History can tell you a lot about the present reality of a culture’s values and norms.
Understanding the rationale in a culture’s roots – the “why” – is often traced to history’s distant past.
Traditions, customs, and behaviors, as we saw last week, have their roots in language, religion, and, lastly, history.
For instance, due to largely voluntary European immigration and forced African immigration, American culture, for instance, became a “melting pot.”
On the other side of the pond, European history has been shaped by multiple major wars.
Languages were spread worldwide through colonization, with English becoming the primary language of Australia and the U.S., while Spanish and Portuguese were spread through Latin America.
China, Japan, Russia – their societies have all been shaped by influential dynasties.
While this common knowledge is useful to have, it barely scratches the surface in regards to learning and understanding a foreign culture.
Respect and Genuine Interest
A deeper knowledge of your host culture’s history demonstrates your regard and respect for that culture.
National pride is an element of every culture; it is part of a group – and an individual’s – identity.
When I moved to the U.S. in early 2000, I viewed the American Civil War like I did that of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, in that it was remote and distant, left in the deep realms of the past.
Due to the volume of European wars, that’s how many Europeans view battles and wartime periods that took place prior to the first and second world wars.
From this perspective, I didn’t think it necessary to study up on U.S. history beyond the broad culture and recent past.
I knew the basics about the American Civil War – that it was fought between the North and South over the abolition of slavery – but beyond that, I knew not much else, nor did I consider the war to carry much direct relevance (beyond racism and prejudice) in present-day America.
When I relocated to Richmond, Virginia, I realized I was mistaken.
Richmond was the southern secessionists’ capital, and the Civil War is still very much a part of the “recent past” there.
Some view Abraham Lincoln – widely considered one of the United States’ greatest presidents – in a negative light and the Civil War, in general, as “when the North attacked America.”
In 2003, when a Lincoln statue was unveiled in the center of Richmond, it was received with protests by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
You can see why knowledge of the past – and the different perspectives of this shared history by various regions of the United States – would be pertinent to your cultural integration.
Cultural sensitivity about topics that are considered controversial in some areas is necessary to developing and maintaining positive business and personal relationships wherever you set down roots.