Trenholm (2014) makes a broader definition of culture considering the wide use of the word. According to Trenholm (2014, p. 321), culture makes up of all-round life of an individual and activities learned and shared among members of the same cultural group. The author’s definition exemplifies the unlimited contextual scope of culture. The ambiguity in the description is furthered by Klopf who defines culture as “the environment made by humans” (Trenholm, 2014, p. 321). The definitions exhibit the need to understand culture in a local context by comparing different cultural group practices to derive an in-depth understanding. As such, this study undertakes an interview analysis of two individuals of different cultural groups and examines their cultural ideologies using the five basic dimensions of culture; individualism/collectivism, power distance, gender expectation, time orientation, and high-low context. I am a non-Hispanic (Irish American), and my interviewees are Mr. Freeman, an African-American, and Mr. Chan, an Asian-American. Mr. Freeman and Mr. Chan live in Los Angeles and are aged 50 and 45 years, respectively. The interviewees are highly knowledgeable about their cultures due to their experience and high level of education. Therefore, the interviewees will ensure an in-depth understanding of their cultural representation and comparison to the existing intercultural communication. Thus, the two men believe to be the best fit for the study due to their high regard and attachment to their cultures.
Individualism represents a group of people who prefer to uphold the self over the population’s interests while collectivists favor the community’s needs. Engleberg and Wynn (2015, p. 47) reiterate that the individualism or collectivism cultural dimensions allude to the degree of closeness of people to other individuals in the community. America has a predominant individualism culture; however, some citizens prescribe to the collectivism cultural dimension. Mr. Freeman and Mr. Chan exhibit different cultures with the African-American displaying individualism while the Asian-American is well-acquitted with his collectivist society. When asked about his family, Mr. Freeman mentioned his daughter and late wife. The need for further clarification led to him introducing his brother and sisters as “the other family.” After the death of his wife, Mr. Freeman now considers his daughter as his only family. The respondent’s response shows his view of a nuclear household as separate from the extended family. The interviewee’s response takes after the individualism culture that limits one to themselves hence not socially responsible for others outside their nuclear family. On the other hand, Mr. Chan introduced to me more than ten people as his family, including his wife, children, father, mother, brothers, sisters, uncles, and other members of the extended household. Unlike the first interviewee, Mr. Chan included his father and siblings not because they are alive, but since he believed they are part of his family and each owes the other some level of care and gratitude. The choice of family span indicates that Mr. Chan’s culture is collectivism. The Asian- American community adopts a collectivism approach as opposed to Mr. Freeman’s individualistic society. Mr. Chan commonly uses the term “we” whenever answering questions about his family as opposed to Mr. Freeman who prefers “I.” The Asian community emphasizes on the values and practices that unite them and prioritize society as opposed to an individual. Chan stated that the individualism philosophy is a “selfish ideology that undermines the achievement of common goals for the nation.” As such, I found Mr. Chan’s view of individualism interesting because he believes in the philosophy. However, I believe that collectivism is expensive and cumbersome because an individual’s decisions are based on other people’s interests as opposed to self-interest.
The interviewees share a significantly similar power distance due to the American constitutional culture that sets a precedence of equity and power accountability. Engleberg and Wynn (2015, p. 48) define power distance as the “physical and psychological distance between people in power and those out with reference to relationships, institutions, and organizations.” The high-power societies depict a large variation between people with and without authority while in the low-power cadre, there is a low disparity between these individuals. The power distance culture has reduced the gap between people in positions of power and members of the society considerably, especially on legal precedence that ensures everyone enjoys similar benefits under the U.S. citizenship. However, Mr. Chan agrees to a large power gap in Asian countries. He states that “in China, you either have it or you don’t, and no one cares about that.” However, in comparison to the U.S., Mr. Chan argues that the legal low-power system enhances intercultural communication. Mr. Chan explains that the power system in Asia is down to earth due to the collectivist culture. In contrast, Mr. Freeman cites low power differences in his African-American culture. He states that African-Americans exhibit an interpersonal power difference, which he blames for the death of his wife. Mr. Freeman indicates that he lost his wife because a senior superintendent at the hospital where the wife was admitted refused to release her file for transfer because her shift had lapsed. Today, Mr. Freeman believes there is a larger power distance between different American cultural groups, especially between non-Hispanics and minorities. Relatively, I admit that such claims against Irish-Americans are very common, thus I agree with Mr. Freeman’s assertions.
Gender expectations are the cultural assumptions that guide the behaviors of women and men in society. Cultural dimension sets the division of labor based on gender factors, which allocate men tough and material-oriented roles while women are assigned nurturing tasks (Engleberg & Wynn, 2015, p. 49). The interviewees’ cultural practices showed similarity in gender expectations. Their cultural groups perceived a conservative gender role with regards to the tasks that women and men can perform. Mr. Chan’s Asian-American culture depicts a strict line of duty between men and women. Ideologically, he argues that his mother’s role was to take care of the family thus leading to his wife resigning from a ten-year teaching career to manage her household. When asked about his influence on his wife’s choice, he pointed out that “No, I never asked her to, our culture did. My wife saw the commitment I had at work being employed in a family business thereby decided to take care of the children, particularly our sick last born.” Mr. Chan’s explanation shows that gender roles in his cultural group stem from self-conviction, whereby women prefer to take care of the family while the men work. Mr. Freeman holds similar views on gender expectations, but his situation was different from his anticipations. Mr. Freeman was brought up by his mother after his father died from an asthmatic attack. As such, his mother took up the role of a father to enable her to provide for her family. Similarly, Mr. Freeman’s wife opted to take care of the family but died leaving him to become a father and mother to his daughter. As a result, Mr. Freeman changed his beliefs due to his experiences and now advocates for his cultural dimension to allow men and women to perform all tasks.
The interviewees were well informed about time orientation cultural dimension based on their responsibilities and phase of life. The interviewees agreed that time eased their intercultural communication and helped them to overcome barriers such as ethnocentrism and apprehension (O’Hair & Wiemann, 2012, p. 4). Coupled with technological advancements, the interviewees felt the need to cope with time at the pace of socio-economic development. Mr. Freeman remarked that “Today if you don’t keep time, you may find yourself in a world away from others.” Similarly, Mr. Chan believes that his life is marked with time as he learned time management form his father and opted to teach his children the practice.
The interviewees narrated different opinions with regards to their high-low context in culture. Mr. Chan accounts for the low times he experienced at the non-Hispanic dominated factory. Although not expressed in words, Mr. Chan notes that his colleagues’ actions led him to resign and join the family business, where he at his highest context considering the collectivism culture of Asian-Americans. On the other hand, Mr. Freeman reiterates his worst experience at the hospital during his wife’s illness, medical negligence due to his culture. However, the interviewees find comfort and moments of high context in their cultures that oversee a non-competitive urge as outside philosophies (Jirwe, Gerrish, & Emami, 2010, p. 437). Thus, they are held by the American low-context culture whereby every individual is expected to find his place.
The interview proved beneficial to the study as it offered the best opportunity to understand the cultural dimensions learned in class in a real-world situation. Interviewing individuals from two diverse cultural backgrounds helped me to highlight the similarities and differences that amount to cultural diversity. In addition, the interview helped me to understand intercultural communication in Los Angeles, especially being an Irish-American, since the area hosts people with different cultures. Moreover, the interviewees and I are great friends and have known each other for many years; thus the study was a platform to explore intercultural exploits in the larger American society and connect with friends. Therefore, the interview is instrumental to the study course a, consequently, my future career development.
Engleberg, I., & Wynn, D. (2015). Think communication (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson.
Jirwe, M., Gerrish, K., & Emami, A. (2010). Student nurses’ experiences of communication in cross‐cultural care encounters. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 24(3), 436-444.
O’Hair, D., & Wiemann (2012). Real communication/Dan O’Hair, Mary Wiemann, Dorothy Imrich Mullin, Jason J. Teven–Boston, New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 642.
Trenholm, S. (2014). Interpersonal communication (pp. 10-12). New York: Oxford University Press.