Culture Clash: Umbrellas
Camera Info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 7 • 1/550 sec
Stepping off the plane in Japan one summer, I could tell it was going to be a hot day. Why? Because our translator arrived with an umbrella in tow! If you’ve hung out with many Asians, you’ve probably seen their habit of using umbrellas in sunny weather.
To many of us from the West, it’s a source of confusion. Why use an umbrella when it’s not raining? Yet my Asian friends have often been confused why we limit ours to just keeping dry. After all, if you look at the history of umbrellas, they were originally designed for shade (umbra is Latin for “shade”), a function that is still reflected in the word “parasol” (derived from the French parare, “to shield” and sol, “sun”). There are even rules on how to buy a good sun umbrella.
So what’s the point of using umbrellas in the sun? For many with fair skin, they protect against sunburn, which in turn lessens the chance of melanoma (skin cancer). To my Asian friends, there’s another reason: fair skin is a symbol of beauty. Many Asian girls avoid tanning just as much as Western girls seek it! The Chinese have a saying, “If the skin is very light and pale, it can cover up most of the ugly features you may have.” It’s also a historical belief – in the old days, peasants who had to work outdoors were always darker than rich people who stayed in their houses, so light skin became a symbol of wealth. Finally, it separates north Asians from south Asians, which I guess is a big deal to them (any feedback from my Asian friends on this one??).
How do you prefer to wear your umbrella? Why?