What is culture?

During this self isolation, I realized how important social connections are and how much they mean to us in our daily lives. Humans are of course social beings and therefore seek connections with other people. But also in cultural terms, this phenomenon is quite interesting and worth having a look at. I think culture also provides people with different techniques for problem solving. Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, for example, define culture as „a way a group solves problems or settles dilemmas“.

The virus reminds us that our world is already so connected that one local event can quickly expand to a global issue. It shows the downside of globalization, but on the other hand also a good side, because even if we have to distance physically, we can still stay in contact through messaging, talking on the phone and even video chatting. Austrians are used to shaking hands when greeting and hugging and it’s really hard to resist. Every culture has its own greetings and appropriate distance between people. This makes the crisis harder for people of cultures who are used to more physical closeness than others.

As I already mentioned in previous blogposts, defining what the term „culture“ really means is hard. Culture has such a huge impact on us and we carry it within us all the time and yet, we don’t often realize it’s there. It’s like an invisible veil. For example, taking off your shoes before entering someone’s house is a cultural pattern which is expected of guests. But there is no need to talk about it, because our parents already taught us this behaviour when we were kids. I never questioned if this is something I like or not, I just did it because I was used to it and it was expected of me. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many people have an ethnocentric view. Ethnocentric means “believing that the people, customs and traditions of your own race or nationality are better than those of other races“. Only if we get in contact with people from other cultures, we realize that the things we think are „normal“ actually are things that only exist inside our culture which is a set of special values, standards and symbols. Experiencing other cultures makes it possible to question and rethink your own culture and makes you also see the downsides of your culture that you have never seen before. Thomas (1996) said that if you are not aware of your own cultural motives, you cannot understand the motives and actions of others.

There is a tremendous amount of different definitions when it comes to the term „culture“. So I took some time to find the definition I find the most appropriate and I am still not sure if I am satisfied with it. So here goes: culture consists of „shared motives, values, assumptions, identities and interpretations or meanings of important events based on shared experiences of group members that are passed on through generations“. That is how House et al. defined it and I think this explanation underlines the essence of cultures.