As an Asian, I find many aspects of Asian culture, like pandas, kung pao chicken, ninjas, karate fu, samurai, K-pop, and octopus tentacles to be kind of uninteresting. Not to mention that those things don’t really represent Asian culture that well anyways. However, one thing I do think Asians got right is bowing.
In most East and South Asian cultures, bowing is not just a greeting. A bow can also show respect, an apology, self-deprecation, thanks, gratitude, marriage, condolences, humility, remorse, deference, and expressing to the other person how much you yourself suck.
While the overt displays of respect and even submissiveness might turn off some of us who have been raised in “Western” society, I actually like it. I find the supposedly humiliating gesture much more genuine and straightforward than a simple “I am sorry” statement, for instance. It also ensures that you know that the other person knows that you are sorry.
At least that’s how I see it. I hate having to guess someone else’s intentions or feelings, or having to guess whether someone else understands mine.
As a final note, about two years ago people were freaking out when Obama bowed to Asian heads of state and government, particularly the Japanese Emperor. Some Americans got pissed off that Obama was being “submissive” and “weak” towards world leaders. Others, trying to keep respect for diverse peoples and cultures in mind, however, said that Obama did do something very wrong. But it wasn’t that he bowed.
The problem was that he did the wrong type of bow. Supposedly.
In Asia, but most particularly Japan, bows can be differentiated by the angle the body makes, the angle your head is at respect to the rest of the body, where your eyes are looking at, whether you’re also doing a handshake or not, and so forth. But I won’t comment much further, as tons of people ranted about this two years ago. Actually I don’t know if the Japanese themselves cared. They probably thought Americans are funny at worst. Obama might not have done the wrong type of bow, actually. People here in America don’t really know the actual protocols behind bowing in Japan and Asia, so for all we know Obama might have just done the right thing. If anything, all the media attention given to the bow two years ago just shows the lack of knowledge about diverse peoples and cultures around these days.
Respect for diverse peoples and cultures is difficult. But it is also very important. Anyhow, I think bowing should be used more often since it’s so blatantly obvious and hard to miss. Because in Japan, if you fail to show such respect or remorse, you might have to do seppuku.