Over the past few weeks, I’ve been having all sorts of conversations with my friends, and one topic that kept resurfacing was the culture shock one experiences when moving from one place to another. Not just from country to country, but even from state to state and city to city.
So, I took a stroll down my own memory lane of “culture shock” and revisited a few anecdotes that stuck with me.
The first vivid memory that came to mind was walking down the road to a grocery store in Vancouver, BC, with cars dangerously zipping by. Why no sidewalks? Why no people on the streets? Another memorable moment, when I attended a fancy wedding in Vancouver with impeccably dressed guests sipping wine from plastic cups! The contrast was both amusing and perplexing.
The volume of conversation in public spaces, speaking loudly rather than softly, was yet another cultural theme that stood out.
A funny story from my time in Switzerland: back when I lived there, my landlady, with whom I shared an apartment, asked me a few days in to head to the swimming pool to wash my hair! She told me she had timed me while I was in the shower, and I was using too much water!
What can I say? I’ve got too many “culture clash” stories – I could write a book!
So last week, while reading a text by Anita Woolfolk on culture and diversity in education, I discovered the “culture as an iceberg” concept. A thought-provoking concept where, much like an iceberg, only a third of culture is visible (surface culture), and the rest is hidden or unknown (deep culture).
Culture as an iceberg. Click “Control” on the image and select “Open Image in New Tab” for a larger view.
Exploring what makes up the “deep culture” is a revelation, shedding light on the reasons behind many interpersonal “culture clashes.”
Since this was my first encounter with this concept, I was naturally curious to learn more about it. Turns out, anthropologist Edward T. Hall first developed this theory back in the ’70s. And on an unrelated note to “culture clash,” Ernest Hemingway coined “the iceberg theory” or the “theory of omission” – to explain how his stories presented only a fraction of what was truly happening, same as only a small part of an iceberg was visible above water.
Circling back to culture and diversity – in her book “Educational Psychology,” Anita Woolfolk emphasizes the crucial role of teachers in understanding and accepting cultural differences among students. She stresses how cultural awareness can be a game-changer, preventing conflicts between students, teachers, and parents.
This got me thinking how important it is for all of us to understand cultural differences. Most importantly, recognize that “culture” starts in our families – what was considered acceptable behavior in your family might have been completely different in mine.
Cultural differences run deep, so let’s tune into our own invisible icebergs and sidestep those unnecessary clashes with each other!