Cultural Views of First Meetings
Over the next few weeks, we will address some of the important specifics of the largest groupings of the world’s peoples and their generalized “world views”. To start looking more closely at these world views, we need to define what we are talking about.
A WORLD VIEW is: 1) the point-of-view held by an individual or groups from which they see, experience, and interpret the world and 2) a set of beliefs about life and the world that guide everyday behavior in response to internal and external stimuli (events).
There are three very broad cultural world groupings. They are Eurocentric, Afrocentric, and Asiocentric. As expected, there are exceptions that place a few of the cultural groups in categories that are not based on their country’s location. The exceptions result long contact with groups from different locales in the early stages of their cultural development. Remember, we start defining people in the broadest stroke down to more specifics until an individual is identified by personality traits based on the individual’s socialization. This may sound complicated but it is not. We define people all the time and are not aware of it; most often we do not have the facts to make a correct assessment of the person or situation.
Some common groups that fall into the Eurocentric groupings are; Dutch, English, French, German, Irish, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Scottish, Swedish/Danish, Czechoslovakian, Ukrainian, and the rest of the European continent, except for Greece and Italy (this is one of those exceptions). Greece and Italy fall into the Afrocentric group because of their long-term historical interactions with the Moors, Jews, and other African people. The Afrocentric group includes Africans, Jews, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Spanish and some Native Indian groups (another exception).
Asiocentric world view includes Asian-Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and some Native American groups. This by no means is inclusive of all the groups of people who find themselves in the American landscape, but is representative of the groups we are most likely to meet. For the groups not mentioned here, we will eventually discuss how they can discover which world view group they fall into based on an exploratory exercise we will share that examines specific group world views. Also keep in mind that there is a basic “you” and that you have secondary traits from other cultures. We want to concentrate on the “basic” you. That will be your group ID. Your blood mixture in your body did not teach you how to face the world.
You who are “Trekkies”(Star Trek fans), as I am, know that Mr. Spock in the series of television shows and movies, always shares his cultural world views from his Vulcan planet. One of my favorite remarks from him is, “Jim, you must understand that the needs of the many always outweigh the needs of the few!” Spock has often nearly given up his life for this highly held value. I have yet to actually meet someone from the planet Vulcan, but we interact with Eurocentrics, Afrocentrics, and Asiocentrics (more often than in the past) nearly every day as we go about our tasks in the towns and cities where we live. Even if you have some difficulty in interacting with people not in your world view group, PLEASE suspend your “knee-jerk” reaction to make judgment on the following findings. People’s world-views are not right or wrong. You may disagree with some of the values as others might disagree with some of yours, but it is improper to lay your world-view on others. It also is improper to have them lay theirs on you. We want to reach an understanding of each other and not necessarily agreement on how we view the world. Think about it, the people next door may look like you, but I will bet their household runs differently from yours and you do not expect your neighbor to run over to tell you that you are improperly correcting your children. You will be thrown out the door if you go over to tell your neighbor that he does not talk to his wife the way you think he should. Socialization stands as the process to help new members become a part of a cultural group. It is what it is, period!
1. Cultural Affiliation; (not one’s national allegiance which is different from culture) sees that the rights of the individual are more important and valued over the rights of the group. Self-determinism is an individual activity and each person is only responsible for his or her own life and affairs. In the vernacular, “Each man needs to look out for himself and his own family before he gets involved with others or, stay out of other people’s business.”
2. Initial Meetings; include a number of expectations, such as (a) personal space, (b) introductions, (c) initial trust building, (d) interpersonal style, and gender deference.
Whites prize personal space; it is the area included in the span of one’s outstretched arms. Researchers have found that eighteen to twenty-four inches between people meeting for the first time is a good “rule of thumb.” Getting too close to converse may be interpreted as impolite, confrontational and in worst cases threatening.
Whites, when meeting for the first time, will typically ask, within the first minutes of conversation as a preamble to continuing, “What do you do?” “Where do you work?” A housewife will be asked what her husband does? Recently, that is the case also for stay at home husbands. These questions set the conversational protocol for how one continues to converse or stop the conversation all together.
As an example of the above, we had the privilege and honor to meet and work with General Roscoe Robinson, Jr., who was the first African-American Four Star General in the United States Army. He related an encounter with a White man on an airliner. The White gentleman was sitting in the first class section reading a newspaper when General Robinson squeezed pass him to get to his seat. After exchanging greetings, the White gentleman started a conversation by asking General Robinson, “What do you do?” General Robinson replied that he was retired from the US Army. The gentleman asked if he retired as a sergeant; General Robinson said “No”, that he was an officer. Then the White gentleman asked if he retired as a Captain at which point the general said “No.”
“Then you retired as a Major?” asked the gentleman.
“No”, said the general.
“Then did you retire as a Colonel?” the gentleman inquired.
“No, I was a Flag Officer, ” replied the general.
“Oh! You were a Brigadier General?” asked the gentleman, his voice getting a bit timid.
General Robinson replied that he retired as a Four Star General. At that point, the gentleman turned, raised his paper and continued to read it without any further conversation. He evidently felt that he was out of his league in trying to converse with a Four Star General!
In the hierarchical societies of Europe, these questions are designed to establish who holds the greatest amount of power or who is the highest ranked. That tells the people meeting for the first time how to act in the conversation or even if there is enough standing to continue the conversation out of respect. A peasant does not hold a casual conversation with a King. Once positions are established, the conversation can continue or stop as protocol suggests. Eurocentric women not engaged in the world of work other than keeping their home, will use the positions, wealth, and prestige of their husbands to establish themselves in a power position.
3. Initial Trust Building; is based on hierarchical positions, reputation, and the degree of power exhibited by the parties conversing. It is based on knowing who is in control.
4. Interpersonal style; TENDS to be polite and impersonal. One does not emote (give expression to emotions) around people who are not close friends and intimates. Civilized people use their heads (brains), not bodies to communicate. To keep down conflict and misunderstanding, one needs to be objective not only in words, but also in one’s affect.
5. Gender Deference; teaches that women should give deference to men, unless they are the boss or the conversation is about women things that are out of the purview of the man. Modern society constantly works to change this attitude, especially as more and more women dominate aspects of the work force, but it still creeps into the initial meetings in many subtle ways.
6. Cultural Humor lies in the preferences most people are exposed to in their growing up environment. With our vast media exposure, we recommend that humor needs to present itself as being sensitive to the feelings of others. However, that being said, pockets of groups who live in like extended neighborhoods will show some preferences to certain types of humor. Irish-Americans, for instance, favor dark humor, as English-Americans tend to love dry humor that is irreverent towards tradition and sacred institutions.
A number of you reading this will be driven to say, “That is not me. I am white and that is not how I act!” “I do not say these things and I do not ask these questions.” Before you make that determination, check yourself out by asking other people what they notice you doing. We are seldom aware of how we interact because our attention is on the initial greeting of a new person as we try to follow the protocol that is comfortable to us. We will repeat often that these blogs are not about “right or wrong” or who has the best cultural background. This is all about coming to the world’s table with our own wonderful added values. Knowing about the specific differences gives us all a greater appreciation for how the total of America’s population makes us great. Being alike is redundant and boring.
Get out of your comfort zone and come have fun with us. In the next blog, we will explore Afrocentrics. Until we communicate the next time, as Mr. Spock on Star Trek would say, “Live long and prosper!” From the Floyd and Jackie Show…