Ah, culture!… That vague concept, so hard to pinpoint. What is it, really? Is it a concert? A book? A Picasso painting? Is it everything humans have ever created? Is it the opposite of nature?
For the purposes of this blog, CULTURE is the shared worldview, mindset, and behaviors of a particular community of human beings, obtained primarily through socialization – i.e. all their shared beliefs, values, attitudes, norms, behaviors, and artifacts. To put it briefly, culture means “how we interpret and do things around here”.
But how does one go about describing culture? What are the MAIN CATEGORIES of a national culture? How does one position a product or service with regard to a particular culture?
Generally speaking, to describe different cultures, anthropologists and sociologists have traditionally looked at our attitudes towards and behaviors relating to TIME, SPACE, the ENVIRONMENT, and OTHER HUMANS. This latter category also includes emotions, relationships (whether personal or professional, power and hierarchies), communication, and decision-making. Cultures differ from one another in terms of what is expected, what is required, what is preferred, and what is frowned upon.
Human beings THINK, FEEL, ACT, and COMMUNICATE. And members of the same community will tend to think, feel, act, and communicate in similar ways because they were all brought up together, with similar values, in a shared environment.
People represent the world differently in their minds. There are historical, geographical, socio-political, and linguistic reasons for that. To behave and communicate appropriately and effectively, it is important to know both your and your partners’/customers’ underlying values, to understand how your interpretation of the world differs from theirs, and how that interpretation informs and impacts attitudes and, ultimately, actions.
“KNOW YOURSELF” AND KNOW YOUR PARTNER (who, at times, can feel like the enemy)
The “knowing thyself” part is called intercultural readiness. Are you aware of just how relative the things you take for granted (and which feel like “common sense”) are? Other people in other places do them differently, and they have equally legitimate explanations for doing so.
So, let us now focus on “otherness”. Stereotyping is an age-old heuristic for evaluating people based on the group they belong to. It is not particularly accurate and, what’s more, it can lead to harmful prejudice. What helps is trying to understand where the other person is coming from, what assumptions (s)he makes about the world, and how they differ from yours.
Consider the example of Romania, for instance. What do you really know about its culture? Sure, you might have heard about Brâncuși, Enescu, or Nadia Comăneci. But what do you really know about the way most Romanians tend to think, feel and react? Would you like to understand more?
Let us start with TIME.
Another time. Soon, I promise. Or, as Romanians would probably say, “imediat“. 🙂
If you can’t wait, check out my book “The Germans and the Romanians Explained – INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION”, available on Amazon, now in its second edition.