I’m thinking about health a lot these days as I’ve had to deal with some issues. They’re not serious, but there’s nothing like a health problem to make you sit back, reflect, and realize your limits (especially when we don’t really like to admit that we have limits!).

(Not feeling good is the worst!)

This got me thinking about how different cultures approach health, which is what I wanted to share with you this month. Here are my experiences and perspectives from places I’ve lived. Your experiences and perspectives may vary!

Keep Going in the United States

In the US, we are not supposed to get sick. If we get sick, we’re supposed to keep going to work unless we’re really ill (and contagious), in which case we’re supposed to stay home but still check emails and take some phone calls. We don’t give ourselves “timeouts” to recover and, in my experience, my illnesses are prolonged as a result.

Stay Home in Argentina

In Argentina, I was shocked to learn that people are expected to stay home if they are sick, and they are not expected to work while they’re at home sick. More than once, I was sent home from work for being sick (and one colleague even drove me home one day because I was too sick to drive myself). As a culture, they not only recognize that you need time and rest to heal, they actually (in my case) force you to let yourself get better!

Prevention in Hong Kong

And in Hong Kong, everyone understands the need to get well if you are sick, and many turn to Traditional Chinese Medicine for the majority of things that ail them. But Hong Kong people are also keenly aware of the need to prevent the spread of germs to others, and they work hard to do that – from not using self-serve paper napkins at restaurants (because you don’t know if someone sneezed on them before you got there so it is normal to bring your own pocket tissues instead) to having antibacterial coating on the handrails on escalators to sanitizing elevator buttons in buildings every few hours to wearing masks regularly.

The first time I saw people wearing masks, I had assumed that they were people who were already sick and they were trying to prevent themselves from getting more sick. Then I learned that those wearing masks usually are people who are sick, but they are trying to prevent spreading their germs to others. Wow. In normal times (not necessarily times of outbreak like now), the masks are not so much about protecting oneself as they are about protecting others, protecting the community, from the spread of illness. That kind of blows me away in a good way because it’s so thoughtful and considerate of those around you – even strangers!


I know that each culture has different reasons for these approaches – including the US mindsets of “doing it all” and “showing no weakness” as well as the small number of companies that offer paid sick leave here. And I know that in Argentina, paid sick leave is more common and it is easier (and more affordable) to go to the doctor. (Doctors even make house calls there!). And in Hong Kong, the dense population plus the history with SARS drive much of the awareness and effort to prevent the spread of disease.

So as usual, I’m pulling in things I’ve learned from other cultures to let myself heal – including western medicine, reflexology, getting a lot of rest, and good nutrition. If you’re struggling this year with colds and flus and the like, maybe take a look at your approach to recovery – and maybe add in some extra rest and a foot massage!