From birth, we begin to learn from the people around us. In this way, a person’s actions are changeable, as they suit the cultural context in which the person exists. Over time, learned actions develop into ingrained habits. Eventually, these habits become second nature, almost automatic. By the time we’ve reached adulthood, these learned actions have become internalized, unconscious behaviors, specific to the culture in which we were raised.
Small talk is a great example of a cultural pattern. When you chat with an acquaintance at a cocktail party, for example, you perform actions in a familiar and predictable sequence – such a cultural pattern is also called a ritual.
Different cultures have different ways of communicating. Some communicate explicitly while others communicate implicitly.
The downside of such communication is that a message must contain all the necessary information so there can be communication at all. This can slow things down, as messages are long and complex.
Even the way you walk down the street is influenced by your cultural background!
Culture doesn’t just affect how we talk or move our bodies. You might be surprised to find out that people even hold a different perception of time depending on cultural background.
In Northern Europe and America, people view time as a straight line, moving forward into the future. Such a view leads people to schedule work hours strictly, setting deadlines for specific tasks.
People from cultures in the Middle East and Latin America, in contrast, tend to focus on the present moment. They often prioritize tasks on the fly, based on what is most pressing at that moment. For people in these cultures, time is flexible& deadlines are seldom hard or fast.
In Latin America, it is understood that you might need to prioritize an issue that you feel is more pressing than your appointment. Changing plans last minute, however, is seen as rude in the US and Northern Europe, as people from these cultures expect you to plan your schedule in advance.
Because we view the world through our unique cultural glasses, we expect other people to act and think the way we do. It’s no surprise then that there are many misunderstandings between cultures.
Americans, being five minutes late requires a small apology; 15 minutes late requires an apology plus an explanation; 30 minutes late is an insult to the person with whom you're meeting.
Japanese hotels offer a useful example. Here it’s common practice for hotel staff to move your luggage to a new room without asking your permission. Staff will do this if your room is needed urgently by another party (for example, a large family)for the Japanese, this is a completely normal practice, & even connotes familiarity and a sense of inclusion for the guest who is being moved. Yet American and European guests, when faced with such a situation, are often shocked and insulted. Why? People from Western cultures tend to associate space with private ownership and personal status. A stranger moving your stuff is just wrong.
Our world is becoming increasingly connected, which means you’re more likely to meet or work with someone from a culture different from your own. For this reason, it’s more important than ever that we learn to understand the way culture affects people’s behavior.
Understanding other cultures is difficult, often because it requires knowledge of a culture’s particular historical and social context.
we also need to be able to see beyond our cultural lens. Because culture is so deeply ingrained, it can be hard to realize that the way you view things isn’t the “only” way.
One method to better understand foreign cultures is to better understand your beliefs, even those that you might not have ever questioned.
People in Western cultures, for example, believe in competition and individual freedom. We expect people to “be themselves” and seek to stand out from the crowd. But this belief contrasts with those of other cultures, where people feel more comfortable sticking to the norm. So what’s the best way to discover cultures beyond your own? It’s simple: interact with people whose cultural backgrounds differ from your own.
When you meet and interact with people from other cultures, your experiences will help you recognize differences in points of view and identify new perspectives on beliefs and behaviors you might take for granted. For that reason alone, this can be a rewarding, fulfilling experience.
From the way we talk and walk to how we resolve conflicts and view the world, our cultural backgrounds determine how we behave. By interacting with people from different cultures, we’re better able to recognize and understand contrasting behaviors and communicate with individuals of all backgrounds.
Ask questions first before you judge someone’s behavior.
The next time you’re working or socializing with someone from a different cultural background and are confused by something the person did, resist the temptation to judge the behavior by your own cultural yardstick. Instead, consider how this behavior might make sense within the context of the person’s culture. Better yet, ask the person why he did what he did! This will help you handle such a situation more sensitively in the future, and you might even learn something new.