Foreign to Familiar (Sarah A. Lanier)


In our preparation to travel to an African country in the near future, we are attempting to learn as much as possible about other cultures. A fellow adoptive mom recommended this title, and I count it as a MUST READ for, well, anyone who deals with people. Do you fall into that category? ;)

Sarah Lanier is a world traveling professional who has spent significant time in a variety of cultures. She has discovered some keys to understanding the various cultures around the world.

In hot-climate cultures (Africa, Latin America, some US, etc.) people are more relational. Everything centers around relationships, and nothing is more important than how you make someone feel. To show respect for people, you must honor them as a person. All communication is indirect and must create a feel-good environment in order to honor the other person. Hot climate cultures are group-oriented, and people find identity and protection in their group. In these cultures, possessions are never an individual's (as in, I have a bike) and are alway's the group's (as in, WE have a bike). People prefer the company of others and are always careful never to hold private conversations in the company of others. Spontaneity is normal, and events are rarely planned in advance. When they are planned in advance, they do not begin at the time they were planned for (Example: In America we are accustomed to saying a wedding begins at 2:00. In Africa they might say the wedding is at 2:00, but it won't begin at that time. That is the time people begin making their way to the event.)

In cold-climate cultures (Europe, some US, etc.) everything people are more efficiency-driven. Everything centers around productivity, and nothing is more important than wise use of time. To show respect for people, you must honor their time. There is no care given to how someone feels. All communication is direct, in order to maximize efficiency. Cold climate cultures are more individualistic, and a person's identity is found in their self-standing and their ability to take initiative. Possessions are considered an individual's (it's MY bike, not OURS) and are responsible for maintaining and protecting them. People enjoy group events, but also prefer times of solitude and having space to themselves.

It's interesting to note that even within the given context of these cultures, people's personalities can also be individualized. A person can live in a hot climate culture like the American South, and still have some cold-climate tendencies such as valuing personal time and personal space. Also, a person can live in a cold climate such as Germany and still communicate indirectly.

These are only a few of the differences described in the book. It was a quick read, and very valuable for helping to understand where people are coming from, and how they think. You can best communicate with someone if you can understand their method of thinking. This knowledge will be very powerful when we are in Africa, but it is also good for understanding all sorts of people around us on a daily basis. I rarely say this because I believe that books are as different an unique as the people who read them, but this book is for everyone!