Quite a few people are reluctant to accept the fact that they are influenced by their culture. They would like to believe that everything about them is individual and unique. People who think this way tend to be monocultural. One who has not experienced the deep transformations that come from living in two or more different cultures is unlikely to recognize that he or she belongs to an unseen culture composed of values, beliefs and differentiating assumptions.
Becoming bicultural or multicultural involves not only knowledge and experience, but also the development of certain attitudes and skills. One needs to acquire sensitive antennae in order to live life with open eyes and ears and to be able to detect its many nuances.
Even broad-brush descriptions of cultural variations clearly show differing tendencies in neighboring cultures. They describe the river, not the ships sailing in it. People afloat in the stream of their culture are carried along in the direction in which it flows. But, they can also swim against the current. It may be hard but not impossible. On the other hand, there are quiet bends in the river where the main current has very little force. Those whom life has placed in these backwaters find it easier to swim in different directions. However, it is very difficult for those who are afloat in the main torrent as it rushes downstream.
What many "experts" find impossible to understand is often obvious for ordinary folk. For them it is a matter of healthy common sense. The other day I heard a reporter say: "Heidi sees it that way because she is German. I mean veryGerman." When we say so often, "very German," it automatically implies that there are less German Germans. This means that there are people whose life circumstances and character are such that they are swept downstream because their personal choices coincide with those of the dominant culture. These individuals who swim downstream with the river may be the ones we identify as "too German".
Others’ life circumstances and individual character may not run so smoothly with the river’s direction. They may be less influenced by their culture. Nonetheless, it influences them to some degree, because they are still close to the culture that they understand and are familiar with, and which, unbeknown to them, molds them unconsciously, despite their deviations from it.
Every human group creates its own characteristic view of the world and how to behave in it. We belong to multiple groups: family, generational cohort, school, workplace, city, neighborhood, region, gender... Each of us finds ourselves at the confluence of all these, even as we filter them though our personality and our experiences. Cultural analysis can only contrast cultures with each other, and show that there are distinct national cultures, but these should not be thought of as solid blocks of concrete, but more like sponges.
Can we imagine that a group that shares a language, an educational system, mass media, history, laws, institutions, would not construct its own worldview? Various groups to which I belong are also part of the country I am in and through them the national culture also influences me.
We are all influenced by the culture or cultures in which we are immersed, just as we are all exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays. Some of us are better protected than others but none of us one lives in total darkness—we all have some degree of exposure. Our culture influences each one of us differently. It merges with other elements that are a part of us (age, sex, social class, life experiences, character, etc.)
If our culture were a color, for example red, when it blends with other pigments within us, the end result paints each of us a different hue. If our primary personal color were also red, others would be likely to say that we are "very German." As much as there are other colors on my palette, the color or colors of my national culture will appear stronger or weaker.
(Translated into english by George Simmons
Spanish and german version in the monthly column "Punto de encuentro/Treffpunkt" in Hispanovision."La cultura es como un río."
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