Cultural influence refers to the impact that a culture, which includes cultural norms, values, beliefs, and practices, has on the behaviors and perceptions of individuals who belong to it or interact with it.
Shared cultural norms about ideas and behaviors shape the way individuals within that group perceive the world and behave. For instance, the way an American teenager behaves at a social gathering might be different from how a teenager from Japan behaves at a similar gathering, thanks to cultural influence.
In sociology and social psychology, the concepts of “socialization” and “internalization” are used to explain cultural influence. People who spend a long time immersed in a culture become socialized to the norms of the culture, which may lead them to internalize (genuinely embrace) those norms – they’ve become influenced by their cultural group.
Cultural Influence Examples
1. Language Usage: Language usage refers to the manner in which a community uses language to communicate. This may vary within and across cultural boundaries and encompasses idiomatic expressions, slang, or scripts. In France, for example, formal language (vous) is used when addressing someone you’ve just met, signaling respect and distance, while in Australia, casual, informal language (using first names immediately) is more the norm, signaling friendliness and ease.
2. Work Ethic: This pertains to the cultural standards and expectations around work and business practices. It includes attitudes towards punctuality, dedication, and appropriate behavior in professional settings. For example, in countries like Japan and South Korea, the emphasis on an intense work ethic is exemplified by long hours spent at the office, while in Sweden, work-life balance is highly valued, often prioritizing flexible working hours and ample vacation time.
3. Dining Practices: Dining practices are the cultural norms associated with eating habits, food preparation, and shared meals. In Ethiopia, for instance, it’s common to share a communal plate and to feed each other as a sign of love or friendship—a practice known as “gursha.” In contrast, individual plates are typically used in U.S. dining practices.
4. Wedding Traditions: Wedding traditions involve the cultural rituals, ceremonies, and customs that surround marriage. For instance, in India, a traditional ceremony may involve several days of celebration with various rituals like Mehndi (applying henna to the bride’s hands and feet). Contrarily, in the United States, a common wedding tradition involves the couple exchanging vows and rings in front of a gathering of family and friends, followed by a reception.
5. Education System: The education system reflects the cultural values within a society that shape learning methodologies and the significance placed on education. For example, in Finland, the education system places a strong emphasis on equal opportunities for all, shorter school days, minimal homework, and a focus on holistic learning. In contrast, education in China is known for its rigorous academic structure, with competitive exams like the Gaokao determining university placement.
6. Clothing Styles: This refers to cultural norms regarding attire, which often depend on factors such as weather, tradition, and modesty. For example, in India, traditional outfits like sarees and salwar kameez are common, reflecting a rich history of textile and design traditions. On the other hand, Western countries like the U.S. and the UK, the clothing style is generally more casual with jeans and T-shirts as standard wear.
7. Religious Practices: Religious practices refer to the ways in which individuals or communities worship, based on their religious beliefs. For instance, Muslims practice Salah (prayer) five times a day facing towards the Kaaba in Mecca, a practice reflecting deep spiritual devotion. Comparatively, in Buddhism, meditation and mindfulness practices form a core part of religious practice, reflecting the emphasis on inner peace and enlightenment.
8. Holiday Celebrations: Holiday celebrations refer to the observance of significant cultural or religious events. An example is the Chinese Lunar New Year, marked with feasts, dragon dances, and red envelopes containing money. In Mexico, Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is celebrated with altars, marigold flowers, and sugar skulls to honor departed loved ones.
9. Death Rituals: Death rituals are culturally specific practices around death, including burial and mourning practices. For instance, in Jewish tradition, a seven-day mourning period known as “shiva” is observed, during which family members gather in one home to receive condolences. Conversely, in Ghana, funerals are often lavish affairs involving extensive community participation, dance, and celebration to honor the deceased.
10. Music Styles: Music styles are significantly influenced by cultural traditions and sensibilities. For instance, Flamenco music and dance are synonymous with Spanish culture—especially the Andalusian region—with dramatic singing, intricate guitar playing, and expressive dance. In comparison, in Jamaica, Reggae with its distinctive rhythm and socially conscious lyrics has its roots in earlier forms like Mento and Ska music.
11. Artistic Trends: Artistic trends are ways in which art, including visual and performing, is produced and appreciated in a culture. For instance, minimalist art, emphasizing extreme simplicity in form and color, emerged in New York in the early 1960s. In contrast, in the Italian Renaissance period, art emphasized realism and precise detail, often showcasing religious and mythological themes.
12. Gender Roles: Gender roles refer to societal expectations around the behavior, activities, and responsibilities associated with each gender. In traditional societies, such as in rural parts of many countries, women are often expected to take on domestic duties while men are viewed as the breadwinners. However, in many modern societies, like Sweden, there’s an active promotion of gender equality in all spheres, including household chores and childcare.
13. Personal Space Norms: Personal space norms pertain to the culturally conditioned preferences and behaviors related to physical proximity during social interactions. In countries such as the U.S. or the UK, individuals usually prefer a larger personal space, requiring about an arm’s length distance. Conversely, in countries like Italy or Argentina, it’s common to stand closer during conversations, emphasizing social intimacy.
14. Greeting Styles: Greeting styles refer to the customary ways individuals acknowledge each other in different cultures. For instance, in Japan, a bow is a common greeting, with the depth of the bow indicating the level of respect or gratitude. In contrast, in France, a light kiss on both cheeks is a standard greeting among friends and family.
15. Culinary Preferences: Culinary preferences describe a culture’s traditional food and beverages, cooking methods, and eating habits. For instance, Italian cuisine is renowned for its regional diversity, pasta, and pizza, expressing a love for various flavors and high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. In contrast, traditional Japanese food, such as sushi and ramen, often incorporates rice, seafood, and vegetables, symbolizing their historical connection to the sea and agricultural practices.
16. Parenting Styles: Parenting styles reflect cultural norms and expectations about child-rearing, behavior, discipline, and the roles of parents. For example, in many Scandinavian countries like Sweden, “permissive” parenting styles dominate, emphasizing equality and open communication between parent and child. In contrast, some East Asian societies, like China, might lean towards a more “authoritarian” style, where obedience and academic excellence are highly valued.
17. Sports Practices: Sports practices includes both the kinds of sports that are popular in a culture and the way they are undertaken and celebrated. For example, in Australia, sports like cricket, rugby, and Australian rules football are extremely popular and watching games is often a significant social event. In contrast, in Brazil, football (or soccer) is deeply ingrained in the culture, and the country has produced some of the world’s best players.
18. Social Hierarchies: Social hierarchies define the arrangements of individuals, or groups of individuals, into a ranked order of importance, influence or status. In India, the long-standing but officially abolished caste system is a key example of social hierarchy, delineating social ranks and occupations. Conversely, in the U.S., economic class often informs social hierarchy, with the ‘American Dream’ ideology emphasizing the possibility of mobility.
19. Environmental Stewardship: It refers to the cultural values, practices, and behaviors related to environmental conservation and sustainability. For example, in many Indigenous cultures, like the Maori in New Zealand, land and water are considered sacred, encouraging practices of protection and preservation. In contrast, countries such as Denmark lead in protecting the environment through advanced waste management techniques and renewable energy usage.
20. Body Language: Body language includes culturally-grained postures, gestures or facial expressions that convey non-verbal communication. In cultures like the U.S. or UK, making eye contact is seen as a sign of honesty and confidence. However, in other cultures such as in Japan, prolonged eye contact could be considered disrespectful or intrusive.
21. Health Perception: Health perception differs considerably around the globe, with cultural influences shaping how individuals understand health and illness, and how they interact with health-care systems. In Western countries like Canada, there is a strong emphasis on scientific medicine, whereas, in countries like China, traditional practices such as acupuncture and herbal medicine are widely accepted and integrated into health care.
22. Time Management: Time management refers to the cultural tendencies towards productivity, punctuality, and the valuation of time. For instance, in Germany, punctuality is highly valued—being late for an appointment is typically seen as disrespectful. In more laid-back cultures, such as in ‘island time’ in the Caribbean, there is a more relaxed attitude towards time, being late is often socially acceptable.
23. Legal Systems: Legal systems reflect cultural beliefs about justice, order, and individual rights. For example, the United States, based on its constitutional principles, follows a system of common law largely built upon precedents. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia follows religious law, known as Sharia, which is derived from the teachings of the Quran.
24. Business Practices: Business practices include methods, customs, and societal expectations that guide business transactions. In the Netherlands, decision-making is often a collaborative process, including as many stakeholders as possible, while in Japan ‘Keiretsu’ or groups of companies with intertwined relationships are common, reflecting a culture of cooperation and loyalty.
25. Recreation Practices: Recreational practices pertain to the dominant leisure activities in a culture, reflecting societal values, history, and lifestyle. For example, in New Zealand, outdoor activities such as rugby, cricket, and water sports are popular, reflecting the culture’s love for sports and outdoor life. Conversely, in Japan, indoor activities such as karaoke, manga, and video games are widely enjoyed, reflecting the culture’s fondness for technological innovation and fine arts.
26. Technological Integration: Technological integration pertains to the extent to which a society adopts and utilizes technology in daily life. In South Korea, high-speed internet, cutting-edge smartphones, and automation are ubiquitous, even including a robot in every home as a government goal. By contrast, in Bhutan, one of the world’s last nations to introduce television and the internet, there is a more cautious approach to technology integration due to concerns about cultural preservation.
27. Hospitality Customs: Hospitality customs refer to the cultural norms related to being a host and treating guests. In many Middle Eastern countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, guests are welcomed with a tray of dates and coffee, signaling generosity and goodwill. Meanwhile, in Japan, the tea ceremony, ‘Chado,’ is a historic custom of welcoming guests, involving careful preparation and presentation of Matcha tea.
28. Child-rearing Practices: Child-rearing practices reflect cultural beliefs about child development, discipline, and the parent-child relationship. In the Central African country of the Aka tribe, shared parenting—where fathers have an equal, if not higher, role in childcare—is integral. Contrastingly, in the US, it is typically common to see a more nuclear family structure, with the mother and father sharing childcare tasks differently defined by gender roles.
29. Conversation Etiquette: Conversation etiquette involves culturally informed norms for communication, including the pace of conversation, the appropriateness of certain topics, and the usual level of straightforwardness or indirectness. In cultures like Brazil, interruptions during dialogue are common and signal interest and engagement in the conversation. On the other hand, in cultures like Japan, indirect communication is preferred, and respecting speaking turns is essential.
30. Attitudes Towards Age: Attitudes towards the elderly and aging processes can vary widely, reflecting cultural values around respect, familial roles, and aging. In traditional Chinese society, elderly family members are highly respected, and their opinions are often sought in family decisions. Contrastingly, in western cultures, there is a stronger emphasis on youth and independence, and older adults may not hold the same familial authority.
31. Respect for Authority: Respect for Authority lays down how individuals interact with those in positions of power in society, such as elders, bosses, or government officials. In hierarchical societies such as South Korea, high levels of deference are shown towards authorities (e.g., the use of honorific speech when addressing seniors in professional set-ups). In more egalitarian societies like The Netherlands, the approach to authority is less formal.
32. Social Manners: Social manners refer to a culture’s codes of conduct or etiquette, dictating acceptable social behavior. For example, in India, eating with left hand is generally discouraged, stemming from particular hygienic beliefs. Across the Atlantic in the United States, it’s customary to hold the door open for a person directly behind you as a common courtesy.
33. Beauty Standards: Beauty standards reflect a culture’s ideals of attractiveness. In South Korea, a slim figure, pale skin, and a small ‘V-shaped’ face are commonly seen as beautiful, heavily influencing the country’s robust cosmetic surgery industry. In contrast, in many African societies like Sudan, a fuller figure is seen as a sign of beauty, associated with prosperity and fertility.
34. Political Views: Political views encapsulate how individuals within a culture view government, law, social policy, and public affairs. For instance, citizens of Sweden usually lean towards progressive views, favoring extensive social welfare and equality. Conversely, political perspectives in the United States fall within a broader spectrum, from conservative to liberal, reflecting the country’s diversity of thought and opinion.
35. Architectural Styles: Architectural styles reveal cultural attitudes about aesthetics, purpose, and place. For example, traditional Japanese architecture values harmony with nature, known for its minimalist design and natural materials. On the other hand, Gothic architecture, prominent in medieval Europe, particularly France, displays attention to verticality and light, exemplified by features like pointed arches and elaborate ornamental designs.
Related: A List of Cultural Taboos
Cultural Influence on Immigrants
The concepts of integration, adaptation and assimilation are used to explain the cultural influence of the host culture on immigrants.
- Cultural adaptation: Cultural adaptation refers to the process through which individuals change to fit into a new cultural environment. This process can also include the newcomers influencing the culture they have joined. For example, when a student from China studies in the U.S., they might start incorporating American customs into their daily lives (e.g., celebrating Thanksgiving), while also introducing Chinese traditions to their American friends (e.g., making dumplings during Lunar New Year).
- Cultural integration: Cultural integration describes the blending of new and native cultures. Integration occurs when a person absorbs the new culture and simultaneously maintains their original culture. This gives birth to a hybrid, or multicultural, way of life. For example, in Canada, a diverse multicultural nation, a Punjabi-Canadian may retain their Indian traditions (e.g., speaking Punjabi at home, celebrating Diwali) while also participating in Canadian cultural practices (e.g., taking time off during the Christmas holidays).
- Cultural assimilation: Cultural assimilation refers to the process of completely adopting the practices and attitudes of a different culture, often at the expense of one’s original culture. This occurs mostly when a person strives to fit into a host society and sheds their native culture, which may make them seem indistinguishable from other members of the host culture. Many immigrants who came to America in the early 20th century, such as those from Eastern Europe, went through a process of cultural assimilation, shedding their native languages and customs to adopt American English and culture (e.g., changing family names to sound more “American”).
Cultures influence us in a variety of subtle ways, but the combined influence of the culture in which we are immersed are immense. The window of normative behavior in our culture shapes what is acceptable and unacceptable to do in our daily lives, and shapes the amount of agency we have in our everyday lives. While we’re most influenced by the culture in which we’re raise, the immigrant experience shows how we’re also influenced in adulthood, especially when we become immersed in a new culture well into adulthood.
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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]