Culture Specific Oddities in Money Matters

The comments on yesterday's post about money and relatives brought out an interesting point - the way I looked at the issue and the way strangebird and plonkee looked at it was quite different. And I suspect that the differences were mainly rooted in the cultural background that each of us came from. While I still had this thought in my mind, I stumbled across the discussion here and here (via The Simple Dollar) about "Asian Culture and Finances". Since my background is Asian as well, and I am immensely fascinated by this issue, I thought I will jump right in. So today's post is all about the oddities of my brand of Asian culture in relation to money matters.

Disclaimer: I do not mean to generalize here. My intention is to present my personal opinion and experiences about one brand of Asian culture! Note that there are oceans of differences within these cultures as well - Korean culture is very different from Chinese which is very different from Indian and so on. Even within each major grouping things differ depending on whether you are from "North" or "South", "mainland" or "coast" etc. So, please take this with a pinch of salt! It is for information only!

  • Let me start with the topic that was the focus of the discussion mentioned above. Yes, Children are expected to support the parents, financially (and otherwise), in their old age. This is very strong in my culture. It's just something that is taken for granted. The extent to which the children support the parents, however, is open for individual interpretation. In some extreme cases, commonly referred as "joint" families, the children stay with the parents under the same roof and all the finances (and most other decisions) are shared. This is almost an extinct breed these days though. I think Mai's story mentioned on the Make Love Not Debt blog (about an Asian who had to lay down $6000 to support a vacation for his parents when he was out of a job) might also be an extreme example. I think, these days in most cases (at least the ones that I have come across), the parents are very reasonable in their expectations and try to provide for themselves and do not rely on their children, at least not for full support.


  • An interesting aspect of this cultural practice is that only male children are supposed to take care of the parents. Parents are not supposed to accept anything from their female offspring! I think the root of this was that in really old days, the women had no source of income, and so it would be the son-in-law that would have to actually pay. Since the guy already was responsible for his parents, he would be stressed too much if he was expected to take care of his in-laws as well. But as things evolved (or devolved) this turned into a gender-divide issue. For several years in the middle, folks with only female offspring were the recipients of public pity, since they would have no one to take care of them in their old age!


  • This brings us to the next big difference I have noticed between the different cultures. In my culture *all* the expenses related to a wedding are expected to be paid by the bride's father! Also, usually the bride's parents are expected to arrange the wedding in the groom's home town. If the groom's parents are kind enough to offer to travel to the bride’s town for the wedding (since it is easier for the bride's parents to arrange a wedding there), then in many (or maybe I should say "most") cases, the bride's parents should pay for the board and food for the groom and his closest relatives for the entire duration of the marriage. Depending on the sub-culture and how orthodox the family is, a wedding may last anywhere from one day to several days. And if the bride's father cannot handle the financial burden, it falls on the shoulder of the bride's brothers. In most cases, it is the eldest son in a family that pays heavily for family obligations.


  • One of the things that I realized after coming to the US is that the concept of "privacy" is almost non-existent back home. Yes, I say I realized this after coming to the US, since I just took the norm for granted without questions when I lived back in the home country. Anyway what I mean is, back at home, it is perfectly fine to discuss your salary, boast about the cost of your car, how much raise you get etc. with all the relatives and even random strangers. When I think of it, I don't think it is intentional boasting or showing off, or that people mean to degrade those that make less. It's just part of the culture to be quite open about your finances. Many people get offended if you do not want to share this information. Consequently, the openness does create a class divide and "have’s” are offered a lot more privileges than the "have-not’s”. In the US, I have noticed that the openness does exist at the highest level of the money makers - for instance everybody is interested in talking about what the celebrities make or spend - but it does not permeate into everyday lives.


  • In most cases, the undergrad education is paid for by the parents, by default. So if a loan needs to be taken, then the loan is usually in the name of the parent, not the child whose education is being paid for. This is changing quite a bit though these days with children going abroad for education. With the cost being significantly higher than the local education, and the salaries that the children get after completing the education also being higher, I have noticed that these days the education loans are paid by children.


  • There is a fair amount of extortion in the name of religion. I do understand that even in American culture tithing and religious charity is big, but back home it is huge, to the extent that I think it has become a form of extortion. This of course is my personal opinion and since it is a bit of a delicate subject, I will stop at that.


  • Regarding smaller things, on birthday's and other occasions, it's the birthday boy/girl who pays for the dinner. I find it quite amusing, that it amuses my American (and other culture) friends when I offer to pay for the dinner on my birthday :)


Well, I think that's enough for today! I could possibly go on and on forever, but I think I have covered some of the major differences. People from my cultural background will be able to recognize immediately which background I am talking about - please feel free to add to what I have missed. People from other Asian background, feel free to point out the differences. And people from European, Middle-eastern, Aussie or African backgrounds, please do share your culture specific oddities. (I don’t have many friends from these areas and would *love* to hear from you). And of course, everyone from American culture, feel free to point out (in this post or others) when I say something offensive - it may just be a difference in culture and you might just help assimilate another immigrant into this melting pot :)

PS: When I read back this article, I felt kind of silly that most of you will likely be able to guess my cultural background quite accurately :) But what can I say? An open person + anonymous blog = some sillyness sometimes. If you choose to leave a comment (which I hope you will), please do guard my secret :)



If you like this article, you can bookmark it or subscribe to the feed.

6 Comments:

plonkee said...

I clearly don't get out enough as I've got no idea what your cultural background is.

In my dad's Irish family, there will usually be a fight over who is allowed to pay the bill in the restaurant - the older generation always win.

Its quite common for women not to inherit from their own families as its expected that their husband and family will provide for them. In return women will commonly side with their in-laws rather than their own family over land issues.

In my own English culture, money is almost never discussed. Even in business meetings people don't like to talk about fees for work.

And of course in England money and class are not synonymous. You don't need to have wealth to be upper class. If you are working or middle class and you come into money unless you completely remodel your tastes and vocabulary you will never become upper class.

ispf said...

"Its quite common for women not to inherit from their own families"

This is in general true in my country too, except for people from one state who have a matriarchal society and the inheritence is through the women in the family! (There I go again... I really should learn to hush up! :)

Brenna said...

I'm not so sure about everything you say about Asian culture with money. My family is Asian and as my parents expect both my brother and I to help care for them as the get older. When it comes down to who would take care of my parents it'll probably be me, their daughter to make sure things are fine.
My parents provided money to both my brother's wedding and my wedding. Whatever the difference in the wedding was up to me to come up with the money. My husband's side (Hispanic) provided some financial assistance as well.
When growing up money wasn't really discussed other than that be practical and save half of what you earned. My parents and grandparents provided some help with both undergrad and grad school for both my brother and I. Although, my parents made my brother get a job to also support himself. My parents took a different approach with me and encouraged me to only study and not work.
So, these days I believe the Asian culture depending whether Americanized or born elsewhere could play a part on money views.

mOOm said...

After I read through this I was thinking you were from the Middle East until you mentioned at the end that you're not. As the ME is southwest Asia. The whole issue about children supporting their parents is a vestige from the pre-industrial society. The only form of wealth was land and the old people couldn't work in the fields so their children had to work for them. In developed countries today most old people are supported by the government, their former employer, or their own capital they have saved. Of course if none of these work out there is a need for the children to help.

I'm Jewish, born in Britain. In Israel it is usual for people to talk about how much money they make and stuff to some degree. It's traditional for the bride's parents to pay for the wedding, but not so common today. My parents argued with their my siter-in-law's parents about who would pay for my brother's wedding. In the end each side paid according to the number of guests they invited. Certainly there is no expectation of children giving parents money unless the parents were poor and needed it. It's much more likely to go the other way. In Israel it is common for parents to put downpayments on apartments for their children etc. Charity is a big thing and charity seekers can be aggressive.

minimum wage said...

Here's a question:

1) Men who cannot earn enough to support a family are expected to not marry and not have children.

Fair enough.

2) Children are expected to support the parents in their old age.

Fair enough.

But what happens to those who, by following #1 above, do not have any children to support them in old age?

ispf said...

minimum wage: "Men who cannot earn enough to support a family are expected to not marry and not have children." - I don't believe this is true in my culture. Wow, that would be really harsh.

"But what happens to those who, by following #1 above, do not have any children to support them in old age?" This happens in my culture if a person does not have sons, since it is the sons that are supposed to take care of parents. Historically, such people were pitied on by the society and generally one of their nephews would step up to support them. But these days things have moved along quite a bit, and we daughters do our part to chip in for providing for our parents.