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Understanding the Nature of Culture

Also before traveling consider your own values and stereotypes. A Stereotype is a broad generalization about groups based solely on the group affiliation. Although it will be discussed more in the Race chapter, stereotypes have to be managed, especially among ethnocentric persons.

Culture is the shared values, norms, symbols, language, objects, and way of life that is passed on from one generation to the next. Culture is what we learn from our parents, family, friends, peers, and schools. It is shared, not biologically determined. In other words, you are only born with drives, not culture.

Humans have Biological Needs, which are the innate urges that require some action on our part if we are to survive. These include the need to urinate, breath, eat, drink, and sleep or else we eventually collapse and die. If we urinate in enclosed bathrooms, behind a tree, or in an open air urinal depends as much on our cultural traditions as it does on our biology. Likewise, we may eat ground beef, snails, worms, fermented cabbage, fish eggs, or animal lard depending on our cultural assumptions.

Values are defined standards of what is good, bad, desirable, or undesirable for ourselves and others. Typical American values—considered for the entire nation and described by Williams, 1970 were: achievement and success ; equality; individualism; racism and group superiority; activity and work ; education; efficiency and practicality; religiosity; progress; romantic love/monogamy; science and technology; equal opportunity; material comfort; nationalism/patriotism; humanitarianism; external conformity; freedom; and democracy and free enterprise (see Williams, R. M. (1970). American Society: A Sociological Interpretation, 3rd Ed. NY; Knopf). Do these collective values apply to your own personal values? It helps to do your homework about your country and your own personal values before you experience another culture. After you’ve researched the cultures you will visit, compare them to your own using this continuum :

Not Very Extremely

Morally ←-------------------------------------------------------------------------------→Morally

Significant Significant

Key Point: You should never, ever be required to forfeit your own values in the pursuit of teachability, cultural relativism, and skilled cross-cultural relationships. If the typical US culture is more like your world-taken-for-granted and you travel to an equatorial country where they behave in a different manner, then your enthusiastic hand shaking, personal questioning, and space intrusions might land you in hot water (see Table 6 below). It’s best not to assume that a polite American also makes a polite Costa Rican and vice versa.

Table 6: Aren’t My Best Cultural Skills (the ones that work so well for me at Home) Good Enough to Interact Successfully in Another Culture? Perhaps not.


Typical Mainstream US Cultural traits Typical Equatorial Cultural Traits
-Shake hands -Bow, Nod, or Gesture
-Ask personal questions about family, friends, and health -Ask only general questions about weather and business
-Speak informally by first names -Speak formally by titles and last names
-Stand close to the other person -Stand at a distance
-Pat other on back, shoulder, or arm -No touching at all
-Men and/or women may speak to anyone -Men speak to men and women to women

(C) 2008 Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D.

At a very personal level, you might better understand your own values if you knew that most younger college students today share very similar values to others their age. In fact, you may be a “Generation Y” or “Millennial” aka “Millennials.” This generation of today’s US and Canadian youth were born in the 1980s and 1990s. They are also called “Screenagers” as opposed to teenagers because they grew up with: Cell phones, TV’s, computers, and video games. Collectively, Millennials are much better with computer-based technology than any generation that came before them. Odds are, that your children will be much better than you at a technology that has not yet emerged onto the market.

Millennials hold somewhat unique values in comparison to older members of our society. They tend to: seek for sense of purpose in what they have to do; desire a clear work-life balance; have a relatively short attention span; really enjoy having fun; enjoy variety; respect others; feel unlimited ambition; can be more demanding and will question everything; won’t do something they’re asked if they don’t see a good reason for it; want to make a difference; may quit what they committed to if some or all of these expectations are not met; and are very loyal to families, friends, and themselves (from Hira, N. A. May 15, 2007 Fortune).

One recent survey of Millennials found that: 97% own a computer; 94% own a cell phone; 76% can instant message; 15% are logged on to Instant messaging 24/7; 75% who are college students already have a Facebook account; and 60% have a portable music player (see Reynol Junco and Jeanna Mastrodicasa Connecting to the Net.Generation: What higher education professionals need to know about today's students, NASPA; First edition (March 29, 2007)).

Interestingly your parents and perhaps your grandparents are probably Baby Boomers (Born between 1946-1964). They represent a huge segment of the US population today. The American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) created a report on them. They are people 50 years and older who are more than a third of the population, but … they own 80 percent of financial assets; and dispose of 50 percent of discretionary income; and the 50+ population is going to double in the next 35 years. AARP also reported that “We know a lot about the Boomers: They love choice: set up the smorgasbord and let them help themselves. They will. They want information-and the more sources the better because… …They are not afraid to make decisions-but only on their own clock and in their own terms. They want many things and they want them now. The ideal for typical Baby Boomers is to have something delivered before they even knew they wanted it… yesterday would be just fine. They lean more to independence than blending in to the crowd. They are usually fairly sophisticated buyers… of anything and everything. They love bells and whistles because they are bells and whistles” (See AARP taken from the Internet on 29 May 2008 from http://www.aarp.org/about_aarp/aarp_leadership/on_issues/baby_boomers/helping_aging_boomers_to_age_in_place.html ).

In understanding cultures (ours and others) you must realize how crucial values are to the overall culture. Our values are the basis of norms, which in turn are the basis for folkways and morés and eventually laws. It flows like this:

Date: 2015-01-12; view: 763

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Can We Learn To Appreciate Cultures? | Values→ Norms → Folkways/Morés → Laws
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