Does Respect for Our Elders Still Exist and Apply Today?

As a well-traveled North American, I’m fascinated by culture. I’ve been in every Canadian province and most U.S. states. In Nova Scotia, my wife and I were treated like family by complete strangers. Trust me, this doesn’t happen in New Jersey. Americans are more likely to say “um” than “eh.” Canadians are more likely to apologize than our American cousins. When I cross the pond to Europe, the rules change further.


I tried to tip a waiter in Germany and he looked at me like I had three eyes. People bowed to me in Hong Kong. In Italy, folks tried to kiss me on the cheeks. This never happens in Manitoba; if two Canadian farmers find themselves closer than about two feet, they get chest pains.


If you’ve ever been to Spain, you may find it strange that many sleep after lunch. In Argentina, you’re expected to show up at least 15 minutes late to social functions. Bulgarians nod their heads to say “no,” and shake them to say “yes.” In Japan, it’s impolite if you don’t slurp your soup. In parts of China and India, a hearty belch shows appreciation for the meal. I tried this on my mother. It never worked.


One of the most striking differences between east and west is our perspective on aging. Out west, we nip, tuck, diet, dye our hair and visit 4.5 million “anti-aging” websites. Too many westerners view the elderly as quaint and expendable. Not so in the east. In China, the older people get the more enthusiastic they are about it. Those 50 and beyond are accorded special honour, and respect for elders is counted as one of the highest of virtues. I like that.


When I was a kid, we were taught to respect our elders or we likely wouldn’t live to be more than about 12. Age was a badge of honour, not something to be feared. In Leviticus 19:32, the people of Israel were told, “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.” 1 Peter 5:5 says, “You who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.” The best education I ever received was at the feet of older people.


And travel can provide a good education as well, but be warned: Don’t pop, chew, or carry gum in Singapore, eat or drink on a train in Japan, blow your nose in public in China, or order a cappuccino in Italy after 10:30 a.m.

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Phil Callaway

Phil Callaway, the host of Laugh Again, is an award-winning author and speaker, known worldwide for his humorous yet perceptive look at life.

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