Communication goes far beyond what the message is saying—the meaning is dependent on the culture upon which its given. And to begin, location plays a major roll upon the culture.
Communication is split between high-context and low context. Low-context is more centered on being straightforward by verbally displaying thoughts and emotions through rhetoric. It’s direct, and expressions are shown as clearly and logically as possible. North American culture falls in this category of being low-context: the United States and Canada like to be very direct when giving direct and stating opinions about how we perceive things. Our culture tends to grow impatient when others “beat around the bush”. On the contrary, high-context cultures focus on determining the meaning of the context from a message. Instead of receiving blunt messages, high-context readers focus on the nonverbal behavior, relationship, and social rules when decoding messages. It is considered this way to be more respectful than straight up stating opinion. Cultures that tend to fall into this style are most Asian and Middle Eastern culture. For instance, in Japanese culture, one would not bluntly ask if they door could be closed if the weather was not ideal. Instead, indirect statements are used, such as “it’s a very cold day out today” to indicate the actions that they would like to be taken.
Intercultural differences can even take place within a similar country. For the folks living in the United States, we can understand how that works—different states have different labels associated to the types of lifestyles they have. Southern California is stereotypically considered to be a very laid back area, but also very modern and stylish in appearance, whether by fashion or architecture. Move that over to New York City, and individuals are seem to be more fast-paced and cold in personality, and also can be considered very proper and stuck up. Moving down to the south, it has a very home feel where people are much friendlier. Even religion differs in culture. I am from a Christian-based religion, where I am considered a Mormon, or LDS. We have a cultural style that others don’t relate to perfectly. We dress very modest, have a health code that we practice, and have a sense of humor towards things that many people don’t understand when they’re outside of our culture. Because of this, people that are outside of our religion, like Catholicism and Judaism have a humor that we do not necessarily understand because we don’t participate in their practices.
Family even helps us define our type of culture. Each of us have different practices and traditions that create who we are. Parenting style, the labels we give our grandparents, the meals we cook for holidays define what makes us…us. In United States culture, we are very unique—all of us have different influences from our ancestors that create the way we do things. Different continental cultures are what gives us our customs and traditions, and we pass them down through our families. When we get married, we clash both of these separate customs to make a new one, and that gets passed down to our future generations. Family is a different type of culture because it’s ever evolving. Take your own family, for instance. There are different customs and qualities that are unique to your own family that other families don’t have. But you like these differences—it’s what makes you, well, you.
Gender makes up a huge difference in the cultural difference between people. Males and females act and communicate differently than the other. For instance, women tend to be considered more high maintenance and superficial. That is, they care a lot about appearance, whether its towards themselves, others, or objects. Women like to choose things based on color, which base perspective towards things. That is why many designers, whether fashion, interior, or graphic, are women because they pay attention to those details. Women are also considered to be low-context. They enjoy talking for no reason than just to talk, but in addition to that, they pay attention to the nonverbal communication that is interlaced in the verbal. Men, on the other hand, while still caring about appearance, don’t consider it to be the most important part of anything, although there are exceptions to this rule. While they are blunt as well, they are more high-context individuals—they don’t talk just to talk. When they do, it’s of actual importance. They’re much more flexible and structure, and have a more laid-back attitude. Although these are the clichés of male and female communication, this is not by any means the rule for communication, as many background influences determine their communication style.
So, what’s the problem with these intercultural differences? We tend to be more comfortable around others with backgrounds similar to ourselves. We base this off of ethnicity, location, religion, gender, etc. We can understand the culture, humor, lifestyle, and decisions when we are similar to them ourselves. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, we tend to become prejudice towards others and stereotype them for the actions they have that are different to our own. It turns us to become ethnocentric: thinking that our own actions are more superior or “correct” to other cultures that surround us. But once the barrier is broken between cultures, whether it’s global or gender differences, we become more tolerant of these differences and tend not to stereotype them anymore.
The Disney Lesson
Peter Pan states it best about the intercultural differences between boys and girls. When he first meets Wendy, she rambles to tell him how delighted she is to see him, after her father has no faith that she exists. In the middle of her rant, looking bored, he states “girls talk too much”. This is an identifying feature of classic girl culture—females like to talk. Wendy and Peter are both situated around the age of 12, and it is fluent how this cultural style is instated at all ages. Among their gender differences, in Neverland, it is expressed that Wendy is upset and uptight over the fact that she is treated with so much disrespect from the native, especially the mermaids. Jealous of the attention she is receiving from Peter, the mermaids try to drown her. Showing anger about her actions, Peter tries to intervene—after finding it comical—and smooth out the situation, taking the mermaids word for it that they were having fun, instead of seeing the high-context actions of the situation. Men tend to see the basic picture instead of “reading between the lines”, while women try to be more sly about their actions, and tend to be more offended.
Pocahontas was from a Native American tribe that was invaded by settlers from England trying to claim land. Because these settlers were different from what the natives were used to, no one was to go near them for fear of what they would do. Mirror image to the settlers, who did not trust what the natives would do to them, they set a standard to kill any of them that crossed their path. Despite these laws set for them, Pocahontas and John Smith still met and began a friendship because they didn’t think the worst of each other, apart from what their own culture told them. They learned that the prejudices set towards each other were wrong and that these differences were seen ethnocentrically rather than respectfully. Pocahontas and John Smith broke the barrier between their separate lives and became tolerant and acceptable of their diverse cultures.