Cross-Cultural Awareness: Through the Lens of a Cruise Ship Lecturer

I have a new gig! Although I have authored six books and been the president of a non-profit organization, the Center for Global Awareness, over the last five years, I am also starting a new position as a cruise-ship lecturer. When I tell people about my new position they swoon, they think it just sounds so glamorous and interesting. Well, I agree! But since I haven’t been on my first cruise yet I should withhold my judgement. I will be able to confirm a yes or no after October 26, as I set sail for a Mediterranean Cruise from Barcelona to Venice.

This is an occasional position, so I am definitely continuing my educational work at the Center for Global Awareness. But, it adds a new twist to the work we do at CGA. zia_small_ani9One of our goals at CGA is to foster cross-cultural awareness. Our blogs, books, professional development services, and social media have focused on this skill for many years. Therefore, I want to integrate what I learn from my new position and travels with our cross-cultural awareness goals at CGA. Check the Center for Global Awareness’ Facebook page and twitter for travel updates.

The integration of my cruise ship lectures and experiences and CGA’s cross-cultural awareness program can be demonstrated in many different ways. One of the ways that is most immediate is to post on social media not only pictures of the places I visit, but make significant (I hope) comments about my cross-cultural observations. I want to share with our CGA audience, what we can learn about the people, culture, worldviews, and actions of people of the Mediterranean region of Europe. Hopefully, this will be enlightening for you the reader as you travel vicariously through a vital part of Europe.

cruiseshipThe schedule of the cruise includes the following ports: Barcelona, Spain; Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Sete, France; Monte Carlo, Monaco; Portofino, Italy; La Spezia, Italy; Livorno, Italy; Civitavecchia/Rome, Italy; Naples, Italy; Catania, Sicily, Italy; Argostoli, Greece; Kotor, Montenegro; Zadar, Croatia; Koper, Slovenia; Venice, Italy.

The rest of this blog is devoted to a brief description of what I mean by cross-cultural awareness. I have also included a chart that helps describe cultural differences using etic categories or patterns of expression for comparison purposes. But first, let’s look at a good definition of culture.

Geert Hofstede and others define culture as a collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the member of one group or category of people from others. Culture is learned, not innate. It derives from one’s social environment rather than from one’s genes. Next, let’s distinguish between two types of culture: objective and subjective culture. Objective culture refers to the institutional aspects of culture, such as political and economic systems, and to its products, such as art, music, cuisine, fashion, consumer products, sports, leisure, labor, and other topics. History is objective culture. Subjective culture refers to the experience of the social reality formed by a society’s institutions; it is the worldview or values, attitudes and behaviors of a people (Bennett, et al.). It is hidden beneath objective culture, all the while shaping how objective culture is expressed. It is not something that is normally comes to the light of day but it is extremely important.

You may ask, “Why is it important to be cross-culturally aware?” I have a ready answer to that question. We live in a more integrated world than ever before. We communicate and interact with people different from ourselves if not on a personal level, at least through multi-media sources whether it is Facebook, twitter, or sporting events. It behooves us as responsible global citizens to be aware of other cultures. A second reason is that there is a need for us to acquire more sophisticated cultural skills; one of these skills is perspective shifting, which is generally understood as becoming aware of how others would like to be treated from their own perspectives, acknowledging the difference and attempting to respect the equal (but different) humanity of others.

The cultural skill of perspective shifting, as described above, invites categories of comparison across different cultures. These categories of comparison are called etic categories. An etic account is a description of a behavior or belief by a social analyst or scientific observer in terms that can be applied across cultures, an etic account attempts to be “culturally neutral,” limiting any ethnocentric, political, and/or cultural bias or alienation by the observer. These etic categories are observational categories that generate comparative distinctions.

The model that I have developed organizes several of the common categories of cultural expressions that various noted researchers have compiled over the years to designate cultural diversity1. The model assembles cultural generalizations expressed by different cultures around the world.

The diversity of cultural patterns described in the model is better understood if placed on a continuum.

collectivism ___________________________________ individualism

For example, the first two cultural patterns – individualism and collectivism – if placed at opposite ends of a continuum occupy varying points on the continuum in which the extremes are muted. In other words, there is much variability among these cultural patterns rather than rigid categories. These cultural patterns may also change over time. But examining the patterns in isolation, for our purpose in this exercise, is merely a way to understand cultural variability and differences.

Patterns of Expression: Cultural Norms and Values
adapted by Dr. Denise R. Ames, Center for Global Awareness

Cultural Pattern

Description of Patterns

Key Traits

(in contrast to

ties and responsibility between individuals are loose
expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family
express personal achievements
individual rights above collective well-being
nuclear family more universal than extended family

nuclear family

(in contrast to

people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups
extended families (with uncles, aunts, grandparents) more universal
protects family in exchange for unquestioning loyalty
rules and values govern individualistic behavior

allegiance to family
extended family

(in contrast to

assertive and competitive
materialism/material success
self-centeredness, power, strength, and individual achievements
patriarchal attitudes
strict codes of sexual conduct and modesty


(in contrast to

women’s values differ less among societies than men’s values
caring, avoid violence, sharing, other-centered, value relationships
fewer constraints on women and their sexuality
long term focus, more risk-averse

less violent

Prefers Certainty
(in contrast to

uncomfortable in unstructured situations
try to minimize uncertainty by strict laws and rules, safety and security philosophical and religious belief in absolute Truth; ‘there can only be
one Truth and we have it’

rules, laws, customs
wants security
more structure

Accepts Uncertainty
(in contrast to

tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity
feel comfortable in unstructured situations
unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, and different
less likely to follow proscribed religious strictures

less structure
open minded

Long Term Orientation
(in contrast to
short term orientation)

holds values, actions, and attitudes that affect the future
ordering relationships by status and observing this order
thrift, save for the future
sense of shame,  future orientation

future oriented

Short Term Orientation
(in contrast to
long term orientation)

values and attitudes that are affected by the past or the present
immediate stability, personal steadiness and stability
protecting your ‘face’
respect for tradition
reciprocation of greetings, favors, and gifts; generosity, hospitality

the past

Sense of Time: Polychron
(in contrast to monochron)

time is continuous
time flows from the past, through the present, into the future
unstructured, changing from one activity to another
does not like or want to make detailed plans
works on more than one thing at a time

time flowing
no detailed plans

Sense of Time:
(in contrast to polychron)

time divided into fixed elements — seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks separate blocks of time that can be organized, measured and scheduled
plan in detail
making lists, keeping track of activities, organizing time into daily routine
prefer to do one thing at a time, working on a task until it is finished
after task is finished, only then, moving on to the next task.

time planned
detailed plans

Indirect or Circular
(in contrast to linear/direct)

avoid directly addressing the main point
let the story make the point
stating the point is seen as insulting to other person
elegant, flowing remarks
meaning conveyed by subtle means such as stories
indirectness = politeness and respect for other person
frequent use of implication
communication is art

avoid main point   

Direct or Linear Communication
(in contrast to circular/indirect)

getting to the point is important
point is stated explicitly
not getting to the point is a waste of time
directness = honesty and respect for other person
avoiding ambiguity
form is less important than content
communication is information

get to the point

Low Context
(in contrast to high context)

context is not assumed to be known
clear explanation, precise description, spell out everything
reliance on verbal messages

clear explanations

High Context
(in contrast to low context)

context is assumed to be known
explaining everything and state meaning precisely considered insulting
leave understanding up to other person

making assumptions

Attached Communication
(in contrast to detached)

communicating with feeling and emotion, very personal
subjectivity valued
sharing one’s values and feelings about issues is desirable
communicate from the heart


Detached Communication
(in contrast to attached)

communication should be calm and impersonal,
may be considered unfriendly
objectivity valued, communicate from the head
emotional, expressive communication is seen as immature or biased


Idea Focused Communication
(in contrast to person focused)

hold ideas and person separate
open disagreement acceptable
disagreement with person’s ideas not seen as personal attack

ideas and person separate

Person Focused Communication
(in contrast to idea focused)

ideas and person connected
feelings important
disagreement handled very carefully
disagreement is attack on the person


Formal Communication

strict rules about forms of address, acknowledgement of status
ritualized communication
respect, titles important


Informal Communication

fewer specific rules, relaxed, casual, familiar
use of first names
more flexibility in what one can say to whom and how


Task Oriented

priority is getting the task done
efficiency, competency, productivity
people’s feelings are secondary to goal


Relationship Oriented

relationships primary, above efficiency
associations and family priority, friendliness, respect
maintaining group harmony is central
collaboration valued above achievement



members of formal institutions and the family recognized
equality of all citizens, emphasizes equal opportunity
no large gaps between haves and have nots
people relate more as equals, regardless of formal positions
subordinates contribute to and critique the decisions of those in power
diffuse authority,  less  stratification

diffuse authority



less powerful members accept/expect power to be unequally distributed
inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders
large gaps between haves and have nots,
more power differences, high stratification
less powerful accept power relations that are autocratic or paternalistic
subordinates acknowledge power based on formal hierarchical positions
a “pecking order,”  “chain of command”
high power differences



  1. Do you think we need more cross-cultural awareness? If yes, what do you think is the best way to gain more awareness?


1Harley Hahn, Time Sense: Polychronicity and Monochronicity, website: and Janet M. and Milton J. Bennett Geert Hofstede, Edward T. Hall, Hampden and Turner.

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