3 Cultures Meet at a (Coffee) Bar: Understanding the Definitions

Cross-Cultural runs into MultiCultural and they go get a coffee together. While imbibing their brew, InterCultural spies them from afar. They invite her to pull up a chair to their table and she joins them. They have a grand ole time discussing their similarities and differences, seeking out personal definitions of themselves.

“Well, we do share that term, ‘culture,’” Cross-Cultural, or “CC” for short, declares.

“Oh, yes,” MultiCultural, or “MC,” chimes in. “Yet those humans sometimes seem so confused by that very word, ‘culture.’ To tell you the truth, sometimes so am I.”

Defining “Culture”

“Maybe we need to consider that word first,” CC offers. “After all, it does define who we are, right?”

“Sure,” MC agrees. “’Culture’ is such a loaded, nuanced term, yet often even a five-year-old humanoid gets it. This I find quite remarkable.”

“Yes, indeed,” CC concurs. “In fact, I googled it. The words “culture” and “cultural” rank in the top 1000 most frequently used words in the English language,” he proclaims with an air of pride.

He went on. “Though I can’t say exactly how this plays out in the other 6,500 spoken languages in the world, I would guess there are many similarities.”

“Well, I should hope so” MC interrupts. “Our very existence depends upon it!”

CC and MC suddenly notice their friend, InterCultural (“IC” for short), sitting there, silent.

“So, don't you have anything to add to this conversation?” CC implores.

“Of course I do, but I’m just thinking,” IC murmurs. “While you two were talking, I took the liberty of consulting my online dictionaries for  clearer definitions of ‘culture.’ Here is the best I found:”

“As a noun, ‘culture’ may refer to artistic and literary expressions of collective human intellectual achievement – or a refined understanding of this.

Humans also often use ‘culture’ to single out specific customs, artistic endeavors, social institutions and accomplishments of a particular nation, people or other social group.”

She pauses for a sip of her latte. Pensive, she continues.

“And let us not forget the third, biological definition: the cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells and other substances in an artificial, nutrient-rich medium. In this last sense, ‘culture’ can also be used as a verb, of course. The humanoids learn this in junior high school science labs, when they culture cells in a petri dish.”

Satisfied, IC takes another sip.

CC jumps in. “Ah, so many definitions!. But let’s just take that second one here. We’re talking about features of a specific nation, people or other social group.”

So, What about those Other Terms?

“Okay, got that,” MC pipes up. “But where does that leave us?”

“Well, as I see it…,” IC begins.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yada, yada, yada. More of your intellectual jargon,” CC jibes.

“No, I want to hear what she has to say,” MC pipes up. “IC is always thinking, often bringing the best of what we have to offer together in a coherent way. Give her some space, man!”

“Thanks, MC,” she grins.

“As I understand it, CC, you are all about comparing and contrasting the cultures of different groups. Sometimes it’s just between two groups, sometimes it’s among many. But you’re kind of into this same/difference paradigm, right?”

“Well, I guess you could say I am!” CC beams. “I like looking at how different sets of those humanoids operate, how the various influences upon them make them uniquely who they are. True.”

“And you like to compare them across variables, right?” IC suggests.

“Whoa, whoa there! What, exactly, do you mean?” CC questions.

Compare and Contrast vs. Points of Similarity

“I mean, for example,” IC continues, “you might consider the different foods and eating customs of, say, French people vs. those from the Indian subcontinent.”

“That reminds me of a great movie,” MC pipes up. “Did you ever see The 100-Foot Journey? It really captures your point!”

“Yes, I've seen that movie,” IC responds. “It shows the cross-cultural differences, but also emphasizes the similarities through a common love of cooking. You know, it was first a book. But that's beside the point. Thinking about this story leads me to define myself.”

“You? Define yourself?” CC questions.

“Yes, of course! Taking that wonderful book and movie as an example, what we saw develop, as time went on, was an intercultural outcome: two very different cultures coming together – in this case, around the subject of food and cooking – to bring about a unique, new (and blended) product. A fusion of sorts,” IC declares, a broad smile across her face. She is in her element.

“Oh, I get it,” MC interjects. “But where does that leave me?”

So, What do We Mean by Multiculturalism?

“I believe,” IC offers, “multiculturalism happens when many different cultures come together and each expresses its own culture in its own way. So, like when you go to an international food festival, you are seeing multiculturalism – and the appreciation of it – happening there.”

“I think it’s a good thing, celebrating all those diverse cultures,” CC contends.

“Oh, yes, I’m not arguing against it,” IC replies. “In fact, appreciating all that diversity allows human minds to expand. They can come to understand their way is not the only way of experiencing life. They can even get a glimpse of the bigger picture, of the human experience and consider the Master Designer of it all.”

A Quick Review

“OK, so let me just get this straight,” MC offers. “I wanna go over these definitions again. So, when we talk of cross-cultural, it is all about compare and contrast. Free of judgment?”

“I think it depends upon who is doing the comparing and contrasting, unfortunately,” IC replies. “It can be value-neutral, yes.”

MC goes on. “And then intercultural speaks of what happens when two or more culture groups come together. It is focused on the outcome, what is produced through that interaction, right?”

“Right! You got it!”

“And me? If we are talking multicultural, we’re referring to various cultural groups coming together to express their unique features, like an international food fair!” MC smiles with pride.

“Yes, yes! You've got those definitions down!”

CC interrupts. “Sheesh! All this talk about food. My coffee just isn’t doing it for me. I’m gonna go and order a pastry now.”

IC and MC sneak look at each other and can’t suppress their laughter. They know CC will use anything as an excuse for a pastry.

And so it goes!

How do these definitions help clarify the different culture-related terms for you?

Image Credit: 422737 on Pixabay


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