Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Strange Moments in Cultural Exchange

One of the things that interests me is the interaction between otherwise separate cultures. The cross-cultural exchange is one of the most important dynamics of social exchange to understand these days. It's one of the reasons I went abroad to study in Nepal in College. With Pakistan in the news so much, the problems of translation or exchange are on my mind.

Of course, the intersection between the Islamic East and the West is particularly fraught right now. The culture of Pakistan is so fundamentally different from that of North America that the exchange between the two deserves a lot of attention. So when I saw this article in the New York Times it really caught my attention. There is a company in Pakistan that makes leather fetish gear for export to the West. Despite being located in the heart of one of the most conservative cultures in the world and receiving threats from hardliners, this business manages to thrive. Most of the people working there have no idea what they are making, but the design department in the basement and the owners sure do! Why fetish wear? Because the owners of the company started off looking for a niche market for leather goods and stumbled upon this one. My favourite line in the piece, "70% of our customers are Democrats." No kidding. Also note the cognitive dissonance of the business manager, who has some idea what his company makes but no idea why anyone would want it.


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