10 August 2007

The Cultural Iceberg

Spending all day with a bunch of exchange students makes one think a lot about what constitutes culture. Today we discussed the idea of the iceberg. You only see 10% of an iceberg's mass, 90% of it is below the water. Culture is like an iceberg. There are visible things that we identify as culture and then there are the little things, the nuances, that make up the culture, much of which we have absorbed during our every waking moment without thinking about it.

"Culture is a mold in which we are all cast and it controls our daily lives in many in suspected ways...Culture hides more than it reveals, and strangely enough, what it hides, it hides most effectively from it's own participants" -Edward T. Hall

So what are some of the things on the iceberg above the water? Food. Art. Style. Sports. Literature. Music. Holidays/ Festivals. Religion. Language. Etc. And below the iceberg? Fine details such as, what constitutes cleanliness, is hard work rewarded, how do family members communicate, who makes decisions, what kind of emotional expression if considered appropriate, what is considered polite/ rude, is cooperation/ competition rewarded, dating customs, gender roles, family member responsibilities, what are the notions of timeliness, etc. You get the idea.

One of the most interesting thing about living in another culture is how much you learn about your own - the things you never noticed before. It's like in the Wizard of Oz when everybody is wearing rose colored glasses - we all wear glasses tinted with our own cultures and we never notice it until someone points it out to us or we go somewhere where we take them off for the first time. The difference between traveling and living someplace is the difference between seeing the tip of the iceberg to understanding some of what lies hidden below the water.

Tell me, what do you think constitutes some of your hidden iceberg?


  1. My Aspie behaviours that I keep firmly under control...most of the time. Every once in a while a bit breaks free and floats to my surface.

  2. A little suppressed anger, an enormous amount of self-restraint, the usual amount of disappointment and compassion.

  3. I've got a ton of southernisms that I'm sure signal "STRANGER!" to others the few times I get to travel, but like masturbatory habits and picking my nose I'm not going to talk about them in public. *grin*

  4. Wow. What an interesting question. And umm... why can't I think of an answer? I guess my 90% is REALLY deep. Or I'm just shallow. I have a feeling I'll be thinking about this a while. I loved that quote.

  5. Wayfarer, you are my new favorite blogger.

    I am prone to express my enthusiasm a bit overtly, and sometimes inappropraitely, according to the 90% submerged culture I was raised in.

    There was also a sort of ethos of uptight-ness. Sadly, that apple didn't fall far enough from the tree!

  6. I agree... Culture is very interesting, and I am constantly living in the clash of them on the ship - actually, I think we have created our own culture here. Still, there are always little clashes - for example people are always trying to touch me and I am not used to it even now!
    About my culture... I find Canadians take offence very easily. Let's see if any will take offence to my saying that!

    Thanks for visiting my blog, it is nice to see a friendly neighbour blogger (I am from Vancouver Island) and I will be back often.

  7. kirby ~ well, see, it's that self restraint that is part of your iceberg. It's the part of your culture that says that other stuff needs to be kept under restraint.

    ms chica ~ I'm seeign a trend here in self restraint of culture mandating self restraint. In some places that would not be valued highly.

    iirelephant ~ I'm betting it's not the stuff that shouts (that's the 10% above the water) but the stuff that whispers. Do you hear it?

    painted maypole ~ probably b/c most of us don't know much about what constitutes our below the water iceberg - it's too close to us to recognize it for what it is.

    orangeblossoms ~ awww...THANK YOU! That's so sweet of you.

    Rubber Ducky ~ Isn't it interesting how if you throw a bunch of people from a bunch of different places together how they do kind of come up with their own culture? But it's definately nto without some clashes along the way!

  8. I had to go away and think and I come back with less than I started with. Sometimes I'm surprised by the sameness of cultures. I expect things to be vastly different. Other times I'm horrified by preconceptions on one side or the other. "You're going to do what?" And sometimes it comes down to ketchup or mayonnaise on your french fries.

  9. sally forth ~ sometimes it is indeed (my Scottish volunteer just expressed horror at the idea of putting jam & peanut butter together - a common North American practice). The commonalities are there and with global media they seem to be growing more frequent. But the little stuff, ah, there-in lies the secrets. The may or the ketchup?


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