You can’t practise swimming without water

You can’t practise swimming without water

Hofstede, the infamous grandfather of cross-cultural studies, said, “Studying
culture without experiencing culture shock is like practising swimming without

I think this guy tried to swim without water….
Image Source: Gratisography

Usually we think of culture shock as something to avoid (in fact, I provide training on this very topic in order to help people minimise it).

BUT Hofstede has a valid point.

In reality, when we are faced with a culture or person coming from a completely different world than our own, we are bound to come across something we feel awkward about…offended by…even things we deem are morally “wrong.”**

This is not a bad thing. This means that you are actually starting to experience the culture – you are engaged in the process of cross-cultural exchange. You are actually trying to build a bridge to something else that doesn’t match how you think it should!

Should you then run away and stop building that collaborative bridge? (See what I did there 😉)

No! You should continue to wrestle with it. When you struggle through the thought process of trying to understand where “the other side” is coming from, you are forced to wrestle with your own cultural preconceptions too. It increases your own self-awareness.

I would also add that the key to reaching understanding is to conduct this “wrestle” with awareness of your intentions – you want to come at it with the intention to understand – not to experience conflict just for the sake of saying you’ve experienced it.

To put it another way, using Hofstede’s metaphor – you don’t just jump into water without trying to learn to swim, just so you can say you know what it likes to feel wet. That is just asking for trouble.

So when you’re next affronted by something in another culture, don’t just be offended. Take a step back; try and understand it – and recognise those offensive feelings mean you are truly practising your cross-cultural communication.

**Of course there are some things in the world that are actually morally wrong. but I’m not talking about those.


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