Module 2: Intercultural communication, local culture and customs

Lesson Title

Cultural parameter: Distance and privacy



This lesson wants to shed light on the different needs of people for distance and privacy and how these are influenced by the cultural settings. 


Lesson time foreseen

1 hour


Lesson Content

Some people stand closer to one another when speaking than do others. When such a person is talking to a person from another culture, from the latter point of view he or she is entering the “personal space”, and violates their privacy. Please beware that according to their cultural embossments, some people need more or less personal space – you can notice from their position (in a physical encounter) or reaction (e.g. when asking for a date).  Some cultures (e.g. in the United States), tend to partition their lives a great deal. One's family life and work life often do not intersect except at a retirement party, for instance. In such a culture, one would not necessarily ask or know much about their colleagues’ private life, religion, hobbies etc.

Another parameter which plays an important role is the degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups.  According to the cultural dimensions theory [link to introduction],  individualistic societies have loose ties that often only relates an individual to his/her immediate family. They emphasize the “I” versus the “we.” Its counterpart, collectivism, describes a society in which tightly-integrated relationships tie extended families and others into in-groups. These in-groups are laced with undoubted loyalty and support each other when a conflict arises with another in-group.

When you pay attention of the way people are interacting with each other, you will soon get a sense of their need for privacy and be able and respond accordingly – maybe by sharing your observations and make them understand your needs, in order to find a compromise?

Example [partners please add descriptions from your cultures]: You may find the Germans need for privacy rather low, for example in business settings: when working closely with each other, people would ask about their colleagues private life as well, and a good team atmosphere many times is even supported by the employer (e.g. through annual staff outings) with friendships arising between collegues. This reflects also in the greetings : although the most common way (in formal situations) is still the handshake, persons knowing each other a bit better may also hug, or kiss on the cheeks.

Exercise: in groups of two, stand facing each other in a distance of about two meters, then slowly walk closer. Discuss, possibly also with observers: How close can you get with the other person without feeling uncomfortable? Did you have eye-contact? How was your body posture?




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