What is culture? We use this word internationally, at work, in sport, in the political arena but what are we really talking about?

As a French native who married an Australian 30 years ago, I knew when I moved to Australia that the culture over there was going to be different – wasn’t it obvious?  This is what I did to prepare myself;

·         I went back to university to brush up on my English,

·         I read about the Australian history, the geography, the climate, the wildlife,

·         I researched a bit about the food, dress code,

·         Oh, and I almost forgot, I also learnt to swim.

I arrived in Australia with my little cultural toolbox… Ta daaa here I am :).

 Welcome to Australia, what is your culture?

 “…well I am French…” (the accent was really obvious). I did not really know what else to say.

The response went something like this. “French! I have been to France!” “Frog legs… nuclear testing… fashion… Beaujolais Nouveau… French Champagne… beautiful women (thank you :))… arrogant… dirty public toilets…" And the list went on.

I was fascinated to hear, learn and discover my culture from an Australian perspective. However, I was not sure that these facts related to me. Yes, sure I am French but was “the Eiffel Tower, le foie gras, the nudist beach in St Tropez and le Tour de France” really a reflection of me?

I saw myself as a normal young woman from France with a different way of speaking, laughing, eating, working, and so… what was my culture?

Same same, but different (as they say in Vietnam) was exactly how I felt. I saw myself like everybody else with a bit of a difference.

In trying to define my culture I thought it was more about the way I was brought up, socialized or should I say conditioned by my family, school, and the whole environment I was immersed in. So, my culture was more of my understanding on how I behaved, interacted and lived in my community in France.

The difficulties I encountered in trying to talk about my culture were because it was engrained in me and I was not aware of it. In fact, where I came from we have all been engrained or programmed a similar way so the way we were, was to us normal.  

Odd was the way I felt, the way I looked, the way I sounded and the way I was after arriving in Australia.  But in that process, I also realized that the Australian people were weird, looked weird and sounded weird. Overall, they were weird and I was odd. Same same, but different!

The Cultural Iceberg model (Edward. T. Hall, 1976) which many of us are familiar with, is a great analogy that offers a very simple and effective way to help us conceptualize what Culture encompasses.

However, we all too often primarily concentrate on the tip of the Iceberg, the tangible stuff (using our ears and eyes). My preparation in coming to Australia (aka my cultural toolbox) and my early encounters with Australian people are a perfect illustration of it.

I would like to  melt the Cultural Iceberg and replace it with a tree that we could call a Cultural Tree. Because unlike the Iceberg a Tree:

·         is alive,

·         is connected to the earth,

·         is a threat to no one,

·         keeps on developing and growing,

·         has a rooting system that reaches deep in the soil to support the tree to thrive,

·         is resilient and adapts to the outside environment,

·         contributes to a healthy environment for all to live in peace and harmony.

And yes, just like trees, we, human beings are diverse and just like trees we are in essence the same with some slight differences.

So instead of asking me about my culture and looking for differences between you and I why don’t we have a chat and get to know each other better, because after all we are the same (but different) :)