Middle Context Cultures

Lesson 2: Topic 3 of 19

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Are there middle context cultures? Sort of. Greece, Italy, and Spain are middle-of-the-context-road cultures in some ways, but for quite different reasons. Italians tend to gesture important information with their hands, which can require body language knowledge (high context). They also tend toward using a good amount of sayings and idioms in their speech (also high context). These verbal practices require insider cultural knowledge. However, in general verbal speech tends toward explicit, detail-laden meaning (low context). In this way we might consider some Southern European cultures to be almost middle context. But overall, many more cultures in the world are considered high context than low. 

Think about a bigger question, then. Which transition would be easier, in terms of understanding: moving into a high context culture as a low context person, or moving into a low context situation as a high context person? Hmm…

The (perhaps obvious) answer is that it is easier for a high context person to move from their culture, with its insider knowledge, to a more “wordy” low context culture. They have the advantage of stepping into a realm where many expectations are spelled out in written form, or some members of the culture may explain the rules verbally. This doesn’t mean that it is easy to move between cultures, but that high context to low context movement gives a person a potential overall advantage of understanding. 

A Korean family moving into the United States would have certain advantages over an American family moving to Korea. Of course, personalities and flexibility and all sorts of other factors figure into how well a person or family adapts to a new culture. But in terms of communication it may be easier for the Koreans moving to Arizona to learn what they need for cultural adjustment. While books and classes may be abundant to help in both scenarios, the people around them would have different means of communication. This is something worth remembering in a highly mobile world. But by no means is any cross-cultural transition truly easy!