Understanding Space: Direct vs Indirect Cultures (pt. 2)

And we’re back with PART 2✨ of Understanding Space!

If you missed PART 1, click here for the scoop. If not, let’s get into PART 2, baby! 😝

“We Have” vs “I Have” 🖐️✊

Just as indirect cultures embrace “automatic inclusion,” inclusive cultures are also founded on the principle of sharing. In an inclusive culture, the focus isn’t on “I have this” and “you have that,” but rather on “we have.” This notion is most evident when it comes to food. In an inclusive culture, it would be unheard of to take out a sandwich in front of others without offering to share it.

There’s a Japanese saying that encapsulates this idea: “Even if you only have a single pea, you divide it up equally according to the number of people in the room.” The concept of “Will there be enough for everyone?” doesn’t exist. The key principle is that whatever is available is meant to be shared.

During a bus ride with fellow delegates, Sarah had packed a lunch that she could share, having familiarized herself with inclusion cultures. When two European men took out their own lunches and started eating, Sarah followed suit and took hers out as well. The following excerpt from her book illustrates the contrasting cultural approaches regarding the “we have” versus “I have” principle:

I offered the men some grapes. They said, “Thank you, but we brought our own lunches.” They also refused the cookies. Then I got up and offered the grapes to others around me on the bus: Africans, South Americans, and Asians. They all happily accepted the offering and then pulled out their own food to share. Soon we were handing around bags of dried figs, potato chips, hunks of bread, cheese, and other items. We had a feast that day.

The two Europeans enjoyed their own lunches, but they missed the more important event. It wasn’t as much about food as it was about sharing with one another, leaving no one out. It took care of those who didn’t have anything by including them in the group. Because everyone shared, we were not aware of the “haves and the have-nots.” They were covered by the community. The inclusion value of [indirect] cultures means that no one is left out, no one is lonely.

Inclusion cultures obey the principle of “we have,” extending beyond shared meals to encompass possessions as well. In direct cultures, possessions are considered the personal responsibility of the individual who owns them. From a young age, children are taught to take care of their belongings and have the autonomy to decide whether or not to share them. In some cases, people may even label their food or possessions to prevent others from taking or using them.

Yet, in an inclusive culture, this approach is reversed. Instead of emphasizing individual ownership, the focus is on collective possession. For example, people would say “We have a guitar,” “We have food in the refrigerator,” “We have tools to use,” or “We have a car,” regardless of who originally paid for the items. Additionally, this sense of “we” includes everyone present in the household, not just the residents.

Sarah had the opportunity to observe a situation where a man asked an American couple for a ride into town. Sarah understood that if there was an available seat in a car heading to the same destination in an inclusive culture, she could ask to join.

However, the American couple declined the man’s request, as they desired some private time for themselves. Their decision was rooted in a need for privacy, but the man felt rejected. In inclusive cultures, it’s never framed as “I’m going into town,” but rather as “We have a ride to town.” The American couple, influenced by a culture that values privacy, didn’t fully comprehend this inclusive mindset.

Sarah has witnessed another instance that highlights the contrasting perspectives between “we have” and “I have” thought processes, which involved a Chinese student who arrived in Hawaii to attend school. His American roommates had already placed their luggage in the room and left. Coming from an inclusive culture where sharing is the norm, the Chinese student began trying on his roommates’ clothes. In his worldview, it wasn’t a matter of “you have a suitcase full of clothes, and so do I,” but rather “There are clothes here to be worn. Let’s see which ones fit me best.”

However, when his North American roommates, who valued privacy and individual ownership, returned to find him trying on their clothes, they were furious at the invasion of their privacy. This left the Chinese student confused and ashamed, as he had no concept of how Americans viewed their belongings in an individualistic manner. One of his initial experiences in America turned out to be traumatic and hurtful due to a cultural misunderstanding.

Watch out for these differences, as they can turn into bitter experiences like the one above!

Are Kids Included? 👶🧒👧

When individuals from inclusive cultures travel to privacy-oriented cultures, a frequent error they make is assuming that their kids are included in invitations. In an inclusive culture, events that are exclusively for adults are unfamiliar and can even seem odd. Typically, in an indirect culture, any social gatherings outside of the workplace are considered family gatherings that automatically include children, regardless of the noise or disruptions they may cause. This can be frustrating for individuals from privacy-oriented cultures, such as Americans or Europeans, as they perceive children running in and out as detracting from the overall quality of the event.

Hence, when individuals from an indirect culture visit direct cultures, it’s important for them to clarify whether children are included in invitations. Showing up with children at someone’s home for dinner, only to realize that the table is set for adults only, can lead to an unnecessary and embarrassing situation. This can be easily avoided by seeking clarification beforehand. Parents from indirect cultures should also remember that in situations like weddings, where children are specifically invited, it’s expected that the children stay with their parents. If the children become noisy or disruptive, it’s customary for the parents to promptly remove them from the situation.

Final Thoughts 💭

Recognizing and understanding the distinctions between indirect and direct cultures can play a crucial role in establishing positive relationships with individuals from cultures different from our own. Whether you are traveling abroad or hosting international guests, it’s essential to inquire about their cultural practices and beliefs rather than assuming they align with your own.

Particularly in the case of privacy norms, it’s advisable to have an open discussion early on to prevent any misunderstandings or awkward situations. Be clear in your communication, ask questions to ensure comprehension, and establish mutually agreeable boundaries that foster comfort for both parties. By building friendships based on an understanding of each other’s cultures and customs, rather than hurtful misunderstandings, you can cultivate strong and respectful international relationships.

✨PART 2✨ is now complete and so is our cross-cultural series!

We hope you enjoyed it and learned as much as we did! 🤓

We wanna know–

Which post was the most interesting to you? What surprised you? What resonated with you? Let us know in the comments below!

Until next time, friends! 🧡

ps: you may be getting another series on here soon, so be on the lookout! 👀

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