Bahai News -- Essential handbook on SA culture Fri, 14 Mar 2003


Essential handbook on SA culture

By: Lisa Wolff

Do you know that South Africa has a national fish? (it’s the Galjoen just in case you were wondering) Or the significance of our public holidays, other than celebrating a day off work and school?

Could you identify the SA coat of arms? Do you know why your Muslim colleagues disappear for an hour or so during lunchtime on a Friday? Have you ever considered why it would be a mistake to serve a Hindu beef or a Jewish person pork?

Can’t answer all these question? Well then, get your hands on the new publication: “Clued up on Culture”, by Barbara Elion and Mercia Strieman for a crash course in finding out more about our country and the traditions of the people living in it.

Ignorance of different cultures and religion can cause disastrous faux pas’ in both your business and social world and could lead to offending people that you really don’t mean to insult.

Thankfully you won’t have to enroll into university to study all the intricacies of a diverse range of religions, all you have to do is page through this simple-to-use, easily digestible guide to clue yourself up on culture.

Elion and Strieman have adapted this book to give those of us who are pretty clueless about the customs and traditions of our neighbours, a beginner’s dose of knowledge. It’s designed in a non-confrontational style packed with bite-sized chunks of information, clever colour categorization, illustrations and large font to appeal to those with short attention spans or little spare time.

It’s perfect for the busy executive when preparing to receive a group of foreign businesspeople or doing the right thing when a family member of an employee passes away.

The publication begins with a local flavour taking us through essential info about South Africa; details which we all should know but most probably do not. This includes an overview of the SA Coat of Arms, our national symbols, the flag, the anthem and the country’s public holidays and the origins thereof.

The authors then skip onto a fascinating exploration of the country’s predominant religions. You can read about traditional African culture, customs and rituals and little-known tidbits about Christianity. The book spotlights the interesting Hindi rites of passage (birth, wedding, death) as well as essential customs of Judaism and Islam.

There are no non-essential, intricate details – rather the book focuses on culture in a nutshell. The chapters are divided into easy-to-follow headings, concentrating on the main aspects of each religion and answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Each religion is introduced with an overview followed by a rites of passage section, which provides crucial info such as "Writing a letter of condolence to a Jewish/Muslim/Hindu/Christian/African mourner", dietary laws for each faith and a synopsis of the different places of worship.

The book concludes with a useful brief on inter-cultural catering, appropriate gifts and a very helpful glossary.

The only suggestion I can make is to expand upon the brief notes about other belief systems to include comprehensive chapters on Baha’I, Buddhism, Hare Krishna and a couple of others. Perhaps this could be considered for future editions of this book.

Clued Up on Culture is a nifty and user-friendly guide to all you’ve ever wanted to know about the world’s religions and traditions. It’s the type of book that you should keep in handy ‘cause you never know when you’re going to need some rapid info about an unfamiliar religion.

It’ll help to pave paths of understanding between diverse cultures and assist with engendering consideration and tolerance between fellow human beings. And even if the book doesn’t immediately assist in preventing bloody cultural clashes and religious wars, at least you won’t ever forget what South Africa’s national fish is.

Clued up on Culture by Barbara Elion and Mercia Strieman is published by One Life Media. The recommended retail price is R105, and it should be available at all South African book shops.

©Copyright 2003,

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