You woke up this morning and ate a breakfast of eggs and toast without consciously realizing that breakfast was culture.
You dressed, got ready, did your hair, suited up without realizing that style is culture.
You went to work by metro, jostled in between a man in sneakers and sweatpants and a woman in a pantsuit, both on their smartphones, without realizing that mode of transportation, personal space, and gender equality are culture.
You sat in on a morning meeting, putting forth your ideas, your boss nodding along, without realizing that business and hierarchical structures are culture.
Although culture can appear in the form of tangible things – fashion, entertainment, food, etc. – our own culture is, for the most part, invisible. We don’t often say, “Hey, look – there’s culture!” We breathe it without thinking about it.
And, yet, culture shapes everything in our world.
The Not-So-Invisible Shapes of Culture
Being that culture is so alive and vibrant, it’s not so much that you don’t see culture or know it’s there. The thing is, you’re often blind to your own culture, until it’s contrasted with others.
For instance, here are a few cultural differences. Consider your own culture’s preferences in contrast with those below:
- Greetings – a handshake in America, a kiss on both cheeks in Italy, a bow in Japan
- Breakfast – a croissant in France, bread and honey in Morocco, fried noodles in China
- Common mode of transport – a car in Los Angeles, the Underground in London, a bicycle in Amsterdam
- Punctuality – extremely punctual in Switzerland, very late in Thailand, punctual in business/not so much in personal matters in Chile
- Sports – hockey in Canada, cricket in India, football basically everywhere else in the world
These are just some of the ways in which cultures differ. Now, imagine yourself trying to integrate some of these foreign cultural preferences into your life.
Most of the things around you are culture, from what you eat to what you watch to what you wear, from how you get around to how you think and speak. Apart from your genetic material, culture is everything that shapes who you are and how you view the world.
Knowing all this, in order to integrate into another culture, you must make an effort to stop Viewing Others Through Your Own Culture-Tinted Glasses.
Next week, I’ll provide tips on how to do just that. Stay tuned.