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Traditional and Non-traditional Culture

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Traditional and Nontraditional Cultures of India and the United StatesTraditional and nontraditional cultures incorporate different sets of beliefs, values and behaviors into the individuals involved within each culture. Traditional cultures are cultures that are based largely on beliefs, rules, symbols and principles established predominately in the past and confined to regional boundaries (Shiraev & Levy, 2007). Nontraditional cultures are cultures that are based largely on modern beliefs, rules, symbols and principles and are relatively open to other cultures, technology and social innovations (Shiraev & Levy, 2007). This paper will examine the comparison and contrast between the values, beliefs and behaviors of India as a traditional culture and the United States as a nontraditional culture.

Culture is a set of attitudes, behaviors and symbols that are shared by a large group of people and is usually passed down from generation to generation (Shiraev & Levy, 2007). Although some cultures may seem very similar, no two cultures are exactly alike (Shiraev & Levy, 2007). The culture of the people of India is regarded as traditional. Some of the important components of the Indian culture include treating guests as if they are part of the family. A host is often willing to share everything, even when he or she has nothing (Teaching kids Indian Values, 2000). Respect of all persons is viewed as part of one’s duty in a culture that considers all people alike (Respect your Elders, 2000). The majority of women in India were traditional dress and although a large amount of men wear conventional Western clothes, the wearing of traditional costumes is common among the men in villages (Daniel & Shenoy, 1997).

The culture of America is considered nontraditional. Etiquette books give advice on how long guests should stay with a host and one popular saying instructs guests to avoid wearing out his or her welcome. Often, a guest is expected to contribute to the cost of his or her stay, if the stay is extended. Respect for one another is often placed to the side in a culture that seems to be centered on wanting everything now, no matter what the cost. Men and women dress in many different types of clothing and it common for women to wear suits and pants.

ValuesValues are principles and standards held or accepted by individual or a society (Guralnik, 1970, p. 1667). Values vary between traditional and non-traditional cultures. The values held in the United States and India are similar and different in various ways. One area in which the values of the India and the United States are the similar is in marriage. Both cultures view marriage as the joining of two families. Both cultures view marriage as a transition from childhood to adulthood. Both cultures place importance on the customs associated with the wedding ceremony. The difference between the cultures in the view of marriage is immense. The tradition of arranged marriages is central to the Indian culture (Heitzman & Worden, 1995).

Adolescent girls bring negotiated dowries to the selected husband. Such marriages join not simply two individuals but also two families, clans or even small communities (Heitzman & Worden, 1995). Divorce is not seen as a likely option and divorced women are highly stigmatized in India (Amato, 1994). In the United States, the thought of an arranged marriage is bizarre. Americans are conditioned to search for their one true love in hopes of living happily ever after. Parents often have no say in the selection of a mate for their child. In America, the legal age for marriage is 18 and women are not expected to bring a dowry to the marriage. Divorce is common in the American culture and divorced women are not treated badly by society.

The value placed on education is another area of similarity and difference in the cultures of India and the United States. In both cultures, education was a luxury for only men. Females were only allowed to attend elementary schools settings to be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Women were expected to homemakers, depending on their husbands for all forms of knowledge. India has taken on a non-traditional value when it some to education similar to the United States. Today, education is free in government schools for children between the ages of 6 and 14 in all the Indian states (Draper, 2003). Most schools are coeducational. However, the difference in the educational system is different for individuals living in rural areas and rural states. Despite improvements, 50 million Indian children remain outside the educational system (Draper, 2003). In contrast, the United States provides government funded education for all children between the ages of 5 and 17 or 18 in every state. Unlike India, this education is provided for all children regardless of geographic location.

BeliefsWithin the traditional culture of India and nontraditional culture of the United States, both belief systems encompass a wide variety of convictions that enable their culture to determine if something is believed to be authentic. Both cultures share a belief in superstitious behaviors but varying degrees of importance are noticeable. While many people in the United States have trepidation pertaining to Friday the 13th being an inauspicious day, and that walking under a ladder or crossing paths with a black cat will bring bad fortune, these beliefs do not impede individuals from going about their daily activities and provide no real relevance to future situations. The culture of India perceives superstitions as providing significant information about the possibility of negative and positive incidences, which may happen. For instance, seeing an elephant when one is leaving for a journey is considered lucky because an elephant represents Lord Ganesha, the Indian God who is the harbinger of good luck and removes obstacles (Indian Traditions, n.d.).

One area in which the belief system is vastly different between the United States and India is each cultures viewpoint of the cow. The belief system in the United States that pertains to the importance of cows begins with the possibility of a profitable export trade as well as emphasizing the financial necessity of killing cows for food. Restaurants and grocery stores are in the business of selling primarily meat products and the cow is seen as a means of nutrition and a financial gain for individuals and businesses. For India, the cow represents the sacred principle of motherhood; she symbolizes charity and generosity because of the way she distributes her milk, which is essential for the nourishment of the young (Winter, 2005).

Cow dung is seen as a high commodity within the culture of India (Mahajan, 2007). Providing antibacterial qualities, cow dung does not have germs and does an effective job at killing bacteria. In India, farmer’s are able to use the cow’s dung for fertilizer at no cost as well as using it for providing heating and cooling to their homes (Mahajan, 2007). Some of the similarities that exist between both cultures and the value that is placed upon the cow include the use of cows by both cultures for providing dairy products. Cow dung is used by some farmers in the United States as a fertilizer the American government has become interested in learning how to use cow dung as a source of energy.

BehaviorsOne area in which the behaviors of the people in India and the United States are both similar and different is in how each culture treats elders. American and Indian children are both taught to respect their elders but in different ways. Americans respect elders by addressing them as sir or ma’am and showing kindness. Indians respect elders as the driving force of the family and society. Individuals receive blessings from elders by touching their feet, kissing their hands or pressing their legs (Respect your Elders, 2000). Indian culture views elders as in integral part of society. However, in America, elders are not generally viewed as the most important part of a family and society. Nursing homes are filled with older people who are forgotten by their families.

One common behavior that is practiced by members of both India and the United States is prayer. Prayer is a daily ritual for people in both cultures. Prayer is considered a vital part of many of the organized religions of both cultures, whether the religion is Hinduism or Christianity. However, whereas the majority of Americans pray to one God, the prayer of Hindus, one of the main religions in India, is directed towards different deities. Daily organized prayer is common in the Indian culture and is considered an important part of the day. Although a large majority of individuals in the United States prays on a regular basis, changing political and personal views on the subject of prayer have downplayed the importance of the ritual of daily prayer (Teaching kids Indian Values, 2000).

ConclusionThe traditional culture of India and the nontraditional culture of the United States contain many similarities and differences in the areas of values, beliefs and behaviors. Some of the values, beliefs and behaviors that can be compared and contrasted include views on marriage, education, superstitions and prayer. Both traditional and nontraditional cultures can value the same thing, but for very different reasons. Beliefs and behaviors can also center on common areas while displaying considerable diversity. The ways in which the people of both traditional and nontraditional cultures involve their values, beliefs and behaviors into their daily lives have a important impact in the society of each country.


Amato, P. R. (1994). The Impact of divorce on men and women in India and The United States. Journal of Comparative Family Studies 25 (1994): 207-221.

Daniel, A. & Shenoy, K. (1997). Indian culture. Retrieved December 13, 2008 from http://library.thinkquest.org/11372/data/dress.htm.

Draper, A. S. (2003). India: A primary source cultural guide. New York: Rosen Publishing Group.

Guralnik, D. B. (Ed.). (1970). Webster’s New World Dictionary (2 Ed.). New York and Cleveland: World Publishing Company.

Heitzman, J. & Worden, L. (1995). India. Retrieved December 13, 2008 from http://countrystudies.us/india.

Indian Traditions. (n.d.) Beliefs and superstitions. Retrieved on December 10, 2008 from www.iloveindia.com.

Mahajan, N. (2007). Move over wind and solar energy, cow dung is here to stay! Retrieved December 8, 2008 from http://www.ecofriend.org/entry/mooove-over-wind-and-solar-energy-cows-poop-is-here-to-stay.

Respect your Elders. (2000). Retrieved December 9, 2008, fromhttp://www.indianchild.com/respect_your_elders.htm.

Shiraev, E. & Levy, D. (2007). Cross-cultural Psychology (3rd Ed.). New Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Allyn Bacon.

Teaching kids Indian values. (2000). Retrieved December 9, 2008,

Winter, R. (2005 – 2008.) The sacred cow. Retrieved on December 10, 2008 fromhttp://www.archaeologyonline.net/artifacts/sacred-cow.html.

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