The time has come to introduce you to a friend of mine, the iceberg. Those of you who have ever had any kind of cross-cultural training already know him well and will just have to be patient. For the rest of you, here he is:
Culture is often compared to an iceberg – the exposed tip that rises above cold and turbid waters represents the visible part of a culture, the behaviours we see such as how people dress, what and how they eat, how they interact among each other, even political and educational systems, work and play habits and friendships.
This visible culture has its roots in the solid and ageless submerged part of the iceberg that represents the vast world of a culture’s value and belief systems, assumptions about how the world works and patterns of thinking – how a group of people conceive of themselves, their relationships with others, time, authority, rules and the role of destiny.
Our cultural moments are therefore complex. They start at the tip, a behavior that bothers us and puts us outside of our cultural comfort zone, but they then quickly slip down into the dark, murky water below the surface as our world (of values, beliefs and assumptions) is threatened or at least not validated by what is happening around us. We feel frustrated, angry, sad, confused or lost as we try to defend our way of being, our sense of ourselves.
The good news is that these moments offer a grand opportunity to get to know our own culture for the first time as we explore what in the heck brought on the moment in the first place, “What is it about me and my culture that feels threatened by what is going on around me.”
Just another million dollar question.