This article orginally appeared on LinkedIn.
By Brandon M. Gidicsin
Commercial Real Estate Salesperson & Writer
When you are chatting with a person, how much do you know about their culture? If you are chatting with an Italian person, you may be able to rattle off a few words or phrases in Italian: Molto bene (very good), Grazie (thanks). You may be able to name a few cities: Rome, Milan, and Naples. Perhaps you even know about the tradition of having a longer than average lunch break at work for the purposes of going home to have a meal with your family! (Now I’m hungry).
Now, I am not saying that you should spend time making an effort to proactively research different cultures every day. (I usually do, but that’s just me). Having the opportunity to live in the United States, more specifically Long Island, New York, I have met people of various cultural backgrounds which has been fascinating. I have also tried culinary delights from a diverse group of people.
On the flip-side, I lived in Sweden between the ages of 13-16. Sweden could be described as a homogenous country, though it does have a small population of Middle Eastern people. The lion’s share of the population are Swedish people who look pretty similar to me (Blondish hair, fair-skinned, and tall). This gave me a unique perspective on culture and my fascination to learn more.
While living in Sweden, it appeared that many Swedish people knew more about the cultural practices of other countries compared to American people I’ve met in the United States. I found this very strange because the United States is comprised of a diverse group of people, people with backgrounds from all over the world. I have to emphasize here that this is based on my experience, I am not generalizing that one country is more culturally aware than the other. I am simply writing this based on the numerous people I have spoken to and interacted with, stories from family and friends, and research. I am also aware that there is an emphasis on cultural teachings in the Swedish school system.
Instead of getting upset about this, I took action. I have been hosting “Culture learning meet-ups.” These meet-ups started in May 2020 and take place over Zoom. A PowerPoint presentation on a country and its culture is given by a person who is from said country or someone who has that cultural background with a good knowledge on their culture. I don’t know how much longer I will be able to host these weekly meet-ups (finding presenters is getting difficult as time goes on).
I do implore you to leave with a few takeaways:
While speaking with a person, ask them about their cultural background AND their knowledge on their culture. This is the time to actively listen and absorb information. Most people have pride in their native country/culture. This works well if you are finding it hard to connect with a person. The mutual information swap on each of your cultures is a great way to connect with another individual.
Challenge the negative information conveyed about a particular country/culture. It is important to keep in mind that you are often only hearing one side to the story, and many of these places have beautiful and intriguing cultures.
When you are bored, do some research on a culture which you find interesting. (Don’t worry, you will still have time to re-watch your favorite season of the office. I promise). Learning and filling your brain with research is one of the best ways to keep your mind sharp. Not to mention it will help keep you open-minded!
I truly hope that this article has encouraged you to learn more about your own background, and I hope that you take an interest in learning more about the cultures of friends and even strangers. Finally, challenge what you hear and keep that mind wide open to all the wonderful things about other cultures.
Thank you for listening!
Here are a few of the outrageously misconceptions I have heard regarding countries and cultures:
- “Sweden is a state, right?”
- “I thought they speak Spanish in Brazil?”
- “Whats the difference between Sweden and Switzerland?”
- “There are other countries in Central America besides Mexico?”
- “Do they have cars in Texas?”
- “Does everyone in the United States drive a pick-up truck?”