“The Finger Snap,” where I learn to be culturally sensitive – Amna Bint E Humayun

“Could I read this book?” Failing to resist myself after seeing a book on ‘Clear Thinking’ in front of the pocket of my seat, I asked her snapping my fingers to get her attention in the middle of our journey towards a three day boot camp at Pattaya which is a beautiful beach city, 150 kilometers away from the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok.

“No, you cannot!” She replied angry red faced.

Did I make a mistake asking for the book? Shocked of her hard words and equally concerned about the unkind expressions, I questioned myself as she was not a stranger but my classmate, a new friend and work study fellow, Khanh. She was the only student from Vietnam as I was from Pakistan with 24 others to be selected to attend the undergraduate program of Global Studies and Social Entrepreneurship at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand.

After a couple of minutes, she informed me the reason of her unwelcomed behavior
notifying me about snapping your fingers is not a good attention seeker.

‘It’s normal purpose is to attract and engage with dogs so I got annoyed and reacted unkindly with you. Therefore, you should not use it for human beings.’

I immediately apologized, explaining to her that I was not aware that snapping your fingers was rude. In Pakistan it is commonly used as an attention seeker and for playing tricks with kids and among friends. Later while reflecting on the interaction I researched about the meaning of this expression. I came to know that there are 8.5 million dogs in Thailand and snapping your fingers is a common way people communicate with them. I also wondered how she knew about this cultural expression and I did not. I think she might be more aware of it as some aspects of Southeast Asian culture are common between Southeast Asian countries, like Thailand and Vietnam. The same is true for South Asian countries as Pakistan shares some common cultural values with Bangladesh.

Now as I am reflecting back, I think it was the first time on my journey to Pattaya that I truly understood the meaning, importance, and beauty of cultural exchange. I often used this word, “culture”, in my conversations but I never truly understood its depth of the meaning and significance. After the explanation from Khanh about a simple attention seeker of snapping my
fingers, I am entirely grateful for my growth from the multi-cultural environment which has stimulated in me the quest for learning tolerance and adaptability. At the same time, this incident has encouraged me to be open for dialogue with people who have deep differences with me. This new discovery hugely assisted me in my boot camp experience to be more engaging and adaptive according to my new environment. In addition, I strongly believe this is a crucial lesson for the rest of my life journey; To be culturally sensitive, tolerant and have a positive learning attitude from people who might have different beliefs and perspectives due to exposure to different environments than me. All things together, this realization has brought me to a new understanding of culture and has helped me to be more open minded to get myself ready to share and learn from differences.

Later on that same bus ride, Khanh eventually offered me her book, which I accepted graciously. Nowadays she smiles charmingly whenever we meet.

Article by Amna Bint E Humayun

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