Recently we visited friends in Europe. One of the best, but hardest things about travelling overseas is that they do things differently. For a start, they drive on the opposite side of the road, they have different shop opening hours, celebrate different holidays and eat different food – mussels and frites just isn't the same as fish and chips. It is interesting to experience something different, but because they don’t do things our way it can also be frustrating, especially when you have to learn a new way of doing things. Exchange students who have lived with us have said similar things – we don’t eat the same food as they do or eat at the same time as they do at home; our school system is different; and oh horror, they have to wear a uniform! Their freedom to travel independently is often reduced through a combination of less public transport available and greater parental restriction here in Australia as well as the higher cost of public transport. As we travelled Europe, visiting many of these students and their families in their own countries, there were a number of moments that caused us to think: ah, that’s why the students acted that way or said that.

Customary ways of behaving and responding to situations are taken for granted until we come into contact with people from other cultures. When we see others behaving or reacting differently, we realise that not all societies have the same customs. We should not see these customs in the light of right or wrong. It can help if we learn something about the reasons for these customs.

In aged care we encounter people who have come from many different cultural backgrounds. It is important that we respect the difference and work with the client to assist them to feel comfortable with the support we are there to give them. A coordinator recently told me a story about a couple of older women living on a remote community in Central Australia. These women live in a humpy and still gather local tucker to supplement the food provided by the aged care service or bought at the store. The women had beautiful skin, never succumbing to the scabies infections that seemed to plague others in the community and yet they never showered – never. Instead, they rubbed the fat from kangaroo and other meat over their skin. In a recent assessment and care planning session, the aged care service and the clinic staff supported the client’s preference for this style of personal care. There were no reasons to recommend otherwise, the clients were healthy, they had no continence issues and they were living in their preferred accommodation and location. Yes, it’s different, but not wrong.

P.S. I highly recommend hosting an exchange student, they bring a new way of looking at things, allow you to do some armchair travel and just might give you some great new recipe ideas!

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