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Intro to Culture & Intercultural Faux Pas. WorldGeography 2010-2011. What is culture?. features of a group of people’s way of life, passed down through generations by teachings, examples and imitation. What is culture?. Innovation: creation. Diffusion: spreading of ideas.

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what is culture1
features of a group of people’s way of life, passed down through generations by teachings, examples and imitation.What is culture?
how do cultures develop
Innovation: creation

Diffusion: spreading of ideas.

How do cultures develop?




Hearth: Where something originates

Cultural Hearths

Culture Hearth:

Center of learning and innovation that diffuses to other regions

how does culture spread

When people move, they take their clothing, food, religion, and language with them.

How does culture spread?
  • Silk Road
  • Columbian
  • Exchange


  • joining or fitting in with a larger culture.
  • (German descendants in the USA.)
  • A culture accepting an innovation or diffusion from another culture
elements of culture2
Elements of Culture
  • Institutions

Ex. education, political/economic systems

elements of culture4

Elements of Culture

Beliefs and Customs

what is a faux pas
What is a Faux Pas?
  • From the French phrase faux pas, of the same meaning; composed of faux, “false”, and pas, “step”.
  • Basically, it is a violation of accepted social rules. What could be good manners in one culture could be a faux pas in another.
cultural differences eating
Cultural Differences:Eating
  • In Korean and Chinese cultures, the practice of sticking chopsticks or spoons in a bowl of rice during the meal is a no, no. This is done only during memorial services. The action reflects death or bad luck.
cultural differences eating1
Cultural Differences:Eating
  • In Norway, Malaysia and Singapore, it's rude to leave anything on your plate, but in Egypt, it's rude not to. If you finish a drink in Indonesia, it implies you'd like another.
cultural differences eating2
Cultural Differences:Eating
  • When you buy a Coke on the street in Romania, you are only buying the liquid; you actually have to stand there while drinking and then promptly return the bottle!
cultural differences eating3
Cultural Differences:Eating
  • In France, many chefs would be appalled if you ruined their culinary masterpieces with condiments like ketchup. So get used to your “prommes frites” without the ketchup.
weird laws
Weird Laws


It is illegal to chew gum, feed birds,

spit, and not flush the toilet.

The gum law was loosened in 2004,

when they started to allow


Gambling was made legal in 2009, and

you can now legally dance on top of


Fines will run you ~$100.

south america

Be careful in Brazil, even if you are a married man. Women are very forward and aggressive romantically.

South America
cultural differences addressing someone by name
Cultural Differences:Addressing someone by name
  • In China, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, people relate formally, on a last-name basis.

In China, the last name is spoken first, followed by the "first" name. For instance, Chen Yung Po would be Mr. Chen.

People in Thailand, Fiji and Israel call one another by their first names, as they do in Iceland, where the telephone directory is alphabetized according to first name.

cultural differences eye contact
Cultural Differences:Eye Contact
  • In American culture, direct eye contact during a conversation shows respect and intensive listening; avoiding it is a sign of nervousness or lying. But for Koreans, avoiding direct eye contact is the only acceptable way to hold a conversation. Koreans may think you’re bold, impolite or even aggressive if you are looking right at them when speaking.
cultural differences touching
Cultural Differences:Touching
  • In Thailand, no matter how adorable they are, resist the urge to pat a child on the noggin. It is taboo to touch someone on the head, as it is a revered part of the body.
cultural differences relaxation posture
Cultural Differences:Relaxation/Posture
  • Whether on desks, coffee tables or just lounging on the couch, the act of putting one’s feet up may be a sign of relaxation in our culture. However, this action, especially showing the sole of the shoe to someone, is considered unclean and one of the greatest of insults in Arabic cultures.
cultural differences facial gestures
Cultural Differences:Facial Gestures
  • Chin Flick:
    • In Italy, it signifies “Buzz off” or “not interested.”
    • In Brazil and Paraguay, it means “I don’t know.”
cultural differences facial gestures1
Cultural Differences:Facial Gestures
  • Licking your lips:
    • No matter how parched your lips are in the Zimbabwe heat, never lick them while looking at someone of the opposite sex. It is considered an obscene gesture.

Your Chinese host gives you his business card. What do you do then?

Exchanging cards is a very important tradition. You should offer and accept cards with both hands. Read it and then put it away. Do not write anything on it. It should be in the native language on one side and English on the reverse.


After a long day’s travel, you are in Bulgaria. You make a great presentation and ask your Bulgarian interpreter what they think.

Before he can translate, the Bulgarian businessman starts to shake his head side to side.

What is he saying?

I can’t understand a word you are saying.

Yes, the deal sounds very interesting.

It is time to offer the customary bribe for doing business in Bulgaria.

cultural differences hand gestures
Cultural Differences:Hand Gestures
  • Fingers Circle:
    • Known as the American “okay,” it is seen in Brazil and Germany as VERY vulgar and obscene.
    • In Japan, it signifies “money.”
    • In France, it means “zero” or “worthless.”
cultural differences hand gestures1
Cultural Differences:Hand Gestures
  • When in India, don’t call someone over by pointing or wagging your finger. Instead, hold your hand out, palm down, and scoop with your fingers. You’ll have much better results.

When cutting food, what do we Americans do that Europeans consider odd?

We hold fork with the left hand, cut with the right, then switch the fork to the right hand. Europeans don’t switch the fork over.


How could the “peace sign” get you punched in the nose in London?

Careful, the reverse “peace sign” is the equivalent of flipping someone off.

cultural differences hand gestures2
Cultural Differences:Hand Gestures
  • Thumbs up, like the OK symbol, is a positive symbol in American culture, but this same gesture is an offensive Iraqi insult, equivalent to using the middle finger in the Western world. Some media savvy Iraqis may understand the Western meaning of an upturned thumb as well is OK, but other Iraqis may see the gesture in its traditional sense.

Gig ‘em!