When giving a Cultural Awareness Training there is the question: Does Cultural Diversity make you Smile or Cry?

In order to answer this question, it makes sense “breaking” culture/diversity (in this case inter-changable words) into different layers.

Much like an Onion.

The comparison between Culture and an Onion is the following: “Have you ever cut an onion in your life?”. Most people will say yes! What happens when you cut an onion? Indeed, you start to cry.

Culture

The same holds true, more or less for Culture and Diversity. When you go on a holiday for two weeks, say to Spain. You spend there the two weeks either in a Hotel or on a Camp ground. When you do enjoy your holiday, most of us don’t really get “deep” inside the typical Spanish culture.

Very often this is the same situation when you go for a business trip to a different country. Usually there is little time to really get to know the “other” culture.

Longer

However, when you go on a longer trip, say something like 2 months or longer, or when you get married to someone from another culture, you get much “deeper” into that specific culture then you would if it were only a vacation.

Schematic

To put the above in a picture might make good sense.

Different layers of cultural diversity

At the center there are our Values. Our Values are difficult to define just like that. If I would ask you “What are your Values?”. What would you say? Most people need to think deeply. But… we do have Values! Our Values come out when something happens that we do not agree with.

For example: you’re waiting to park in a parking slot that is about to become vacant. And just when you’re ready to park, someone else slips in your slot. THAT’S NOT OK! How do you know? Well, your values tell you this.

From the Outside In

Symbols

Examples of cultural diversity symbols are:

  • A Flag
  • Buildings; office buildings; buildings of worship
  • Currencies; Yen, Dollar, Euro
  • Dress code; does a culture dress formal, or more informal? Between the Dutch, Germans and Belgians, the Dutch typically dress the least formal; Dress code is also a cultural symbol within an organization: the corporate culture.
  • etc…

Heroes

The definition of a Hero in this context is: “The Personification of what is Good or Bad in society”. So on one side there are Heroes, and on the other side there are Anti-Heroes. What are your Heroes?

Examples of Heroes depend on the culture you ask:

  • Americans: Presidents or Sports and Movie Heroes
  • Indians: Mahatma Gandhi (always!)
  • French: Charles de Gaulle
  • Dutch: the Dutch have no Heroes (really)
  • Within organisations you can think of the Founding fathers, people making promotion(s), etc.
  • etc…

Rituals

Every culture has an enormous number of Rituals. In our own culture we hardly see them any more. We do see the Rituals of other cultures when observing them.

Examples of Rituals are:

  • Christmas
  • Birthdays
  • Tax-day
  • Birth & Death
  • Company meetings
  • Company workshops
  • Hiring & Firing of personnel
  • etc…

Combined

The combination of Symbols, Heroes (and what they stand for), and Rituals make up the “Observable” part of a Culture. At the core there are our Values. We cannot see our Values, but we do have them!

Which examples did I miss? Please add them below.

Chris Smit

I'm passionate about Cultural Difference. I have been helping organizations save time and money when they work Internationally for the last 19 years. I have had the fortunate opportunity to hold lectures, workshops, and consulting projects on this subject World Wide. It has made me understand my own culture much better, and appreciate the differences around the world.
I have a Master's Degree in Organisational Psychology and have lived in the USA, the Netherlands and, currently, in Belgium.
Thank you!

Chris Smit
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