Tag Archives: culture


What does it mean when we say that something is “beyond expectation” or “more than we expected”?

To expect: mid 16th cent. (in the sense ‘defer action, wait’): from Latin exspectare ‘look out for’, from ex- ‘out’ + spectare ‘to look’ (frequentative of specere ‘see’).

Expectation is centered on the future. The future is unknown and uncertain. Expectation reflects a psychological (existential?) need to make this future more manageable, i.e. the need to control.

“Beyond expectation”, in everyday language, indicate the quality of being great, excellent, exceptional, unique; more than what we thought would be the case. It is usually a positive evaluation. It is almost never applied to oneself, but always to somebody else’s performance or behavior. Because it is the Other that represents the unknown.

A surprise is something not expected, i.e. something outside the horizon of possibilities that one has envisioned. It is antonymous to normalcy, the norm. So when expectation is directed toward a person, it acts as a norm, an evaluation, a script to perform according to, thus linked to the idea of social norms, of accordance with a set of rules. What is expected means what is normal, i.e. conforming to a standard, typical, usual. It is also predictable: something known beforehand.

When we do not have sufficient clues about an other, we cannot put her in any existing category that structures our own interpersonal framework. Therefore, we cannot assign that person to any behavior or performance script. In other words, we do not have expectation about that person. “We do not know what we do not know”. However, as mentioned before, expectation characterizes a more general psychological pattern. It is fundamental to help human beings orient themselves in life. It is an inevitable attitude towards the future. Therefore, by conventions of language, we still say that someone is beyond expectation even though we do not have any expectation about that specific person. It should be simply interpreted as a compliment on that individual’s exceptionality.

There is a slightly different nuance of meaning in French: “beyond expectation” is translated as “dépasser les attentes (de quelqu’un)”. Expectation is waiting for something that might or is likely to come, but whose existence is not confirmed until its actual occurrence. Waiting has a taste of yearning in it, which is more sentimental. However, the idea remains the same: it implies a movement forward in time. In the end, it boils down to how human beings relate to everything that constitutes the Other, i.e. what is outside the present self, the unknown, be it the future or an immediate other reality.


Identity in a mobile and diverse world

No matter how much I’d want to embrace diversity, mobility and cultural dialogue, I’m still uncomfortable living far away from home, being deprived of the food, the living habits, even the atmosphere of the city – everything that gives meaning to my life, because that’s what culture is about, giving meaning – or at least the illusion of it – to our meaningless, mundane existence. However, it’s not a nationalist sentiment. I don’t feel any affinity with my compatriots. I only maintain connection with people of my primary group, basically composed of family members and high school friends. These are people with whom I share the same culture, but not only. And there are also French people whose values and vision I share, but there’s still a barrier between us. So I guess culture is not just a territorial or ethnic affair. It’s also group culture, i.e. people from the same professional category or doing the same major at college. But then the nature of the relationships would be different too. You can feel affinity with some people on a certain subjects; it doesn’t make them your friends. Maybe the culture of a person is like a dish, made up from different sources of culture. So when the dish lacks an ingredient because of geographic context, it can’t deliver the harmony of its tastes. It becomes those “immigrant food” or “ethnic food” – inauthentic derives of the original dishes of a culture. Like those broccoli and noodles served in Asian restaurants here.

I guess I just have attachment issue and I’m totally not a 21st century adventurous youngster, those urban nomads or whatever. Meanwhile half of me still live up to social norms, with quality such as internationally-mindedness and curiosity and cross-cultural sensitivity. Even though I doubt the sincerity of these terms, frequently used in institutional PR materials and textbooks, and find that they mean nothing on a personal level, I know I will still put them on my CV and cover letters in the long journey of getting a proper education (and eventually job) in the first world.

As a young expat, I never feel like I belong to anywhere. It’s not a question of culture shock. I don’t fit in here because I’m a foreigner, but I don’t either back home, in “my culture”. I think as long as there are borders everywhere, I can’t find my place and my life will be perpetual escaping and running away.

Culture means community, shared values, heritage, and the sense of belonging. Culture defines what is identity and what is alterity. Therefore culture means borders, because it includes Us and excludes the Other. My utopia is a world without borders.