The Culture Bucket


by Navneet Alang

In recent weeks, as stories about Idle No More or rape in India have populated our news media, I’ve been reminded yet again that differences in culture can’t be boiled down to pat clichés about cuisine, but are instead about ways of understanding the world. The tension lingering around divisions between cultural groups seems more present than usual, and I half expect that at any moment the city’s ethnic groups might break out into 1950s-style street fight replete with switchblades and greased hair.

What has me perplexed though, is that the solution to these problems seems pretty clear. Immigrants and people in developing countries need to learn to put certain parts of their culture aside and think clearly. Tucking your bias away and looking at things objectively is the only way things will ever change, right? So I’m not sure why these silly people aren’t using their Culture Buckets.

Given that almost every minority in the West has a Culture Bucket, it’s truly a wonder we don’t talk about them more. Here we all are, in possession of these magical receptacles that conveniently contain quaint cultural beliefs and outmoded values. And yet, you almost never hear about them.

Maybe it’s the design? Unpolished aluminium pails emblazoned with the maple leaf, after all, aren’t exactly the most fashionable thing. Still. You’d think we’d mention them more given just how often we’re told to take our cultures and put them away for a bit.

I’ve only heard tales of how I got my first Culture Bucket at the hospital where I was born in East London. Apparently, the nurse was one of those friendly, rosy-cheeked types and got to chatting with my folks. My proud parents started going on about how they had so many plans, and were going to raise me with Indian values as well as English—which for some reason caused the nurse to leave the room. She quickly returned with a Culture Bucket (this one with a Union Jack on the side) and gave it to my puzzled parents with a smile. She simply said “He might need this—you know, to fit in! In case those Indian values get in the way, he can just pop them in here. And then Bob’s your Uncle!” I think I was 17 when I finally stopped responding to this story with, “But wait, Dad: isn’t your brother’s name Satwant?”

As it turns out, that nurse was only the first in a long line of people to offer such helpful advice. I remember the customs officer giving my own Canadian Bucket after arriving at Pearson. He explained the concept as if I was a newcomer from an weird, unbucketed place: watching soap operas in Korean or Punjabi is alright, as long as you can also name at least three judges on American Idol; knowing the rules of hockey is a must for ‘optional’ chatter during lunch-breaks at a job; and if you are going to cook that exotic-smelling food, at least be kind enough to keep your windows closed.

The important thing though, he said, is that if you ever feel tempted to raise a “foreign” perspective on how to see or understand the world—like, say, the idea that the individual is less important than the family—just take that notion and pop it into your Culture Bucket. It might make a bit of clanging noise, but at least then “Canadian” ideas can fill your newly cleared and reasonable mind.

Using my Culture Bucket just became part of my life. I carried it with me to school, and even to university. It wasn’t that hard, and a Culture Bucket comes in handy in all sorts of situations. Is your refusal of alcohol ruining everyone’s fun at the office party? Whip out the ole’ Culture Bucket! Is noticing the weird lack of people who look like you on TV interrupting the chatter about all the boobs on Girls and Game of Thrones? Well, that’s what a Culture Bucket is for, silly! Breathe a sigh of relief as you drop the heavy, old-fashioned parts of you in there and just get on with living life in modernity.

Sometimes it seems like the whole idea of a Culture Bucket is based on the idea that there are clear, rational ways of looking at the world, and then there are strange, culturally inflected ways. It’s as if the dominant culture is neutral and obvious, and all others are weird, and probably sexist—definitely way more sexist than that curvy cowgirl they’re using to sell Canadian wheat. As for things like arranged marriages, or choosing to wear a hijab even when you aren’t ‘forced’ to, well, just forget it. If you don’t throw those things into your pail, you may as well forget being part of the so-called mainstream. Sometimes it doesn’t seem just wrong or intellectually suspect, but... well, prejudiced.

Then again, that line of thinking that could not only get my Cultural Bucket confiscated, but could also have me being shipped back to whatever crazy country I come from. I could not bear to be sent back to that barbaric place. They still have a monarchy! Can you imagine?! No, best to keep my head down, learn to assimilate, do the Canadian thing and just keep quiet.

After all, isn’t that what a Culture Bucket is for?