There are some metaphors in life that apply across many situations. For example, the amount of times you boil a situation down to a “fork in the road”, or the amount of “the world is divided into two groups of people…” sayings. Well, an iceberg is similarly used to create many models.
With an iceberg, what you see on top is literally just “the tip of the iceberg”. Most of the ice is actually beneath the water. So it can be used to apply to a lot of life situations, where what you see or what you experience is just a small part of what is really going on (e.g. faith, a person, the internet, economics, reputation – just to name a few)
It is similar with cultures. What you see on the surface is just the beginning of a culture. Unfortunately, most preparation for overseas travel only focuses on the “tip”. For example, when traveling to India, you are told that they eat really spicy food, wear really colourful clothing, but that modesty is key. In other words, the focus is on what you can immediately see: food, language, national dress etc. There will also be some obvious values (like how modest the country is), but there is sooooo much more to it.
A country’s history, politics, gender roles (e.g. what is masculinity?), understanding of time, social rituals, religions, body language, family structure and so many more play a massive part in culture. Even though they are not the most obvious aspects, they are often the strongest factors, that will bring out the strongest emotive responses if boundaries are crossed. For example, if two countries were previously one, they will have differences in the way they recall the history of the country. If you mention a view that is alternative to this, you could find yourself in very, very hot water (the subcontinent and the division of India and Pakistan is an example of this).
The main take-away? If you are having a cross-cultural adventure, please research more than just what the country’s favourite food is!!!