Eyes of Culture

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The whole issue of culture in the workplace, society and the world is fascinating to me. For example, I never thought, the simple act of looking someone in the eyes could be perceived as anything other than respectful. But I found out the hard way, this is not the case in other parts of the world.

I learned firsthand a few years ago when I stopped at a new Asian convenience store in the area. After looking around the store, I noticed many items did not have prices. So I walked up to the store clerk who was standing behind the counter and asked him how much something was. He promptly looked down and mumbled something. I asked again and he seemed to look purposely away and replied again. I then tried to make eye contact with him by moving within his line of sight. It felt like a game of cat and mouse, as I tried to make eye contact with him. I thought he was being disrespectful by trying to ignore me and I’m guessing he thought I was being rude by trying to look at him directly in the eyes. He never did look at me and I never did buy anything. It’s funny how something, as seemingly minor, as eye contact can miscommunicate so much.

In Schermerhorn’s Organizational Behavior, he writes about culture and cultural diversity. I like the point he makes about culture being the “software of the mind”, that everyone’s brain is wired with the same hardware, but the “software of culture” takes many different forms. Cultural eye contact is a good example of this.

Schermerhorn, Jr., J. R., Hunt, J. G., & Osborn, R. N. Organizational behavior. (7 ed., pp. 50-52). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

To Look or Not to Look





3 Comments on “Eyes of Culture”

  1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am hearing that phrase as I read and mind wandering about –what is beauty (from a culture perspective). Beauty has Western influence and definitions based on advertising, Hollywood and pop culture. Globalization comes with a cost — is it a loss of culture?

  2. Wow, thank you for sharing that story! I would have reacted the same way. I feel like you have to be so careful when you visit different countries and cultures, even if it’s Canada or the UK. The sad part is that most visitors would walk away thinking the man you met in the store really was rude and purposefully ignoring and/or inconveniencing you. I think that’s where the reading hits hard (and what you and Dr. Bill hit on) – cultural perspective can make many habits better or worse.

  3. Gardenia,

    Great picture! Cultural barriers can be a confusing and mysterious subject. There are even times when we may unknowingly offend someone because of a cultural misunderstanding. In today’s global society it is clear that cultural differences come to the forefront – especially in business dealings. But it may be impossible to know the subtleties of every culture in the world, so how does one proceed? Do we just inhibit everything and act in the most mild manner possible so as not to offend, do we act with reckless disregard for cultural differences or do we imitate the culture we are communicating with?


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