Foreign to Familiar


This is one of three books we are to read before training. It is a very quick and fun read about the differences between cultures. The author divides the world into two basic “climates” and describes characteristics of both.
Here in the northern U.S., we are what she calls a “cold climate” culture, though being as rural as we are, I think we tend a little toward the warmer side of the scale than more populated areas. Much of the undeveloped world she calls “hot climate” cultures. The main distinction being that cold cultures are more task-oriented and hot cultures are more relationship oriented. Although for many locations an actual colder climate weather-wise does correspond with a “cold climate” culture, that is not always the case; it can also be more urban vs. rural/tribal. Many of the differences she discusses are ones that I have heard or read about before–time, relationship-priority, group vs. individual identity, and privacy. I know Ted ran head-on into many of these in college with his Zambian roommate.
The one that gave me the most pause, and that I still have trouble understanding is direct vs. indirect communication. Remembering this will be very challenging if we go to a culture that communicates indirectly. Even the author frequently had to ask her friends in Chile if they were using direct or indirect language. In societies that use indirect communication, the relationship is valued over accuracy. One example that she gives is of a flight attendant that offers a passenger coffee or tea. When the passenger requests coffee, she responds that they only have tea. To me, it makes absolutely no sense to offer coffee if there is none available, but it is done in order to establish a friendly atmosphere–the literal meaning of the words is not as important as the contact established by their use. Another example that really saddens me is of colleagues from Europe and Nepal. When the Europeans go to visit their Nepali colleagues, they often ask for a guided trek into the Himalayas. Because of their culture, the Nepali are required to answer yes. The Europeans took them at their word, and the Nepali men then had to sacrifice money and their families to go on the trip. She gave many more examples of this–most of which I had just as much trouble wrapping my head around. The thought of trying to remember not to always take people at their word and to not say things I think myself straight out is rather mind-boggling. She does give a couple ideas for finding the “truth,” but they are (surprise) quite indirect. It’s all about the friendliness, not the information.
The author had many stories in this book to illustrate each of the differences. They were very eye-opening and gave me a lot to think about in regards to relating with people in a different culture.
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One thought on “Foreign to Familiar

  1. Sounds like interesting and valuable information! This is the same book our church mission team to Africa read before their trip last year.

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