The Cultural Iceberg
Above the surface - Observable
The things people do that we can see easily
General customs, Art, Music, Dress/Clothes, Literature, Architecture, Manners, Food, Greetings, Rituals, Religion, Political System, Technology, Language, celebrations & festivals
Below the surface -Non-Observable
How people think and feel about...
...time, morality, belief, fairness, friendship, power, individuality, competitiveness, non-verbal communication, art, symbolism, happiness, motivation, common knowledge, communication, personal space, privacy, superstitions, ideas, innovation, etc...
Things that influence a culture
Climate, Geography, Demographics, Religion, Media, History, Economics, Education, Political & Philosophical Ideologies, Myths/Stories, Laws
The Iceberg as a metaphor
We can compare culture to an iceberg because just like an iceberg we can only see a small part of it 'above the surface'. Most of it is hidden under the surface. Some of it we can see easily – language, food, dress, etc – but there are more subtle things below the surface that need a little more time and thought to recognize and understand. So, when we are looking at a different culture we must remember that there will be much of the culture that we cannot see at first. This is why other cultures can seem a little strange when we first begin to observe them!
Hofstede's Cultural Onion
We can also say that culture is like an onion. We can do this by thinking of culture as made of different layers starting from the centre and continuing towards the outside parts that we can see more easily. At the centre, there are the people's values which are the aspects of culture determined by the shared thoughts and feelings of everybody within the culture. Next, comes the rituals that help reinforce and maintain the cultures values. The outer layers generally help to perpetuate the core values but here there is more opportunity for change. Finally, cutting through these layers to the core are practices - the behaviors and actions of the people who share the culture.
Rituals are the conventions and common habits of the people within a culture. Just like values, rituals evolve slowly. Rituals are patterns of behaviour that can be thought of as 'normal' in common situations. Rituals are often associated with religion but in the context of culture can be experienced in a variety of wider social situations. Rituals can be found in; weddings, funerals, public holidays, business meeting agendas, personal morning routines and many kinds of social events and gatherings. These are all activities which take place on a regular basis, follow a particular set of common rules or conventions and are thought of as 'normal' within the culture.
Rituals can play also a significant role in language including; general small-talk, greetings and how people agree or disagree or negotiate differences.
In the context of the Cultural Onion, Heroes are the people (real or not) that influence a culture for good or bad. Some heroes can remain important for a very long time, some remain influential and revered for a generation or two, but most are forgotten quite quickly, after just a few years or even months. Heroes are role models and usually possess certain characteristics which are highly respected within the culture.
Heroes can be alive, dead, real, or imaginary.
• pop culture stars, sport, music, or movie stars
• politicians and historical people
• fictional characters from movies, books, cartoons, etc
• people from one’s own family
In the last layer, we have symbols. These can sometimes change as often as the latest fashion. Symbols are any kind of picture, object, gesture, or word/phrase which carries a particular meaning recognized by the members of a culture.
Symbols can include;
• words / idioms / jargon / accents
• flags / animals / shapes
• status symbols
• brand names / clothes / hair style
Practices are the thoughts people have, the things they do, and behaviors they engage in - which affect their environment. These behaviors include everyday interactions between individual people and the individual person with the society around them. Practices occur through language and physical actions.
This is a two way process as people's thoughts and ideas are influenced and informed by their society.