“Here’s to joint success in our current venture!” you say cheerfully to your Hungarian colleagues, as you hold up your beer pint for a clink at a Budapest bar.
Instead of getting a “here, here!” or the expected return, you are on the receiving end of blank stares.
You’re oblivious to the fact that you’ve just made yourself the monkey.
If you’d done a little research into the history of the culture and its traditions prior to being relocated to Budapest, you may have avoided this “monkey moment.”
You may have learned how to toast in proper Hungarian fashion.
Learn History to Learn Culture
As we’ve discussed over the past couple months, learning language and religion inherently teaches you about culture.
The last of the trio – history – tells an important story about the beginnings, the evolution, and the present reality of any great nation.
Activist and journalist, Marcu Garvey, once said:
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
The roots of cultural baobabs – aka, the invisible parts of culture – impact the behaviors and norms that we do see aboveground.
History is a major part of these roots.
It defines us – our customs, mentalities, and traditions; it shapes our identity.
Nearly every modern country teaches its history in schools. It’s often a watered-down version, but it’s a historical framework nonetheless.
Data indicates how institutions, subcultures, and entire nations are created and how they evolve. Such data allows us to infer how cultural norms and values are formed.
Back in Budapest, you’ve read up on your Hungarian history.
You learn that, according to legend, during the rule of the Habsburg Empire, Austrian executioners shared in a clink of their pints whenever a Hungarian general was killed during the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.
When the revolution was defeated, it is said that this is how the Austrians celebrated in Vienna.
This has led to the Hungarian no-clinking tradition during toasts with beer, which strays from most other European countries’ cultural toasting customs.
While you might have just accepted the norm at face value and abstained from clinking in the future, taking the extra step of educating yourself about your monkey moment did you a favor.
Understanding helps clear up cultural ambiguity and uncertainty and gives you a solid footing in a foreign culture.
This is just one bit of proof that learning a little history goes a long way to learning a culture. We’ll offer more next week.