics, and the winner is the most skilled bargainer. (That’s not true, you were probably ripped off =) ). In Greenland, you can discuss the price but as the women in my building told me, “In Greenland we do not ‘prutte on penge'” (we do not bargain). At least not noisily.

On paying the bill

Source: Core 77

Generally in social situations where everyone is of equal status in Greenland, people just pay for their own coffee or meal. This is completely different to the asian culture I know where people FIGHT for the bill and make a big show of insisting to pay. The squabbling aspect is very related with keeping face. Still, there is a rule to Asian squabbling too, and unless one is much richer than the other, you’ll probably take turns paying for the whole cheque.

On tanning

So this girl from Jersey Shore probably didn’t cross the ice cap… Source: bad tv blog

Traditionally in Asia, being tanned is a big no-no. In fact, whitening creams are very popular, just as tanning creams sell well in western countries. In many places in Asia it equals being a peasant, signifying that you have spent alot of time working on a farm in the fiery fiery sun. No time for sunbathing! Here, I haven’t quite figured out whether being tanned is a great thing or if it doesn’t matter either way. An all-over tan can mean that you’ve been overseas on holiday. A neck-up-hands-only tan could maybe mean that you went skiing or the sun is strong even though it’s still cool temperatures. I’ve also seen a few locals here just back from a trip with a huge sunglass tan – one had just crossed the ice-cap. Pretty cool, huh? =)

On being related

The Dugar Family with 19 kids and counting. The next generation is definitely going to give numbers to their aunties and uncles! Source: dynamofire

In my asian culture, everyone who is older than me is an auntie or uncle. It’s great because I don’t have to remember everyone’s names. Actually, I have no idea what some of my aunties are called, because I just call them ‘3rd auntie’, ‘4th auntie’ and so on. It’s a sign of respect to call them this, as opposed to just by their names. In Greenland, you may call an adult or elder by their real name, but there’s a high(er) chance that you’re related to them anyway! Clans are important in both places. The town or region you are from in Greenland is more important than being a Greenlander, or so I’ve heard. However, instead of Nguyen, Wong or Lee, the clans are  Kleist, Chemnitz and Heilmann.

On keeping face

Keeping face in Asia is usually to do with honour, respect, dignity and influence. A person’s pride is very important, and keeping their public reputation intact even more so. It’s got alot to do with relationships, or ‘guanxi’ as they call it in chinese. While they may call it something else in Greenland, there are some social situations where the essence of ‘saving face’ is used. For example, people keep other people’s secrets and respect their privacy because it is a small society where everyone knows too much already. In a business situation here, people might also ‘soften’ the tone of a complaint, because they do not want to get on the bad side of a customer or client. There might only be a few providers of that particular service, so you have to keep up a good relationship anyway. Transport this context to traditional drum-dancing in Greenland and the concept inverts a little: in the past, individuals at war with each other would have to fight it out by doing a song duel. The winner of the duel would be the one of could make the audience laugh the most by being ridiculous or telling the funniest song. It’s hard to imagine humour being incorporated into face-saving in Asian culture… =)

Sometimes when cultures meet, something beautiful (or hilarious) is created. Do you have any examples of cultural differences which made you realise something new?  

14 thoughts on “The Inuit Asian cousin connection

  1. Pingback: What no one tells you about moving to Greenland | The Fourth Continent

  2. Great post! I have wondered the same about the Kazakhs and East Asians for example..
    I can so relate to each and every one of those Asian points 😀 (I am from Nepal)

  3. Pingback: How to piss off a Greenlander | The Fourth Continent

  4. Paying the bill. My oh my. During big family dinners in Malaysia, sometimes one of my parents or relatives are known for sneaking out halfway through the meal to pay the bill. It really is that competitive as you mention. Paying the bill made me think of tipping. In Australia, tipping isn’t that common but it does happen and it’s not frowned upon. Like if you had a few coins you would be okay with leaving it on the table for the waiter. But I never saw this in Malaysia and Singapore – everyone here literally waits for change to get handed back to them and when they do get it, stuff them in their pockets. It makes sense why Asians are often seen as stingy…

    In my family too I address my uncle and aunties by “uncle” and “auntie”. Calling them by their first names is not appropriate at all. In Chinese-Malaysian culture they are not our friends but trusted family members that we should look up to.

  5. I’d love to hear your opinions about hygiene practices and how they’re similar between Asia (broadly speaking) and Greenland. I found hygiene standards a bit lower in China, Korea, and most of SE Asia compared to Denmark, so I’d be curious where Greenland fits on this issue.

    • Hi Michael, I don’t think I could answer you very well. Greenland has developed alot in the past century, though, but as I understand it they have always been a house proud society even when they lived in summer tents. I don’t know how easy it was to get hot showers before though…
      What do you mean by hygiene standards? Do you mean personal hygiene or being house proud, or?
      Cheers, Tanny

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