Whenever I've traveled/lived in a foreign country, I've always tried to be culturally sensitive to the practices/beliefs of said country. I'm not a big fan of the relativist argument, but I also don't believe that one culture is inherently superior to another. I guess I try to take the middle road for the most part.
Still, having lived in Djibouti for several months now, I'm starting to view 'culture' differently than I ever did before. I will use the example of foreign aid and how it's affected the culture to illustrate this new perspective. Here in Djibouti, there seems to be a certain 'dependency' on outside assistance that has developed at all levels and this dependency is stifling any solutions to the real problems that continue to exist. In essence, the dependency has become a part of the culture to the point that there is an entitlement mentality permeating society. I see it every day and it has become very tiresome!!
Am I viewing this through the relative characteristics of my own culture and being negative as a result? I don't think so. My litmus test for identifying negative aspects of a culture outside my own is this--What is the objective of the country/people? Do certain cultural practices efficiently achieve this objective? In this case, I think one of the goals of Djibouti is to develop a strong economy that provides opportunities for its citizens. I also believe that the governments providing assistance to Djibouti have a similar goal (although some might debate this). Does the dependency I mentioned above reach this goal more efficiently than taking responsibility for one's own future (according to the Western view)? If one cultural aspect (dependency) is less effective at reaching the common goal than another, I believe this is truly a negative element of the culture and it fails my test.
So, what's the practical solution? As always, there are no easy fixes but I would hope that future aid is somehow tied to changes that will cause the relevant objective to be achieved. To use an old saying, "it's better to teach someone how to fish than to simply give them fish" or something like that.
Then again, maybe my judgment has been clouded by my ridiculous Protestant work ethic!