The most popular fast food chains near you likely have franchises open internationally. Once a fast food chain opens up shop in another country, their menu often slightly differs. You’ll notice that they begin catering to cultural cuisine perhaps, or simply local preference. Those strategically managing a brand’s expansion into international territory make a conscious decision to cater to the cultural norms seen at their destination.
On a smaller scale, we can often find ourselves interacting with people from a different culture. Perhaps you invite a coworker who is new to the country into your home, and they express cultural / religious reasoning for rejecting certain foods you offer. Maybe you find yourself travelling abroad, and are shocked at the vast differences between your own culture and the one you’re witnessing. The shock of another culture’s differences can sometimes entice us to double down on our own ways and habits. Maybe they have it wrong, and maybe what you’re used to would benefit those from another culture.
This article aims to explain why it’s a good idea to cater to cultural norms, in personal and professional life. Though most, if not all, people reading this have an understanding that respecting others’ cultures is a good thing to do, this article aims to provide additional reasons for why it’s important to modify yourself accordingly.
Comfort and Culture: Examples of Cultural Norms
When dealing on a personal level, differences in culture between yourself and the people you interact with can limit the level of social comfort that is mutually achieved. For instance, walking into a home which is culturally influenced to be drastically different to what you’re used to, can take you a while to get comfortable in. Your grownup friend and their spouse may still be living with their parents. You may have to take off your shoes, or keep them on. You may be expected to interact with the whole family, and not just the person you’ve come to visit. That family may invite you to the table for a formal dinner, even if you’ve just come in to quickly catch up with a friend.
Just as you may feel uncomfortable being thrown into a culturally different environment for the first time, those whose culture you’re being thrown into can also feel discomfort on their end. They will attempt to please you and make you comfortable, in an effort to bring themselves some comfort. They’ll be sensitive as to what they show you, in order to not scare you off, only to never come back again. You’ll see a polished version of their lives, as they’ll know you to not be accustomed to their cultural differences.
Facilitate a mutual level of comfort by being open to, and agreeable with, the differences between the culture you’re used to, and the different culture you’re experiencing first hand. Try not to be overly sensitive in trying new foods, smelling new smells, and hearing new sounds. Try to get a tuned sense of the traditions and values at play, and attempt to abide by them as best you can. Know who to kiss, whose hand to shake, and who you shouldn’t do either with. Attempt to get an understanding of the social dynamics of the culture you’re a visitor in, and try to fit into those dynamics smoothly and quickly.
On the flip side, if someone visits your home, country, or any culturally different space, try to cater to the culture they’re from too. If they’re used to eating certain foods for breakfast, be hospitable in having those options available in a place they may feel uncomfortable in. Be tuned to the habits and behaviors of those from different cultures, and try to limit the deviations they have to take because of your presence.
All of this will be done in the name of being comfortable around one another. As the cultural differences begin to not be obstructive in getting to know others as people, you’ll be more exposed to meaningful discourse and understanding. Once they feel that you’re comfortable around their cultural quirks, they’ll be comfortable with yours. You’ll facilitate a mutual level of comfort and understanding, which will make way for authentic interaction.
People Who Come In to Shake Things up Are Threats: Why Cultural Norms Are Important
Cases in which you find yourself as the minority in a different culture can present challenges to overcome. If you’re doing business, then it’s important to build the trust of those you’d be dealing with. If you’re visiting a significant other’s family in another country, then it would be in your best interest to form a good first impression.
Stepping into a different culture without any intention to abide by certain unwritten rules and traditions will draw negative attention. You’d not only be seen as ignorant to your surroundings, but may also be perceived as a threat.
To continue with the example of visiting a significant other’s family, being ignorant of their cultural norms would communicate the message of not making it a goal to understand the roots and values of a world your significant other is from. For instance, some would perceive there to be a low likelihood for you to educate your offspring on where they’re from and who their ancestors were.
A significant other’s family would likely not take well to signals of their cultural norms and traditions ending with your introduction into the family. They would thereby be cautious of your presence, and you’d likely see unnecessary barriers put up due to a fear of you being a threat to their beliefs and values.
Whilst doing business, it’s important to remember that the surrounding culture is at the backbone of all business dealings. Those who make no effort to cater toward the culture they’re doing business in would not only be considered outsiders, but outsiders which pose a threat to the established fluidity of the culture they’re in. They would be disruptors, rather than respectful outsiders. They’d be viewed as capable of breaking certain unwritten rules, and moral codes which exist in the culture they find themselves in, thereby establishing a sense of untrustworthiness.
Try not to enter cultures foreign to you with the intention to show how good the culture you’re from is. Try to align with the values and traditions at hand, whilst not trying to be perceived as a disruptor to them.
Respect Is Attained by Being Respectful
When cultural traditions are adhered to, they are also respected. The people who live their lives in a certain manner, personally identify with all the variables that comprise it. They see the food they regularly eat, the music they listen to, and the habits in which they partake, as an extension of themselves. Their environment has done its part to form them as people.
Respecting one’s cultural traditions, habits, flavors, and actions will be perceived as being respectful of them as people. By respecting a person’s values, tastes, and deep rooted interests, their respect for you will be more quickly attained. Be interested in the differences between yourself and others, and be willing to learn more. Show those who are from different cultures that you’re open to learning more about who they are and where they’re from.
Once those, whose culture is different to what you’re used to, see that you operate with a level of respect and interest into what makes them unique, they’ll begin to be accepting of you and your own differences. You don’t have to adopt values or traditions for yourself in order to respect them. Simply learn about them and try your best to follow the traditions laid out by the culture you find yourself a visitor within. In doing so, you’ll find yourself having an easier time garnering the respect of those who view you as a disruptive outsider.
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