I received the biggest cultural shock of my life when I arrived in Mainland China. I remember how completely bewildered and at times, judgmental, I was in China. Meanwhile my family is Chinese and I study Anthropology (and had studied ancient and contemporary Chinese culture).
No matter how cross-culturally competent one is, we all suffer from ethnocentricity. Ethnocentricity is in the internal infrastructure of the culture that we grow up in. This manifests itself in people thinking that the infrastructure of their home country is superior to the country that they are visiting, that the way that other people do things is wrong, inefficient, or just plain mind-boggling. At some point, people can begin to feel disillusioned, confused, and frustrated. The values that they have internalized are being turned upside down and challenged by a culture that they do not understand. This is why learning the language and talking with as many people from that particular country is a good idea. It will help you come closer to understanding their mentality, their point of view, and the reason that they do things. You can begin to curb your stereotyping of “them”, as ethnocentricity often breeds negative stereotyping and promotes an “us versus them” mentality. Hopefully, you will begin to understand and start to appreciate elements of this foreign culture, and will perhaps even experience reverse cultural shock when you return home.
I’m closer to that point with Chinese culture. While I was in Hong Kong, I volunteered for the International Art Fair (I gave art tours to children. Remember that you can volunteer for anything, anywhere, folks!) and I met many Mainland Chinese artists. Talking with them in Mandarin about their works, the themes that they chose to present and the issues that these themes represented, helped me to see more from their point of view, the worldview from which some Chinese understand the world and survive in their society. This is something that growing up in a Chinese family didn’t teach me to do, because I separated myself from my mother identity-wise early on. That’s why Chinese culture is not something that I say that I personally identify with. That’s the second element that I will bring in here: personality compatibility.
In her book The Global Citizen, Elizabeth Kreumpelmann calls this discovering your cultural profile. Interestingly enough, your cultural profile is not necessarily determined by the culture that you come from, even though we all are affected by ethnocentricity. She says, “Many global citizens, by the very nature of our interests in other cultures, deviate from the cultural norm of our societies to some extent…. Finding out where you stand, culturally speaking, will help you understand yourself better compared to the culture in which you choose to live, travel, and work. And it will give you an overview of the similarities and differences of various other cultures” (34).
A very useful model for finding out your personal cultural profile is the Lewis Model of Cultural Classification. The Richard Lewis Communications Plc (www.crossculture.com) is a cross-cultural training organization known for its 50 years of extensive research and training in cross cultural issues. There are three cultural categories of the Lewis Model: linear-active, multi-active, and reactive.
HOW TO FIND YOUR CULTURAL CLASSIFICATION:
1. Find your cultural profile by answering the fifteen question survey. Circle the description that best describes you out of the three choices.
2. Transfer the totals for each column (linear active (L), multi active (M) and reactive (R)) to the LMR box.
3. Plot your LMR score on the numbered lines in the triangular diagram.
4. After you fill in and circle your LMR score, connect the dots as shown to form a triangle. Place a dot in the middle of the triangle. This dot represents where your natural preferences stand in relation to the cultures of the world.
|Talks half the time||Talks most of the time||Listens most of the time|
|Gets data from stats, research||Solicits information first-hand from people||Uses both data and people sources|
|Plans ahead step by step||Plans grand outline only||Looks at general principles|
|Polite but direct||Emotional||Polite and indirect|
|Partly conceals feelings||Displays feelings||Conceals feelings|
|Confronts with logic||Confronts emotionally||Never confronts|
|Dislikes losing face||Has good excuses||Must not lose face|
|Compartmentalizes projects||Lets one project influence another||Sees the whole picture|
|Rarely interrupts||Often interrupts||Doesn’t interrupt|
|Sticks to the facts||Juggles the facts||Statements are promises|
|Truth before diplomacy||Flexible truth||Diplomacy over truth|
|Limited body language||Unlimited body language||Subtle body language|
|Respects officialdom||Pulls strings||Networks|
|Separates the social & professional||Interweaves the social & professional||Connects the social & professional|
|Does one thing at a time||Multi tasks||Reacts to partner’s action|
|Punctuality very important||Punctuality not important||Punctuality important|
|TOTAL =||TOTAL =||TOTAL =|