When I hear a word or an expression, I like to go to the ground meaning. I often use dictionaries. When there is an expression, it is usually formed by two or more words, which on their own have their meaning, and combined, they mean something else, something more than if they stand alone. Even if the original term is “culture clash” which means “a conflict arising from the interaction of people with different values”, I find this definition somehow limited. Therefore I choose to use “culture crush”, not for its dramatism, yet to give a better explanation of what actually may happen.
In the Oxford dictionary, the definition I found for the word “crush” is: “to press something so hard that it is damaged or injured, or loses its shape.”
For the word “culture,” the same dictionary has the following definition: “the custom and beliefs, art, way of life and social organization of a particular country or a group.”
If we put the two definitions together, the result would be something like this: to press the customs and believes, way of life, and social organization of two groups so hard that they are damaged, injured, or lose their shapes. In other words, the values, beliefs, and way of life of two countries/groups are pressed so hard against each other that they are altered.
I would say that this meaning put together by the two definitions might not be necessarily accurate because I do not believe that one set of values can crush another set of values. But, at the same time, they can influence each other, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. It’s like mixing colors in a painting.
We think of Culture Crush mainly when we speak about the experience many people go through when they decide to move and live in a different country than their own. Yet, each family can have a culture, school, organization, group of friends, and all this we can find within the same country among people who speak the same language. Nevertheless, the cultures can be different, which implies that the set of values people live by are different.
When we put it in the context of cultures in different countries, I believe that the best way to look at it is that these different values blend, and something good can come out of them. I do not necessarily agree with the use of the word “crush”. At the same time, I believe it comes from the feeling people can get when they realized that perhaps something they have thought to be true all their lives doesn’t work, and it can have a completely different meaning in the new culture they chose to live in.
The pain caused by the feeling that someone can have when they realized they have made a mistake, or have misunderstood words and signals, can be so strong that it can be similar to a punch in the face – therefore, perhaps some muscles or bones would be smashed and altered. It is a figure of speech, where its plasticity can give a better picture of the real act. Yet, I believe that if there is anything that it is crushing, it is on one side of the brain, which contains the limiting beliefs one has lived under for a very long time. The heart and the body are feeling “the crush” the brain is suffering. It is like the soul is aking.
This crush can feel stronger or softer, depending on how “black and white” people are wired to think from their own cultures. If someone grew up and lived in a system where rules were whipped into the people, and there was little room for tolerance for creativity or who people are, this would “crush” with a tolerant way of life. When I say tolerant, I mean that people were allowed to make mistakes and find out for themselves how to function within the system of rules they were born into. After all, we learn better from our own experiences and mistakes. Making mistakes is what allows us to grow and transform at the cellular level.
Imposed rules and learned rules without understanding the process behind them will affect people differently. Even if people do as they are told at the surface, there will always be frustration underneath the smiling mask. That frustration is linked with not experiencing the process on own skin, and the lack of the lesson, which is not learned from experience.
There are some that we all have in common when it comes to values, no matter the culture, and I like to quote here David Rock. He says that we all have our perception about five main areas in our lives: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness, known in neuroscience since 2008 as the SCARF model.
When we meet other cultures, we do not know how these values are positioned in each of them.
Status has to do with who do we become in the new contexts. In the country of origin, studies, diplomas, and leadership positions would give status and a specific type of identity. It is possible that neither of that would be important in the new country, yet the personality and the soft skills would be more critical in terms of status. Here we can meet a lot of considerable confusion between being kind and being stupid. They are not the same thing, and I will address this discussion in another article.
When we are new in a new country, our need for certainty is also challenged, especially when we don’t know anything about how the visa paperwork process is working and how long it will take, if we will be allowed to work or not. Another example would be having a boyfriend or a girlfriend from another country and not knowing their intentions and how the relationship will go further.
If we come from a tolerant culture, we will tend to recognize the need for autonomy people have. This means we will let them make their own decisions because this is what we are used to. But if we come from a dictatorship, for instance, where we were told what to do and how to feel, and we would have had harsh rules imposed on us, we will have a stronger tendency to impose ideas and rules on other people simply because we do not know any better. That will threaten people’s autonomy from the tolerant culture, and they are going to react strongly to that. They may not like to be told what to do.
Relatedness has to do with how familiar the behavior of the people we meet is. Is there anything we can relate to? Is there anything we can recognize? The things we see in a new culture and how we interpret them are entirely different from how the locals see them. Therefore this can create frictions, especially if we see something that may have negative connotations and the locals were not aware of it and never thought about that perspective. One obvious thing would be the skin color, and another straightforward example I can think of is the definition of “network”. In some countries, it means something positive. In other countries can mean “corruption”.
Fairness is about what feels fair for each individual. In terms of immigration, we will find here many shades. It has to do with being a woman or a man and the color of the skin, immigrants from 1st world countries or 3rd world countries or from between, which is quite a grey zone. Former colony powers or former colonies and the list of distinctions can continue. Politics has a significant role in this aspect as well. We may hear the word “discrimination” here quite a bit. Not an easy subject, which again I will address in another article.
As immigrants, not knowing how these five elements are defined in the new culture can cause many misunderstandings that can come under the category of “culture crush”.
Which of the five elements of the SCARF model is the most important to you? How do you recognize when those elements are triggered in you by the people in your new adoptive country, and how do you realize when you activate one of those five within the local people you meet?
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I wish you a smooth landing in the new country of residence!