Culture can be defined as the increasing deposit of knowledge, material objects, ,values, religion, notions of time, attitudes, hierarchies, concepts of the universe, spatial relations, roles, and beliefs and possessions gained by a group of people in the path of generations through individual and group striving (Poyatos, 2002). Culture can also be termed as communication and the vise versa. This is because culture is a symbol of communication. Some of these symbols include knowledge, a group's skills, attitudes, motives and values. Culture can also be defined as the sum total of all the learned behaviors of a group that are commonly considered to be the tradition of a particular group of people and are conveyed from generation to generation. Identity can be defined as a set of personal or behavioral characteristics by which an individual can be identified as a member of a particular group. Identity also refers to the state of an individual having some specific qualities which identify him with a particular group of people or things. The combination of these two nouns (culture and identity) gives rise to cultural identity which refers to the sense of belongingness to a particular group or culture.
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From a personal view, culture refers to the way (aspects) of a person's life. These aspects of life include language which is one of the oldest medium of expression in the human institution, arts and sciences which are the forms of human expression most refined and advanced and thought which can be defined as the methodologies in which an individual perceives, interprets, and understands the world around him. There is also spirituality which is a value system passed through generations for the purpose of well being in human beings. It is expressed through actions, language and social activities which are perceived to be the shared pursuit within any particular cultural community.
All cultures or social organizations have severe dimensions just like physical dimensions of length, height, width, time and height. The cultural dimensions may vary according to size, permeate the whole or by definition one cannot "see" a dimension of culture or society just the way we see an individual person however each person manifests each of the five dimensions of culture. Hofstede came up with five dimensions which are rated in 53 countries basing on indices of each dimension. These dimensions are namely power distance (hierarchy), collectivism versus individualism, and femininity versus masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, and long term versus short term orientation (Hofstede, Pedersen& Hofstede, 2002). (PD) Power distance refers to the extent to which less powerful members expects respects and accepts unequal power distribution within a particular culture. According to Hofstede, high PD countries tend to maintain centralized political power and display tall hierarchies in organizations with massive differences in salary and social status. Subordinates always perceive the manager as a benevolent dictator and they are therefore expected to follow the rules just as they are stipulated. The low PD countries perceive subordinates and supervisors as closer to being equal and easily interchangeable (Marcus & Gould, 2000). They also have more flattened hierarchies in organizations and with less difference in salaries and social status. In these low PD countries, equality is generally desired and expected.
As a citizen of United States my country has a current PDI of 40 in comparison to the world's range of 55 (Marcus & Gould, 2000). I support this low PDI because in my American culture there is better equality between the societal levels, government institutions, organizations and within families. My American cultural environment is stable and there is cooperative interaction in all power levels. I practice American culture and identity and it's because of this that I can say my culture has sense of equality. For example teachers, students (children) and parents perceive each other as equals but not necessarily identical. The students and teachers relate well. Personally, I relate well with my lecturers and none of us feels like he/she has power over me as his student. In work places, people hold different position but regardless of this many perceive each other as brothers and it is therefore difficult to find some work related humanitarian crises. Individualism in culture refers to "loose ties". This mans that one is expected to look after himself, his immediate family and no one else. Collectivism on the other hand means that people are incorporated together by birth into cohesive, strong groups that act as protection in exchange for unquestionable loyalty.
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According to Hofspede, individualistic cultures value freedom, personal time and extrinsic motivators like material rewards at work (Marcus & Gould, 2000). In these individualistic cultures, individual socio-economic interests are highly valued and strong rights of privacy are maintained. In general it advocates for the ideologies based on self-actualization, self government, self realization and freedom. On the other hand collectivist value skills, training, physical conditions and the intrinsic rewards based on mastery. In relations to family they value harmony, silence, use of shame in the achievement of behavioral goals and the strife to maintain face. The socio- economic interests are highly valued rather than individuals.
According to the American culture which is also my cultural identity, we prefer situations whereby there is self sustenance. For example personally I like attending to my issues in my own way since that's what my parents have taught me. If I am in need, I believe I should consult my parents, brothers and sisters before going to the external world. I also try to realize my goals using my own version without interference. This tendency is very common in the American culture. This is well supported by the studies of Hofstede which show that in the year 2009 the United States had an IDV of 91 the highest dimension compared to the other countries (Marcus & Gould, 2000). This means that the society has high individualistic attitude and relative loose bond with others. Therefore, the population is more self reliant and looks out only for themselves and their close family members. Masculinity and femininity refers to the gender roles in a particular culture. Traditionally the masculine roles were based on assertiveness, toughness and competition while the feminine roles were based on tenderness, orientation to people, home and children. These traditional gender distinctions are almost breaking due to the collapse of feminine roles. The traditional masculine work goals included recognition, earnings, challenge and advancement. The traditional feminine work goals included good relations, employment security and good living and working conditions.
As an American upholding the American culture, I have realized many women trends are changing since they are pursuing degrees and diplomas to get into white-color jobs unlike in the early days when females used to stay at home taking care of children. Many females have taken jobs such as engineering, medical and teaching jobs which used to belong to men. According to Hofstede, in the year 2009 the MAS for America was 68 meaning the country experiences a higher degree of gender differentiation roles (Marcus & Gould, 2000). This means that the female population is more assertive and competitive just like men. Uncertainty avoidance dimension deals with the society's tolerance as it pertains to ambiguity and uncertainty. It depicts how members in a society have attempted to cope with the anxiety through the minimization of uncertainties. In the cultures of high uncertainty avoidance people always prefer formally designed activities and explicit rules. You will also find that most of the employees tend to retain their employers (Amanda.com 1). In low uncertainty avoidance cultures, people always prefer implicit rules and more informal activities. Again, employees cannot retain their employers. In my American culture rules are very flexible and it accommodates diverse ideologies. For example there are many religions unlike in other countries like Islamic where only one religion is tolerated.
My American culture has few rules and it doesn't do much to control all outcomes and results. It also tolerates a variety of ideas believes and thoughts. The long term versus short term orientation refers to the society's time horizon. It also examines the importance of the future compared to the present and past. In my American culture I believe that I believe that I will meet my obligations and I also believe the American society will always meet its obligation no matter the hardships and inconveniences we will experience. Also, I appreciate my American tradition which is characterized by a lot of hard work in order to achieve something meaningful in life. Culture and identity positively influences the relationship between me and my parents because we rarely have any conflicts. This is because I know what my parents advocated for since my childhood (family traditions) and this makes it easier for us to interact without much issues arising.
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Culture and identity has had a negative impact between my family members and me because some cultural aspects are continually changing but they are not adapting to these changes. For example the American culture has shunned the traditional segregation that existed between the black and the white Americans but my parents do not always welcome the idea of the association between these too American ethnic groups. This means that I am not always allowed to bring visitors from a different ethnicity. Again my culture doesn't allow people to attend church without formal dressings. This has caused a negative impact on the relationship between me my parents and the church. Due to changing modes of dressing I find the cultural church dressing code not entertaining while at the other hand the church leaders are opposed to the new ways of dressing in the church. Our culture advocates for good mannerisms at school failure to which one is subjected to parental punishment. This has fostered a positive interpersonal relationship between my peer group, teachers and me. This is because I am aware of the rights and the wrong and therefore I try to avoid conflicts resulting from disobedience or arrogance towards my peers. My American cultural identity has also helped me in forming positive personal relations with the surrounding people and communities. This is because it advocates for brotherhood and I therefore try to be careful when socializing with people so as to avoid conflicts. Consequently, many people in the community find me as their friend who they can count on and therefore good interpersonal relations.
Due to my cultural identity I have individually and collectively experienced many challenges in the American society. One challenge is that of persistent identities in form of biracial perceptions. This is because many people keep on asking me about my race because my bodily appearance doesn't suggest it. Ethnocentrism is the other challenge. This is because some of my college friends like the children from the very rich families in the community feel that they have superior ways of life (culture) than us from middle class families. They tend to perceive us as inferior, wrong in all aspects and strange. Another challenge I have faced due to my cultural identity is prejudice. This has been caused by the attitude of ethnocentrism. My fellow college mates from wealthy backgrounds tend to show intolerant and unfairly biased attitude towards me and other people of my status (middle class). The next challenge is cultural stereotyping. This is because of the exaggerated generalizations about a particular group (females). For example in the American culture the females have been stereotyped in terms of their emotions. It is believed that females experience and also express sadness, fear and sympathy. On the other hand men experience and express anger and pride. Another challenge is cultural proximity whereby many cultures are assumed to be similar. For example due to modernization, the subcultures (white and black) in my country have now been integrated almost into one though people come from different places of origin.
The other challenge I have faced due to my cultural identity is that of misinterpretation of codes. For example due to my dress code most of my colleagues mistake me for a Muslim lady because I always have veil on my neck and put on a long skirt. There are several occasions whereby my verbal behaviors or cues have been misunderstood like when I use inflections (variation of speech). When I lower the pitch of voice too or make it deeper on certain words. This low pitch implies confidence, certainty, and authority. However my college mates view this as a sign of ignorance or lack of cooperation in speech. Other times I use upward inflection (raised pitch) in speech to communicate uncertainty, surprise and doubt. This however bring about miscommunication when am talking to my college friends who come from other cultures like Muslims who perceive my tone as a sign of coercion and harassment. Some times I repeat my statements as a sign of emphasis but some of my friends perceive that as a speech problem. Often, I get frustrated or angered when my friends mistake these verbal behaviors to be signs of weakness. There are several occasions when my non-verbal behaviors have been misunderstood. For example when I use a frequency of glances to indicate attention, interest and involvement most people think that am being timid and am using it to protect myself from them or as a sign of fatigue. Some of my friends have also misunderstood me through tactile communication (touch). For example I give a warm hug to all my friends as a sign or greetings when we meet but some friends mistake me for a multiple lover. Others mistrust their companions due to these kinds of greetings. This mistrust is caused by the fact that they interpret it emotionally. Some of my friends misinterpret my use of "fig" which in my culture means "you can't have it". They say that it is immoral or obscene. I feel sad when people misinterpret these non-verbal cues.
Marcus, A., & Gould, E. W. (2000). Cultural Dimensions and Global Web User-Interface Design. Retrieved from http://www.amanda.com/resources/hfweb2000/hfweb00.marcus.html.
Hofstede, G. J., Pedersen, P. & Hofstede, G. H. (2002). Exploring culture: exercises, stories, and synthetic cultures. Yarmouth: Intercultural Press.
Poyatos, F. (2002). Nonverbal Communication Across Disciplines: Culture, sensory interaction, speech, conversation. Herndon: John Benjamins Publishing Company.