What is Culture?

According to Gary Wederspahn, culture is the shared set of assumptions, values, and beliefs of a group of people by which they organize their common life. In our world we can distinguish lot of cultures because of the number of countries for example, but also we can see some scales in these ‘country cultures’.

When you travel all over the world ,you have to face these different cultures with their own meaning and perception of words or gestures. Understanding culture will help you to be more aware of these differences and so avoid big mistakes in your behavior, what we call ‘cultural adjustment’.

How does culture “express” itself?

Even if the contrary can be thought, we are not spontaneous in our behavior. Our cultures, our education, and so on, influence us in everyday situations. That is why once you know people’s values and beliefs, you can often expect and predict their behavior. We can say that our behavior is a reflection of our culture.

Culture is often compared to an iceberg: the visible section of the iceberg is so much shorter than the invisible part under water. Each culture has some aspects which are observable and others that can only be suspected or imagined. Thus the part of culture which is visible, such as behavior, is only a small part of a bigger picture.

To give you a better idea of culture expression, here are listed some examples of cultural behavior: facial expressions, religious beliefs, religious rituals, importance of time, paintings, values, literature, gestures, holiday customs, nature of friendship, notions of modesty, foods and eating habits, understanding of the natural world, concept of self, work ethic, concept of beauty, music, style of dress…

Where does culture come from?

How do people get their culture? How do they learn all the behaviors that are regarded as right and wrong in their society? This process, also known as cultural conditioning, is present in every culture, but the specific behaviors that people have, the precise content of their conditioning, is different from group to group.

Everyone knows that common culture come mainly from a common history which shapes our mind and so have influence on our behavior or way of thinking.

The most important part of your culture will be acquired during your childhood, but you will acquire new behaviors until the end of your life:

  • In Childhood: children learn basics activities as eating, walking, talking, dressing, bathing, etc. These basics are the origin of the future children’s behavior.
  • As Adults: people learn new behavior or new ways to perform thanks to education, travels, etc. Adults learn how to adapt themselves.

How to analyze culture? Or how to have the right behavior?

We can find five steps of culture analyzing:

  1. Observation/Instruction: you become aware of a particular behavior but have not yet tried to do it yourself.
  2. Imitation: now you try to have the same behavior
  3. Reinforcement: people help you by correcting you or showing you.
  4. Internalization: you know how to behave but you still need practice.
  5. Spontaneous Manifestation: you no more need to pay attention to your behavior, it comes naturally.

To go further in behavior/culture analysis, you can make research about Hofstede’s parameters and Hall’s parameter.

Why is understanding culture so important?

When you go into another country than yours, you will be confronted with different behaviors, different foods, and different ways of life. Most of people are amused when they see that. But most of the time they are making fun about, being narrow-minded, forgetting that everybody do not have the same culture.

Understanding culture is important, as it makes you  aware and more sensitive to differences, and you could avoid big mistake in your behavior or maybe adjust, but at least to respect the people that belong to other cultures than your own.

Moreover understanding culture does not only exist in the aim of helping poor little students but it is also a real challenge for international businesses. You will not promote a product in the same way in France or in Germany or in Russia.

Understanding culture is the most important thing when dealing and respecting people. It does not mean, you have to go out of your way to mimic a culture that is different than your own, but you should respect the other culture and treat it a different, not inferior yours!

3 thoughts on “What is Culture?

  1. Pingback: What is Culture? | EducationHeat

  2. Lisa Minor

    Thank you for your post. You are exactly right. Culture means many things to different people and in my opinon we must take time to learn from one another’s diversity rather than hide from one another. We must also exercise patience. I am currently a school nursing supervisor. Once we had a student who had a very infected area on his hand. We tried and tried to explain to the parents that the child needed to see the doctor but instead of doing so, they took an onion, heated it on the stove, and placed it on the infected area. The father shared that in their culture this was done and an acceptable way of dealing with infection. We shared that we did not think that would work in this case and the child eventually was taken to the doctor to get antibiotics. He is fine now but we were scared for a while. I had to step back and realize that these parents were not neglecting their son, they just believed differently than I did in the healing process.

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