Cultural Context


I imagine Mike is riding along a picturesque coastline right now and nearing California’s northern border.  I wish you a good day friend!

In order to better understand our coastal neighbors, and ourselves, let’s take an anthropological look at our cultures.

Todays post will briefly go over what anthropologist Edward T. Hall coined as “high context” and “low context” culture.  Also, I will share a link to a quiz (after you click the link scroll down the page) which determines where you fit on the context continuum.  Apparently, I am a high context communicator living in a low context culture… Let me explain.

When we talk about the differences between cultures we are talking about the way people behave socially, how they communicate, and how they make sense of the world.  Let’s start with an example of high and low context from within American culture.

Within a nation as large as the United States we find subcultures with varying levels of context.  A man in Oklahoma might say a lot with few words.  He may use a long pause in between his sentences or rely on nonverbal messages to explain his thoughts.  Communication is more of a subtle art form.  Relationships take time to develop and there are clear boundaries between the people in his circle and the people outside of it.

On the other hand, we have our low context man in New Jersey.  He will use more words and deliver explicit messages.  Communication is an informational exchange.  More emphasis is placed on the individual.  Relationships begin and end rather quickly and it is less clear who is inside or outside this man’s social circle (sounds like a certain someone from a reality show, right?).

Overall, the United States is considered a low context culture and shares more in common with the man from New Jersey.  Comparatively, Japan is a high context culture, sharing similar behavioral characteristics with the man from Oklahoma.

This stark contrast between our two cultures leaves room for misunderstanding and mystery.  With our low context spectacles on typical Japanese behaviors may seem “out of context.”  Check out this bloggers answer to why this is so.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, I hope that you explore this topic further, and learn something new.



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