Useful Notes / Interacting with Persons Different Than Yourself

So, either on the Internet or in Real Life, you are likely to meet people of an entirely different background, privileges, current living situation, culture, race, religion, ability status, or whatever else may be, than yourself or than anything you've ever experienced before outside of media. How do you interact with someone whose appearance/actions/lived experience/whatever are so different than yours without creating awkward situations, drama, offense, and making them see you as a Jerk Ass at best while you wonder what you could have possibly done to upset that person so much? This page is a short guide to interacting with people with whom you are unfamiliar with in general. Specific categories may be added later for specific communities, but these are general, inclusive tips that everyone can use.

The Basics:

  • RESPECT is a two-way street. If you want to be respected, respect others. Every society ever has a variation of this Golden Rule. In general; respect for someone means not invading their personal space (whatever they see that as), not forcing them into interactions or activities they are obviously not comfortable with or find distasteful/taboo/offensive (e.g. don't badger the vegan to eat meat and don't tell someone who says they are in an asexual relationship to "break it off because You Need to Get Laid!"), do not use the Dirty Social Tricks on them, and treat them as responsible human adults.
  • Remember that, like you, others are human beings. This is especially important while online, where not seeing someone face-to-face can lead to thinking more about layers of technology than the people behind it. Text is also one of the worst methods of human communication, with even the spoken word only accounting for around 7% of a given message. Thus taking anything in written form at face value comes with many problems, so get familiarized with internet etiquette (aka Netiquette).
  • Do not assume you are smarter/more capable/more real/more human because you are not something or you are something. If you do, you're almost a guaranteed bigot, especially if this "something" is related to gender/sexuality, race, religion, ability status, or similar. Aggressive Categorism is not appreciated by anyone.
  • Disregard everything from media, you are dealing with a person, not a character. Learn what the person is like from what they choose to tell you, but also keep in mind they do not exist solely to educate you about their differences from yourself. If you feel overwhelmed or unprepared, some media sources are fine — just try to find somewhat reliable sources — balance them with what you see of the community personally, and keep in mind that Hollywood and the mainstream news media, especially in the area of small minority cultures and subcultures, but sometimes, sadly, still even on things like race and gender, can get it so wrong.
  • You are not someone's close friend unless you both consider yourselves such. Compassion, encouragement, and engaging with others' interests are fine; but know when to take a step back.
  • You are not someone's caretaker, doctor, lawyer, boss, psychiatrist/psychologist, priest/pastor/imam/rabbi/whatever unless you have that title and are serving in such a professional capacity (and even if you are, snap judgment or demands to change based on your own experience is rarely, if ever, a good idea). And above all else, you are not omniscient or a messiah. What does this mean? It means you can express concern, but if your expression of concern is met with being asked to back off or butt out (or a nonverbal means of such) then do so.
  • Do not read cultural differences as personal rejection or disrespect. For example, for several cultures (specifically some Native American and East Asian cultures) and for people on the autism spectrum, direct eye contact and sometimes direct touching of someone who is a stranger is considered rude and offensive. So someone who is not looking you in the eye and not hugging you, even if you are from a culture where eye contact and hugs are almost mandatory, may be trying their best to be polite, not rude. As another example, some people who live in "small space" cultures (Japan is heavily notable for this, but similar versions exist in other settings — ironically enough the US Deep South has something similar, despite having much more open space — a gossip culture tends to create the "small space" even if physical space is larger) tend to keep to themselves and be concerned for both their and your privacy. This may seem disturbing or rude, if you're used to the idea that everyone who shares a space (from living together to working together) must become best friends forever or even Friends with Benefits and share even the most intimate, private details of their lives — except it's not, it's an attempt to maintain privacy for everyone unless/until a friendship beyond proximity develops. There are many other things like this - but assuming good faith is a great workaround here, to assume the issue is "we're different" rather than "how dare this person do this to me?"
  • Friendship and relationships develop differently in different cultures. Some cultures and some people may believe proximity alone demands intimate friendship and even sexual or romantic relationships — as in, you must be involved and deeply concerned with the people you live/work with or around. Others believe there are levels of friendship and/or that especially romantic or sexual connections have requirements, sometimes specific to the person or subculture as well as the culture itself.
  • People from various cultures and subcultures have incredibly varying demands of privacy. Some will share even the most intimate personal, health, financial, and sexual details of their lives in great detail with anyone, some will believe in sharing none of the above and/or being reserved with anything but small talk, and there are many gradations of this. The generally respectful thing to do is default to the person who is most interested in privacy. As in, even if in your culture everyone is somehow obligated to detail everything down to what their genitals look like, that does not give you the right to demand someone who is from a more private culture or subculture to share such information, and if you ask anyway, it does give them the right to not answer or even tell you to not ask. Also, people who are more private (either in general or in regard to sensitive topics from finance to sex) are not automatically "liars" or "shady" or dangerous — especially if there is no reason for the information to be known (e.g. if you are not at risk for exposure to HIV, you do not need to know if someone has HIV or not, and if you are not directly financially supporting someone meaningfully or investigating a financial crime on behalf of law enforcement or for a lawsuit, you have no need to know the status of their bank account). Someone who says "mind your own business" or "I don't feel comfortable discussing that" or changes the subject, even if they have shared information before, isn't necessarily trying to hide something or do something wrong — most of the time they are not, they simply don't think you are entitled to the information.
  • Do not try to convert someone to your lifestyle or belief system. As long as they're not harming anyone or forcibly interfering with the rights of others, they have just as much right to live their life the way they see fit as you do.
  • And yes, this is all basic, there are loads more ways to not be a Jerk Ass, so don't stop here. There's lots of information on ethics and cross-cultural etiquette online, just a search away.

Specific cultures and subcultures:

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     Vegetarians, vegans, and similar 
  • Know the difference between different forms of meat/animal food restriction.
    • Vegetarian generally means "no animal products that resulted from the intentional killing of an animal." There are vegetarians, therefore, that do eat egg and/or dairy products (because especially unfertilized eggs cannot be argued to be viable animals, and dairy - especially non-cow dairy like goat or sheep milk and cheese - technically can be sourced without killing - these are called, technically, ovo-lacto-vegetarians), and who can justify the wearing of bones or skins/leathers from naturally dead animals or wool/hair-based materials harvested without killing or harming the animal.
    • Vegan, on the other hand, is stricter and generally means "no animal or animal-based products at all." As in, no dairy or eggs and no animal bones/fibers/skins.
    • "Kosher" or "halal" are religious restrictions from Judaism and Islam respectively. Neither forbid the eating of meat but specify it must be of certain types (pork is forbidden as are some forms of shellfish), slaughtered in a specific way, and not served with dairy. Someone who believes in either may definitely forgo meat, though, especially if the source is in doubt and/or the only option is pork, for example.
    • "Fruitarian" refers to eating only things that do not kill the plants or insects involved. Generally uncommon, but subscribed to by Jains and some Hindus as a matter of religious restriction.
    • "Pescetarian" refers to eating fish (and/or invertebrates), in addition to plants and possibly dairy and eggs. It may be religious, ethical, or health related. Where exactly someone draws the line (and why) can differ from person to person.
  • Do not assume someone's reasons for choosing a restricted means of eating - or a food option related to it - is related to dieting or weight loss unless they tell you that it is. There are many reasons for ascribing to vegetarian/vegan eating, ranging from personal moral beliefs to caring about animals and/or the environment to religion to health concerns.
  • Meat Versus Veggies is a sitcom trope. Dragging it into Real Life is childish and petty and a huge violation of minding your own business.
  • Do not assume vegetarians or vegans are "brainwashed by PETA." Yes, some support PETA. Many others do not and will be either offended or give you an earful as to why they wouldn't support PETA.
  • Do not assume vegetarians or vegans to have an eating disorder.
  • As for those who are keeping kosher or halal, keep in mind that it is a very strong tenet of their religious beliefs - even if you do not share them - and deserves respect, even if you don't share the belief or agree. For this reason if you are serving a food that is forbidden per kosher or halal laws (e.g. pork, cheeseburgers) it is ALWAYS good to have another option available and separate from the violating option (e.g. fish or lamb or beef or a non-meat option in place of pork, burgers without dairy products on them on another tray). Also, if you are actually trying to serve halal/kosher foods, try to make sure that they are properly certified by your local religious authorities (if applicable) as some will only eat foods which are properly identified as halal/kosher.

    Visual Kei (includes both Japanese and non-Japanese) 
  • Visual Kei, having descended from Japanese culture and being a relatively small subculture where everyone tends to know everyone else, is a very private subculture on average. While there may be indidividuals who share Too Much Information (and others who share false Too Much Information just to be The Gadfly or a troll), it is very "small space," whether in Japan or in non-Japanese VK.
  • This means that Visual Kei artists and fans generally follow the "levels" of friendship model as opposed to "friendship by proximity." A general idea of these "levels" is as such:
    • Close friends/blood: family if they are supportive/in the subculture. The closest friends and associates, the people that have been with the artist/fan for a very long time, that are mutually very close the best of friends. Lovers sometimes fall in up here as well - usually if it's artist/artist or fan/fan - artist/fan is usually further down.
    • Kankeisha: the supporters of an artist/band/act that are the closest to it, the most knowledgable, the "insiders." While they aren't necessarily best friends forever or blood or lovers (though some may be the latter) they are privy to the inner workings of the band/act/artist, to information that would not or should not reach the public, and to being seen as associates and friends.
    • Business associates: Not so much friends or even trusted, simply people with whom the artist/fan/band/whatever has to engage with to be "in business." They are usually not privy to a lot of information, though sometimes to more financial information or tour dates, for example, than the general public.
    • Acquaintances/other artists who are not kankeisha: artists/fans that performed together/attended together at a show/drank together in a bar/etc would fall into this category - they are not close, personal information or business information is not likely to be disclosed, small talk is the rule of the day, but there is no enmity or hatred or fear - people in this category often are upwardly mobile sooner or later into kankeisha or even close friends, or at the very least stick around at this point comfortably.
    • The Groupie Brigade: Seen as a source of cheap and easy sex, and not much else except for their potential for harm. Occasionally one of these can pop up to kankeisha (and the head of the Groupie Brigade is almost always kankeisha, especially if it's an official fan club). Unless they are kankeisha, rarely trusted, and the only information they are privy to is what they discover in bed.
    • The general public and/or fans to an artist: No enmity as in acquaintances above, but no real potential for friendship or respect either, at least with many artists, though some don't see fans like this (and sometimes fans, especially those who become or are artists themselves, can pop up to one of the above categories). These are the people who ideally will only see and hear the stage persona, who will buy the music and the show tickets, but will ideally stop there and go away.
    • The Rival and other enemies: Much enmity, very little respect or understanding. Among the less mature open fighting is possible, among the more mature there may even still be ongoing legal action or demands to stay away. People in this group actually may know more and the most unflattering of information and be willing to share it - they can be anything from ex-close friends to embittered groupies or fen. No one will willingly share true information with people they know or assume to even be connected to someone in this group, or willingly spend time with them in any way.
  • Most people into Visual Kei (whether Japanese side or non-Japanese variants) are very, almost overwhelmingly aware that "normal society" finds their appearance offputting at best. Assuming that someone doesn't know what normal people think of their looks/actions/etcetera and proceeding to "educate" them on how "abnormal" they are (or worse, assuming that their looks/actions are the result of mental illness) is incredibly offensive.
  • DO NOT ask for age, unless you are checking IDs for an age-restricted venue or for other legal reasons. Many people in Visual Kei do not wish to disclose age, at least publicly or to anyone who asks for any reason, for a variety of reasons: stage persona being an ancient, being older and wanting to seem congruent with a younger appearance, being younger and wanting to seem more experienced as an artist or fan among others. In fact, it is tradition in v-kei to not share age - demanding someone tell you their exact birthdate or birth year is incredibly offensive.
  • Do not confuse binary gender and sexuality, and especially do not confuse either with stage persona. All three may be different within the same person, the same within the same person, or variant.
  • Do not take appearance changes (even sudden ones) or startlingly different appearance as a personal affront or even an attempt at flipping off society. The guy with pink hair, for example, may just happen to like pink hair or be doing it for his stage image or photo work - he may not be doing it to flip off society in general, and even if he is, he most likely isn't doing it to upset or offend you in particular.