American Culture: What comes to mind?

On the first day of my American Culture class I asked everyone to take out a piece of paper and either draw a picture of American culture or describe it in a word or two. I wanted the students to share the first thing that popped into their heads. Almost half the class said–you guessed it–the name of the most recognized fast food restaurant in the world.

The Golden Arches
Mickey D’s


McDonald’s is the world’s #1 fast-food company by sales, with more than 33,000 restaurants in 119 countries. Brothers Dick and Mac McDonald who ran a very efficient burger restaurant in San Bernardino, California had no idea that their single burger joint would go on to become a McDonald’s franchise empire under entrepreneur Ray Kroc.

Iceberg Analogy of Culture

Beyond Culture (1976) by Edward T. Hall

In 1976, Hall developed the iceberg analogy of culture. If the culture of a society were like an iceberg, Hall reasoned, than there are some aspects visible, above the water, but there is a larger portion hidden beneath the surface.

The external, or conscious, part of culture is what we can see above the water line.  This tip of the iceberg includes behaviors and some beliefs.

The internal, or subconscious, part of culture is below the surface of a society and includes beliefs, values and thought patterns that underlie behavior.

Hall suggests that the only way to learn the internal culture of others is to actively participate in their culture.

When one first enters a new culture, only the most overt behaviors are apparent. As one spends more time in that new culture, the underlying beliefs, values, and thought patterns that dictate that behavior will be uncovered.

What this model teaches us is that we cannot judge a new culture based only on what we see when we first enter it. We must take the time to get to know individuals from that culture and interact with them. Only by doing so can we uncover the values and beliefs that underlie the behavior of that society.

(Source: © 2010)