Columns, Opinion

Let’s Talk About: Westernization in non-Western countries

A few days ago, I received an invitation to an Indonesian wedding. Unlike any other Indonesian wedding invitation I’ve received, this one stood out to me because the dress code specifically said “Formal Attire” with “No Batik” written in parentheses.

Batik — a textile technique that features geometric patterns made individually by hand — is commonly used to make Indonesian traditional clothing used for formal occasions, whether it be state visits, weddings or ceremonies. It can even be used for informal occasions, such as everyday work or business meetings.

In fact, diplomats and world leaders often receive batik as a welcoming gift. Famous photos of former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, former South African President Nelson Mandela and Russian President Vladimir Putin show them proudly wearing batik shirts in meetings, conferences and — for Mandela — in his home country.

Mayela Machribie Lumban Gaol

Regardless, the batik holds a large significance in our culture, and Indonesians wear this traditional fabric with pride.

I was shocked to see the request for no batik because I assumed it also prohibited the use of other traditional attires such as the kebaya, implying a preference for Western attire over traditional clothing.

Because the invitation’s dress code explicitly restricted guests from wearing batik, I wondered if there were other guests who felt singled out with the restrictive dress code, considering batik-wear is a very common attire for guests at weddings or formal functions.

Was I the only one who felt uneasy about an explicitly restrictive dress code against traditional Indonesian attire? Is wearing traditional clothing somehow worse than wearing Western attire? Is there something wrong with batik?

When I saw this, it was the equivalent to saying “No sarees” at an Indian wedding, or “No kilts” at a Scottish wedding.

But it also follows a pattern of global behavior. Westernization has dominated aspects of other non-Western traditions and cultures, whether it be subconsciously or consciously.

Western culture has become increasingly popular all over the world. You see it everywhere — from global U.S. chain restaurants to Hollywood movies to music to beauty standards and beyond. Even education is influenced by Westernization because, historically, a Western education meant the gold standard or higher education for the elite in non-Western countries.

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

However, as a non-American, I want to make it clear there is nothing wrong with Westernization or preferring certain Western customs over my own.

I only want to say that because many non-Western cultures have been Westernized in a globalized world, embracing our traditional cultures establishes our identity and sets us apart from others. Westernization can become harmful if it implies a superiority or cultural erasure. The reality is all cultures are beautiful and unique in their own way.

Not immersing in Western customs would make me ignorant, but immersing myself only to Western culture would pull me away from my own. Everything in life should be in moderation, especially if we want to be open-minded in a globalized world.

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