A Brief Comparison of Tibetan (circa 1959) and American (modern) Cultures

This was designed for use with the Tibet Role Playing Game. It is not meant to be a scholarly description of Tibetan (or American) cultures, but to give American players of the Tibet game a "heads-up" of the changes and similarities to expect when playing the game and reading the game materials.
AspectAmericans (today)Tibet (circa 1959)
Religious Identity Most belong to religious group or belief-system that is part of their Identity (I.E. I am a Catholic, I am an atheist, I am non-religious, etc.) See different religions (folk religion, Bon, Buddhism) as having different uses in different situations, adhere to each as appropriate.
Religious Freedom Individual's right to practice any religion they like as long as it doesn't interfere with the rights of others. Most Tibetans feel the same way. Also believe it's wrong to denigrate someone else's religious beliefs, even if different from yours.
Gender Narrowing difference between men and women in occupations. Women generally considered equal to men, but still subject to prejudice, especially by small groups. Some occupations almost all male and almost all female, yet exceptions exist and are not stigmatized. Women generally considered equal to men (as smart, as assertive, as athletic), except in central Tibetan politics (no women in the government) and with some religious teachers who refuse to teach females.
Travel Common. For job, vacation. Fast and safe. Common. For job, religious pilgrimages. Slow and filled with many dangers, but surviving these dangers bragged about later.
Medicine Practiced by doctors (attended medical university). Most diseases explained as organic injuries and infections. Drugs, surgery common. Practiced by doctors (attended medical university). Most diseases explained as bad karma, sorcery, malevolent spirits, humour imbalance. Herbs, behavioral changes, exorcism common. Surgery very rare.
Population Majority in cities. Majority are middle class. Very rich and very poor usually in cities. Majority in countryside. Majority are lower class. Very rich and very poor usually in cities. Much of population in monestaries (some the size of cities).
Marriage Premarital sex common. Most seek out a mate themselves and choose to enter in to a monogamous relationship. Non-monogamous relationships and marriages exist, but frowned upon. Extra-marital affairs and divorce are common, not heavily stigmatized. Tibetans seek own mate, but choice approved by an astrologer. Monogamy most common, yet polyandry (multiple husbands) and polygyny (multiple wives) is legal. Extra-marital affairs and divorce common, not heavily stigmatized.
Death Most Americans bury their dead, mourn them, and feel that the soul has gone on to some form of afterlife. Most Tibetans dispose of their dead in a way chosen by an astrologer. They perform ceremonies to help guide the dead to the most favorable rebirth.
Celebrations Few holidays. During holidays: no work, visit with family, presents, spend money. Many holidays and festivals: mass community celebrations, religious performances by monks.
Food High in protein & fat. Wide range of foods. Fresh (refrigated) foods common. Taste is valued. Mostly barley flour noodles and breads. Yak meat, butter, milk and cheese, imported tea common. Long lasting (doesn't go bad quickly) is valued.
Sports/Games Team sports especially ballgames. Gambling: card games. Intelligence/creativity based games common. Riddles. Gambling: Mah Jhong, Dice games. Archery, horse trick riding.
Ideal Attributes Independent, not gullible, socially skilled, wealthy, attractive, strong-willed. Intelligent, easy to get along with, compassionate, wise, entertaining.
Etiquette To strangers: hand shaking, pleasantries. To superiors: formal language, use formal pronouns (sir, dr., prof.). To hosts: spoken thanks, bringing food or wine. To strangers: bowing. To superiors: thumbs up, tongue out, use official titles. To hosts: white scarf gift.
Weapons Carrying concealed weapons generally illegal. Most weapons can be carried with proper permits. All weapons legal for all classes to carry. Most carry knives (as tools).
Economy Large companies. Paper and electronic money. Most money stored in banks. Many financial institutions (banks, credit card companies, investment firms). Little bartering. Much bartering & coin money. Most money stored as jewelry. Paper money only in cities. Few financial institutions.
Crime Existence of "criminal class." Most revolves around drug addictions. Crime usually for money, but also recreation, hatred, sexual gratification. Gangs, career criminals, organized crime agencies. Also, "white collar" crime (fraud, embezzlement, industrial espionage). Groups of bandits (even bandit tribes) operate in areas with little govt. presence. In cities, minor street crimes by very poor. Some bribery, forgery, embezzlement by educated.
Relationships Mostly defined on a one-on-one basis. Primary is nuclear family (close relatives living together). Also: relatives, coworkers, neighbors, friends. Many relationships of duty, family, freindship and love. Most people have wide circle of friends of every class.
Animal Rights Thought of as sub-human. Right not to be tortured. Can be killed for sport or consumption. Thought of as pre-human. Can not be hunted. Butchering looked down upon but acceptable as necessity.
Pets Cats, dogs, birds. Dogs (mostly mastiffs), horses.
Violence Idealized in the media but feared in real life. Some Americans armed, others not. Some Tibetans are strictly nonviolent, but most believe violence is reasonable (even compassionate) in some situations. Almost all Tibetans armed with at least a knife or iron pencase.

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