In East Asia different are the reasons why you can put a mask on your face - in a very polluted city, for example, it is a way to protect the respiratory system by contaminants, although in that case you will wear a specific mask.
Traveling in the Taipei MRT - a brilliant and successful example of technical efficiency and civic education - you will hear ads (in four languages) inviting passengers "to put a mask if you have a cold." Then the request to wear the mask is not so correlated with the protection of the individual as that of the collectivity. Masks serve to protect others from our cold or our cough: a reversal of perspective compared to the Western thinking.
Although in China the use of the mask has had an increase as a result of the epidemic of SARS - a real collective trauma that you can trace in the clients' narratives and in the clinical supervisions - its use is one of the many social attention that characterize the collectivist cultures unlike the individualist ones.
Some times ago a taiwanese acquaintance showed me through a linguistic example the nature of the collective self in the East Asian culture. She told me how the Chinese character 'tree' changes its meaning - from an individual to a collective one - when you write it one, two or three times: one time it means 'tree', two times means 'wood' and three times 'forest'. When a single tree becomes two and then turns into three, it creates new social realities.
For a Westerner who lives in East Asia, the collective dimension of the Chinese culture represents an unusual and pleasant experience. In Taipei, Taiwan, one of the best cities where to live according to a search by Mercer, this experience is immediately perceptible. In the Taipei subway, the so-called MRT etiquette requires, for example, "not to drink, not to eat, not to chewing gum", "to queue, "to lower the tone of voice", "to leave priority seats to those in need" and so on: standards that to a Western look may seem exaggerated, but that actually make the MRT experience unique in terms of security and comfort.
The intercultural comparison between the Eastern and the Western style allows you to watch cultures from different perspectives. It makes visible, to those who have eyes to see, their positive and negative elements. In this sense the intercultural practice based on an active listening, on the cultural comparison, on the dialogue and on trading different meanings can represent a form of response to the global cultural crisis in the current time. As we know, the "culture shock" can lead to a progression or to a regressive radicalization of the cultural positions. Our cultural and intercultural awareness will make the difference.
We can take an active attitude towards the experiences of cultural discontinuity, confronting with the differences and new prospectives and taking responsibility of their acceptance or not acceptance as the result of a careful and complex critical evaluation.