Cultural Awareness – My Small NY Resolution with a Big Impact

Happy New Year and welcome to the first blog post of 2019, you gorgeous lot! I have a good feeling about this year and hope it brings you all of the magic you need to make your dreams come true. 2018 was a great year for me and lol no pressure, 2019, but you have some pretty big shoes to fill. That being said, I only achieved about 2 of my 15 New Year’s Resolutions last year. I may not have learned to cycle or swim, but I was so busy chasing big highs I hadn’t even dreamed about at the start of the year, like taking a businsess course, starting a small business and setting up Midsize Collective, that my resolutions had to take a back seat.

This year, I have some loosely laid plans for 2019, but the only resolution I’m making is less about myself and more about those around me. I’m resolving to make my world a more Culturally Aware place. Growing up in an incredibly multi-cultural city like Mumbai, I was constantly exposed to friends, classmates and family friends from different religious and cultural backgrounds. And while I didn’t realise it when I was little, as an adult, I realise how priveleged I was to be able to learn about different cultures, get to understand different languages and celebrate different festivals that weren’t my own.

So when I moved to the UK and discovered that most of my friends weren’t aware of when festivals like Diwali, Eid, Chinese New Year Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving or even Hanukkah and Yom Kippur are, it was a bit of a culture shock for me. Which is why, I’ve made it my own little mission to make the people around me a bit more Culturally Aware and to help them learn things about different cultures that they didn’t already know.

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I’d start Diwali with a visit to the market with my mum and grandma where we’d buy fresh flower garlands, candles to light up our home, sweets, fruit and nuts for friends and family and sparklers for later on in the evening

They say you never know what you have until its gone, and back when I was planning to move to England, I didn’t think this meant never being able to celebrate Diwali, the Indian festival of lights and our equivalent to Christmas, with my friends and family again. I’m going to hold my hands up and say that it is largely my fault. I mean, one would argue that if it meant that much to me, I’d do something to celebrate here, right? But somehow, when you don’t really have any friends that share your culture around to be excited with, the inclination to get people from other cultures involved in your own isn’t as strong. I didn’t want to ‘be a burden’ on anyone or have anyone feel like they needed to celebrate with me, which is why I’m the worst sort of person who would never plan anything, and then end up feeling sorry for myself on the day.

True to form, I did exactly the same in 2018.  I completely underestimated how I’d feel on Diwali, so I didn’t plan anything, and then when I started scrolling through Instagram, seeing all my friends celebrate back home just hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt lonely and under-valued, like the people I knew in the UK (except James, of course) didn’t even care enough about me to wish me a Happy Diwali. And I know that is is completely innocent, and if they knew, they would. But what bothered me is that nobody really knew. Nobody had taken the time to ask their friend who was  4000 miles away from her friends and family, if her culture had an equivalent to Christmas, what it was or how she celebrated it, let alone open a calender to check when it actually was. We’re all so inter-connected via social media but instead of using the internet to spread some happiness, it is often easier for us to accept the ‘ignorance is bliss’ position, instead of taking time out to actually make a change or make a difference to someone.

Before lunch, I’d go around visiting family and friends and taking them sweets and gifts while dressed in a traditional Indian salwar kameez

If you can’t think up good enough reasons for being more culturally aware on your own, here are a couple off the top oy my head:

(a) You’d Make Someone’s Day

A simple ‘Happy Hanukkah’, ‘Happy Chinese New Year’, ‘Eid Mubarak’ or ‘Happy Diwali’ could go so far in brightening up someone’s day and make them feel less alone and more appreciated, loved and cared for. Isn’t that wonderful? I, for one, would love to have the opportunity to make someone around me feel that way. A lot of the people around you live thousands of miles away from their families on big, important days. Put yourself in their shoes and think about how you’d want somebody to treat you in that exact situation. How would you feel if you moved across the world and everyone just ignored the fact that you were far from home on Christmas day, or that they didn’t even know when Christmas was? No Christmas displays in stores, no trees or lights or anything. Depressing, huh?

(b) There’s No Excuse Not To Be

I can’t think of a single ‘let you off the hook’ reason to not practise more cultural awareness in this day and age. Information on everything under the sun is available at our fingertips in a matter of seconds. If you can Google what time a movie is on at the cinema or the menu at a new restaurant, there’s no excuse to not Google something in the interest of cultural awareness. A simple Google search should tell you what a certain country, religion, culture or faith’s main festival is, when it is, how you can wish a person for it and what gift is acceptable to give, should you chose to give one. It’ll take all of three minutes out of your day and it isn’t too much to ask for. And if you do get it wrong for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter. The person will appreciate that you cared enough to do some research, and that means more than presents, getting it right, or anything else.

Diwali decorations

It wasn’t until I got a particularly demanding email on Diwali, that my balls decided to descend. Pardon my French. It wasn’t even work-related really. I was doing someone a favour of sorts, and I had been too busy with work to deal with her request in the past two days, and she was insistent that I send through the material by that night. When I tried to tell her that I was trying not to work that day as it was Diwali aka the equivalent to my Christmas, she did apologize, but didn’t bother to take the time to say any of the usual  “I didn’t realize. I’m sorry to bother you on a holiday – it can wait till tomorrow.” Which is when I realised that if I were to send somebody a work email over Christmas, 10 times out of 10, they wouldn’t reply. And even when they got back in the office, they’d think I was crazy for sending out a work request on Christmas day. Which is when I decided that I need to start respecting myself and my cuture more, and that if it bothered me that people around me weren’t more culturally aware, that I was actually going to do something about it. Here’s my plan:

Diwali presents (Picture Credit: Devika Narain)

Be Honest

Instead of sweeping my feelings on the subject under the rug like I did for the past few years, I decided to text James at work telling him I was low, that I missed home, my mum and my friends today. To cheer me up and to help me celebrate, he came home from work with flowers and a huge bag full of sweets and snacks. He then ordered us dosas (I love that he knows what they are almost as much as I love living somewhere where I can have dosas on speed dial!) I’m glad I decided to take the first step towards respecting myself and my culture enough to say something about it. You absolutely should, too. Chances are, if you make your feelings known to those around you, they’d bend over backwards to help you celebrate. But they can’t help fix what they don’t know.

Plan in Advance

I’ve suggested to James that next year, when we move into our new home, that we’re going to plan in advance and invite his family (hopefully mine, too) and some of our friends round for a Diwali meal. We can’t cook elaborate Indian dishes so we’ll probably just end up getting a takeaway, but serving it in pretty dishes, lighting lots of candles, doing a rangoli outside the front door and lighting a couple of sparklers will go a long way when it comes to making the house feel like a home on Diwali, and being able to fill that home with loved ones I can share my culture with. I’ve already started a Pinterest board for ideas for Diwali 2019, and I’m thinking Jo Malone’s ‘Jasmine, Sambac and Marigold’ to scent the air with and Chanel’s Paris-Meets-Bombay tablescapes circa Pre-Fall 2012.

In the evening, the family usually gathered for a puja or prayer to the Goddess of Money, Lakshmi. The chant and sing hymns or aartis while they ring a bell and light incense.

Turn my ‘Out Of Office’ On

I’m deciding here and now that I will not work on Diwali or the day before aka Chhoti Diwali, which when translated is ‘Little Diwali’ or basically Diwali eve. Nothing could possibly be SO incredibly urgent that it couldn’t wait two days while I took some time for myself, to prep my home and to catch up with family and friends during this important time. If you’re a manager and have a team member from overseas or even one who is of a different faith to the majority, I’d reccomend you check when the person’s Christmas equivalent is and offer for them to have the day off, or ask what their plans are for the day. Respecting your employees is so important and it’d be a great morale booster if you were the sort of boss who actually cared. You never know, they may be too shy or not assertive enough to ask themselves. It absolutely breaks my heart to walk into an establishment and see it staffed with Indian people on Diwali when there’s no way they’d allow that to happen to happen in their own country, and it isn’t really fair on their families. Would you expect that from the rest of your staff on Christmas day?

Practise More Cultural Awareness Myself

There’s always room for improvement, no matter how much you think you know. I grew up in a very multi-cultural environment and loved celebrating not only Diwali, but Eid with my Muslim friends, Navroze with my Parsi friends, Christmas and Easter with my neighbors, etc. While learning about new cultures doesn’t naturally interest everyone, I happen to have friends in the UK from different parts of the world – Malaysia, South Africa and America, to be precise. And I’ve realised I don’t know a lot about Judaism, so I’m learning all I can from my friend who is Jewish. I’m taking the time to get to know their important holidays, how they celebrate them and am making a note of them in my phone calender, along with setting an alarm, so I don’t forget to wish them on the day. It is so important for the people we care about to know we take the time to appreciate and respect their cultures.

Sweet treats, nuts, fruit and flowers are all a standard part of a Diwali puja or prayer. (Image Credit: Ankiet Gualabani)

Talk About This on Social Media

I follow Dua Lipa and Nick Bateman on Instagram. Both of whom visited India last year and posted Happy Diwali messages to their followers on the day. The gesture was so small and simple. It didn’t take a lot of time or effort, but it was such a powerful thing to do. It meant a lot that they cared enough to do it. And I like to think that the millions of people who follow them will have seen their post and are now aware that there is an Indian festival called Diwali. These people could potentially use this information to say “Happy Diwali!” to someone they know or work with, and end up making their day. This right here is cultural awareness in the making. I don’t have millions of followers, but I’m going to put little reminders out on Instagram stories when a certain culture’s holiday is drawing nearer, reminding people to share the love, as it is so easy to get wrapped up in our own lives and forget about those around us sometimes.

Teach Kids About Different Cultures

If you have kids, don’t leave it to school to handle cultural awareness in their Religious Studies class. It is important that children grow up to be culturally aware, culturally sensitive citizens of the world and for this, they need to have the opportunity to experience different cultures outside of the classroom. Trust me when I say that experiencing another culture’s festival on the day will be an experience they talk about and carry with them for life, and it’ll give them a much better understanding and respect for a different cultures than anything they learn in Religious Studies. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone of a different faith and ask if you and / your child can come along and experience it with them. They would never say no. In fact, they’d be honoured to be able to open up their homes and share their culture, traditions and food with someone who wanted to learn more about it. I don’t have children, but I’m going to offer my friends with children the opportunity to come round and experience a typical Diwali with me, in the hope that they would grow up to say “I know about this culture. I actually spent Diwali with my mum’s friend and these are all the things we did.” Or even if they grew up and recognized the festival enough to wish somebody a ‘Happy Diwali’, that’d be my job done.

Most people tend to end the night with a fantastic firework display (Picture Credit: Rohina Anand Khira)

I fully understand that cultural awareness is a big ask of some people, but then again, on the other hand, it’s really not. You’re on your phone all day anyway. How long does it take to do a quick Google search and then send someone a text? Remember, if someone cares enough to share even a small part of Christmas with you, you should take the time to share a small part of their holiday with them, even if it is only to send a text. Just a little food for thought 🙂

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Sparklers are easy and fun (and safer / relatively child-friendly) compared to most other fireworks. (Picture Credit: Vipul Mekhya)

What are your thoughts on cultural awareness? Share them with me in the comments below or via social media I’m – @MascaraEverSat on Twitter or @MascaraEverySaturday on Instagram. See you at the next post! xx

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ABOUT

Anushka Moore is an almost-thirty-something blogger who moved across the world when the love she met on Tinder put a ring on it. She now lives in Manchester with her husband and her two little Poodle-cross fur children.

Her day job includes running her own social media content company and is the founder of popular Instagram account, Midsize Collective.

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