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Cross Cultural Communication

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A very common and a short term, Culture , is surprisingly one of the most complicated concepts. As beautifully put by 
Ignazio Silone culture is :

"On a group of theories one can found a school; but on a group of values one can found a culture, a civilization, a new way of living together among men. "

The iceberg perhaps lends itself best to this as it so graphically demonstrates the idea of what is culture. Culture has both a visible and invisible structure. Furthermore, the fate of the Titanic, whose crew failed to appreciate the true size of the unseen part of the iceberg, adds another dimension in illustrating to people what can happen when this is ignored.

The iceberg as mentioned above has the visible tip. These are the areas of culture that we can see manifest in the physical sense. In addition, more often than not these are the elements that we come into contact with first when diving into a new country or culture. Such "visible" elements include things such as music, dress, dance, architecture, language, food, gestures, greetings, behaviours, devotional practices, art and more. In addition it can also relate to behaviours such as seeing people ignoring red traffic lights, spitting on the floor, smoking in public or queuing for a bus. All, depending on your own culture, may come across as weird, strange, rude, ignorant or simply silly.

None of the visible elements can ever make real sense without understanding the drivers behind them; and these are hidden on the bottom side of the iceberg, the invisible side. It is these invisible elements that are the underlying causes of what manifest on the visible side. So, when thinking about culture, the bottom side of the iceberg will include things such as religious beliefs, worldviews, rules of relationships, approach to the family, motivations, tolerance for change, attitudes to rules, communication styles, modes of thinking, comfort with risk, the difference between public and private, gender differences and more.

So for example, why do the English queue for everything? This relates to their approach to fairness, justice, order and rights. The rationale behind the queue is that those that get there first should by rights be served first or get on the bus first. Many other cultures simply do not queue in this manner as it is not part of their cultural programming.

Stereotypes are at their most basic level a set of assumed characteristics about a certain group of people whose actual beliefs, habits and realities more often than not disagree with the imposed assumptions. Stereotypes are usually based on factors such as exaggeration, distortion, ignorance, racism, cultural factors or even historical experiences. Stereotyping is therefore rightly seen as a negative way of seeing people. This is even true of what are called "positive stereotypes". A positive stereotype is where we use a blanket expression for a whole people, i.e. all the Chinese are great at maths, all Germans are well organised or all English people are well mannered. Although the intent behind the statement is positive, it still does not reflect the truth.

As more or more people from different backgrounds, countries, cultures and religions immigrate to foreign lands, those countries become an intercultural melting pot. In order for the native people and the immigrant population to blend and create a thriving and successful atmosphere both sides need to develop some sort of intercultural tolerance and understanding of the differences that may exist between them. An example of poor intercultural understanding, or one based simply on stereotypes, is offered by the town of Herouxville in Quebec, Canada.

A declaration issued by the town in January 2007, which was designed to inform immigrants, "that the way of life which they abandoned when they left their countries of origin cannot be recreated here [i.e. Herouxville]". It then went on to state that the immigrant population would therefore have to refrain from their cultural norms and activities such as to "kill women by stoning them in public, burning them alive, burning them with acid, circumcising them, etc."

The declaration paints a rather sad picture of the officials that administer the town and highlights not only their rather insular outlook but a world view of "others" based on crass and frankly incorrect stereotypes. To simply consider that anyone from another country (in this case more than likely a Middle Eastern or Asian one) regards the stoning of women and burning them alive as part of daily life derives from crude, and media led, stereotypes of other peoples.

What we have witnessed in Herouxville should not be seen as an isolated incident. Such assumptions about foreigners exist all over the planet. However, this does not make it right or excusable. The message it does give is that there is a lot of work to be done in order to educate people to become more culturally competent.

Cultural competency is a term used to describe the ability to work, communicate and live across cultures and cultural boundaries. One achieves this through an instilled understanding of cultures on a general level as well as an informed one about specific cultures on a more detailed level. As well as knowledge it has to work in tandem with behavioural and attitudinal changes.

Cultural competency is important in this day and age for exactly the reasons cited in this article. We, as citizens of planet earth, are no longer confined to our national and cultural borders. We mix with people from different cultures, ethnicities, religions and colours on a daily basis. In order to make this intercultural experience work on all levels from education to business to government, people have to develop basic skills in intercultural communication and understanding.

In order to assist the officials at Herouxville, five basic steps to cultural competence are presented below:

1. Break Assumptions
Everyone makes or has assumptions about others. Assumptions are beliefs rather than objective truth and are usually influenced by a number of subjective factors. People need to assess their assumptions and ask themselves why they hold those ideas or beliefs.

2. Empathise
In order to come to appreciate and understand people from



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