Discussion: A Lesson Learned Abroad
Kel Monday, June 15, 2015 discussionLast Thursday, I reviewed Katie M. Stout's debut YA novel, Hello, I Love You. I didn't love it, but I was a little surprised by the number of DNF's I saw on Goodreads, many of which cited not being able to stand the "judgmental" main character who didn't learn anything about South Korea before moving there for school. To be fair, I thought Grace's character was hard to relate to, and for the majority of the book, she wasn't very likable. I also thought she was a bit of an idiot for not doing any research before the trip; but a few of the reviews kind of labeled Grace a horrible human being, which got me thinking (and made me glad I never blogged about my semester abroad because goodness knows how people would have reacted to some of my impressions).
There's this idea that nothing can be right or wrong, good or bad, etc.--that everything has subjective value according to our context. An offshoot of this concept seems to have embedded the idea that you can't say anything about another culture is better, worse, good, bad, etc. because it's their culture and you just don't understand. I agree that we should seek to understand and respect other cultures and appreciate what they have to offer, but I think this is going too far. It's essentially saying you can't have a negative opinion about anything foreign. And that's just not true.
Of course you can have an opinion and make judgments. The trick is opening yourself to experiencing or understanding something new before you make a determination. If you do that and don't like something, that's fine. If you're uncomfortable with something, even before or while you try it, that's fine, too. If you refuse to try certain things, it's okay. There's nothing that says you have to act exactly like a local or you're evil. Even when you are a local, there's nothing that says you have to love everything about where you live. Looking at you, South Jersey. ;)
On the other hand, I think we can all agree there's a difference between having a negative opinion of something and being rude. Several reviewers thought Grace was rude and put down everything. I sympathize with that assessment, provided its two elements are not considered synonymous. I have no problem with (random example) Grace not liking kimchi, or not wanting to watch Korean dramas. I think there are polite and rude ways to convey these opinions, and Grace, partly because she's a teenager, doesn't always stick to more polite pastures (though neither does the love interest); but if I happen to visit Disney World and hate everything about it, the substance of my opinions does not dictate the worth of those opinions. We're all entitled to think what we want and, theoretically, we can respectfully disagree.
What do you guys think? Does this ring any bells, strike any chords? Does it sound completely off the deep end? Is it way too serious (and long) for a book blog post? ;)