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Cultural Competency

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Cultural Competency
AG 3080 &
ENGR 4060
Spring 2012
Glenn Brown
Maria in China
Cultural Competency
We want you to be able to interact effectively with your
hosts, that is, to be Culturally Competent. To do so:
пѓ� Be aware of the unique aspects of your own culture,
пѓ� Be looking for differences in
cultural norms,
пѓ� Try not to offend your hosts with
your normal behavior, and
пѓ� Make an effort to understand
the underlying “raison d'être”
for the cultural differences.
OSU students meeting Alston engineer
Iceberg Theory of Culture
Y ou
(at fu ll sp eed )
F ood, A rt,
A rchitecture
L aw s, R eligion, B ody L anguage,
M orals, N ature of F riendship,
T em po of L ife, N otions of
L eadership, C hild R aising,
C oncepts of B eauty,
P ersonal S pace, C ourtship,
N otions of M odesty, etc
Culture is all the knowledge, beliefs and values shared by a
society. It is a uniquely human characteristic, and consists of
four major components:
пѓ� Language,
пѓ� Laws, morals, and religion,
пѓ� Social customs and norms, and
пѓ� Technology
Culture is a learned way of acting and Revolutionary monument in China.
thinking, as opposed to instinctive reactions. A society
develops and maintains a culture, and an individual learns it.
The language, including body language, is the glue of the
culture and reflects the society and the special communication
needs they may have. As a simple example, the Inuit have the
� Aput: 'snow on the ground�,
� Gana: 'falling snow�,
� Piqsirpoq: 'drifting snow�, and
� Qimuqsuq: 'a snow drift’.
An example of a translation by a nonEnglish speaker. How is your Chinese?
The easiest way to offend people is not to use at least
a little of their language.
Laws, Morals and Religion
These are the hard values. They govern the liberties and limits
of a person’s life. They include rules on political governance,
personal behavior, and faith. These aspects must be respected
on risk of punishment. All cultures have these, and the
differences between cultures are where serious difficulties can
occur. The best known example is women’s dress in some
Muslin countries. Western women
are expected to follow the same
dress as the locals; covered hair
and no exposed skin except for
the face and hands.
Keep in mind, it’s their country.
Social Customs and Norms
These are the important traditions, which many think of first
when they discuss culture. Examples are:
пѓ� Art, architecture and music,
пѓ� Food and drink,
пѓ� Public behavior, and
пѓ� Work ethic.
Sometimes local social norms are quite different. Italians are
much more “outgoing”. Women should be prepared for what
we consider rude behavior from strangers.
They think they are paying you a compliment.
Technology is the last,
and many times greatly
underestimated, factor in
culture. Think about your
A really cool bridge; Milau viaduct 343 m tall, 2,460 m long , France.
own use of technology;
plumbing, automobiles, planes, cell phones, the web, etc. How
would your life change if you didn’t have them?
As engineers and scientists, we are the stewards of our
culture’s technology and are the best observers of a foreign
culture’s technology.
Technology not only shapes societies, societies also shape
technology to suit their needs. Consider how we use trains,
compared to the Europeans.
An American, diesel unit-train transporting 10,000 tons of coal
at 60 mph, vs. a French, electric TGV carrying 400 passengers
at 200 mph; different, but both great technical achievements.
Toilet Tech
Toilets provide a simple and interesting case study.
A bath at Ca’Tron,
Toilet Tech
пѓ�Standard Design. In the US
the lever handle on the side,
while in Europe there is a push
button on the top.
Some technology is different,
but equivalent.
Toilet Tech
пѓ�Advances. In the USA we set regulations to limit toilets to
1.6 gallon per flush, for lowering water use. Elsewhere, they
have introduced #1 and #2 flush functions.
Some developments differ, but address the same problem.
Toilet Tech
пѓ�Behavior. Pit Toilets design is
tied to the local notions of
You are not probably never going
to see these here. However, note
the tile surfaces and the hose. Pit
toilets can be easily washed
down, so they are considered
cleaner in public applications.
Don’t be quick to judge.
(Do you want to sit on a dirty seat?)
Dr. Carol Jones
Toilet Tech
пѓ� Exotic. Bidets were developed in France in the 18th
century and have spread to Italy, Greece, Japan and elsewhere.
(These are not toilets, per
se, but are wash basins for
your bottom and feet.)
After some Americans
use these, they have
installed them in their
Some foreign technology
may have at least limited
application here.
Toilet Tech
пѓ�High Tech. Toto in Japan
has been pushing the envelope
in toilet engineering. This
$5,000 toilet, intended for elder
care, analyses the user’s urine
and blood. Data is autodownloaded to doctor.
Perhaps a technological
misfire, but if you are a toilet
producer, you probably
should at least stay informed.
Technology Observations
We want you to focus on the
technological aspects of the
foreign culture. Consider:
пѓ�What technology is used,
пѓ�How it differs from ours, and
пѓ�Why it differs from ours.
Open storage of parts at John Deere in China
Remember, generally technology is neither good nor bad, it
just is. However, as engineers we can judge (privately) what is
equivalent, what is different but not better, what is not
appropriate for our society, and what may be a technology we
should consider adopting.
Cultural Competency
Remember, your judgment is based on
the American culture and environment.
Your foreign hosts not only have a
different culture, but may have significantly different
restrictions and opportunities. As an example, the John Deere
Plant in Arc-les-Gray, France, makes two dozen models of hay
balers. Many are functionally equivalent. In the USA, we
would have at most six models. However to sell machines, the
French plant must conform to local expectations throughout
Europe. They not only have to make different models for
France and Germany, they have different models for Northern
and Southern Germany.
Don’t be quick to judge. Figure out why.
Understanding Our Cultural
The beginning of cultural competency is to understand what is
unique about our own culture.
“American Culture” (L. Robert Kohls)
1. Personal control over the
2. Change
3. Time and its control
4. Equality/Egalitarianism
5. Individualism and privacy
6. Self-help concept
The OK Land Run: See
7. Competition and free enterprise 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.
Understanding Our Cultural
8. Future orientation
9. Action/work
10. Informality
11. Directness,
and honesty
12. Practicality and
13. Materialism/acquisitions
Natural gas drill site.
See 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13.
How Not to Offend
The most important step in cultural competency is to try and
adjust your behavior to the foreign norms.
“Un-American Culture” (Glenn Brown)
1. Personal control over the environment: Go with the
flow. Don’t worry, be happy.
2. Change: Don’t comment on stuff that seems “old fashion”
to you. Don’t be quick to suggest
3. Time and its control.
Do less, don’t rush.
Do not expect to be served
lunch in two minutes.
Waiting for the bus in Italy by D. Turner
DataLogic in Bologna, by Glenn Brown
How Not to Offend
4. Equality/Egalitarianism: Be aware
of people’s stature in their society.
Seniors, professionals, police, etc.
should be treated with extra respect.
5. Individualism and privacy: Don’t expect to have private
tables in full restaurants. Some public restrooms may be
for both genders.
6. Self-help concept: If someone wants to help you with
something, let them, as long as it is within reason.
7. Competition and free enterprise: Don’t play basketball
like you are in a pickup game in the Colvin Center. Don’t
mention the host country’s “socialism”.
How Not to Offend
Enjoying the day in Tuscany
8. Future orientation: Just try
to enjoy the day. Let
tomorrow take care of its self.
9. Action/work orientation:
See 3 & 8.
10. Informality: Be more formal with everyone and dress
better than you would here.
11. Directness, openness and honesty: Be more reserve.
Don’t lie, but hold your cards close to your chest.
12. Practicality and efficiency: Don’t expect either. Some
things, like getting tickets, will take time.
13. Materialism/acquisitions: Don’t show off your stuff.
Language and Conversation
пѓ� Learn as much of the native
language as you can.
пѓ� Always greet people in the
native language.
� Always answer “yes” or “no”
in the native language.
пѓ� Start conversations with a
compliment of the host country.
пѓ� Mention that you are appreciative
A conversation in France
of the opportunity to travel in their country.
пѓ� Even if asked, do not say what you do not like about the
host country. If pressured, just say what is “different”.
When in doubt, be very polite, soft spoken and deferential.
Social customs and norms
Be observant. Just watch people and note how the locals act
and behave. Notice how close people stand next to one
another in lines; how do you approach someone to ask a
question, etc. Try to imitate their behavior.
As an example, in France when you eat you don’t put your
elbows on the table, nor do you
put your free hand in your lap.
Proper etiquette is to rest the
wrist of your free hand on the
Watch and learn.
Barb Brown in Bologna
A group
meal in
Everyone is using chop sticks; a class requirement.
Be adventurous when you eat!
пѓ�Most foreign foods are good.
пѓ�There may be a few things that
require you to acquire a taste.
пѓ�There may be dishes that you
just will not care for.
пѓ�Just be opened minded.
As an example, in China they eat every animal and every part
of the animal. When you order chicken, you get the whole bird
cut up in small parts, including the head and feet. That is not a
problem. You don’t have to eat everything that is put in front
of you. (A running joke is not to ask what you are served.)
If you go to McDonalds, you flunk the class.
Cultural Adjustment Curve
While some of you may enjoy every moment of your travels, it
is more common for people to go through up and down
periods. For short trips there are four phases:
пѓ� Anticipated Departure Low: Wariness of challenges to
пѓ� Initial Emotional High: Excitement with new and novel
experiences. Everything is great and better.
� “Culture Shock”: Novelty wears off, and frustration and
annoyances with common activities become significant.
пѓ� Adjustment: Seeing the balance between positive and
negative aspects of the foreign culture.
Just be prepared for the changes you will experience.
Cultural Competency Summary
To be Culturally Competent:
пѓ� Be aware of the unique aspects of your own culture,
пѓ� Be looking for differences in cultural
пѓ� Try not to offend your hosts with
your normal behavior, and
пѓ� Make an effort to understand the
underlying “raison d'être” for the
cultural differences.
And of course, Enjoy !
Nikki at Pont du Gard
Cultural Competency Assignment
Interview a Chinese student. Go through Kohl’s 13 American
Values. You can just read Kohl’s paper. Determine what you
have in common and where you differ. Write it up, with a
stress on any differences.
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