Intercultural Communication (ICC)

In Swedish

DEFINITION: When messages (signs) are received in another culture than the one where they originated

GREATEST CHALLENGE: To get an idea of one's own LACK OF AWARENESS when meeting across cultures...

CONTENTS on this page: 1) Culture, 2) Communication, 3) Perception, 4) ICC at work, 5) Links

1.    What is culture?

An Introduction to Intercultural Communication (ICC)

1 a) The culture tree according to Birgit Öberg

ROOTS: Geography, economics, history, demography, religion, ideologies, traditions

TRUNK: Learning of cultural patterns - attitudes, values, taboos, experiences, perception

BRANCHES: The visible cultural  pattern - 1) language, gestures, 2) groups, hierarchies, 3) work, 4) sex roles, 5) territories and conceptions of space, 6) conceptions of time, 7) education, 8) play and leisure activities, 9) protection and defense, 10) ideas on nature and technology (E.T.Hall: The Silent Language)


1 b) Difference and similarity

I am: Like all, like some, unlike all. Certain differences are easy to accept, other are difficult/impossible.

1. Universal: The same for all people. I am like all others. Inherited traits and instincts.

2. Cultural: The same for people in my in-group. I am like some others. Acquired traits. 

3. Personal: Unique for one person. I am unlike every other human being. A combination of inherited and acquired traits. 

1. What is natural for human beings? Opinions vary as to: Violence, polygamy, homosexuality, suicide, euthanasia, prostitution, etc. 

2. ”Culture is the personality of the group ” Not only national culture but also based on: Sex, race, age, education, profession, region, subculture, religion, language, sexual preference, etc.

3. Do I like/dislike a person "only" for "personal" reasons or is there a clash of cultures involved? "The fundamental attribution error" is to always think TRAIT, when in fact it can be either of the four below:

1 c) Other similes

My own cultural glasses - and those of others!


My cultural house. Walls and windows. Comfort zone.

Icebergs colliding



1 d) Layers of culture

Mental software - programmed before ten years of age

SYMBOLS                                 most superficial

HEROES/VILLAINS                      inside       

RITUALS                                      further in

VALUES                                       innermost

The meanings of signs: Values: What is true, right, clean, good, pleasant, useful, satisfying. What is worth protecting, fighting for, dying for? What is frightening? What is serious (logical) and what is ridiculous (illogical)? When do people come together in solidarity? What is normal, what is taboo?

Under the surface

Dos and Taboos

US-Malaysia Puzzling questions

International Business Etiquette and Manners


1 e) Cultural dimensions according to Geert Hofstede 

Power Distance

Accepting that others have higher status and power over one's own life, obedience.

Individualism - collectivism

Independence and freedom are the most positive in individualistic cultures. Responsibility is personal (guilt feelings). Self-actuialisation is the highest goal.

In collectivistic cultures one is a role in one's in-group, which one is to favour. Money, responsibility and time is shared with others. One receives care and protection and accept the control of the group over one's own life in exchange. There are no personal opinions. (Feelings of shame + giving and losing "face")

Masculinity - femininity

Masculine cultures value things, power, and assertiveness highly - whereas people, quality of life, and caring for others are seen more as more important in the feminine cultures. (Compare with Taliban rules of conduct for men and women here)

Uncertainty Avoidance

How disturbed one feels by uncertain or unknown situations. Anxiety, but not fear. Low level of tolerance of deviants, firmer and more rules, search for "the truth". More intense expressions to relkease tension. "What is different is dangerous."

Long-term Orientation (an oriental view)

Save for the children, virtue, subordination to a higher purpose

List here of different countries' points on the indexes

More details on the manifestations of the dimensions

Read more about Hofstede and other researchers, here too

Cultural differences in education 

The Inglehart Values Map

"Clash of civilisations" world map


1 f) High or low context according to Edward T. Hall

Low context cultures (roughly, the native English speakers, Scandinavians, and those speaking German, and linguistically similar dialects), expect a high level of detail in their visual, verbal, and written communication. All the information is expected to be in what is directly and immediately communicated. The communication is contained, mainly, in the words and images themselves. A court of justice is the extreme form of low context culture.

High context  cultures (roughly, everyone else), pay a lot of attention to surrounding details and content - for example: 

  • physical location 
  • ambiance or attire
  • the individual
  • organization 

High context cultures read hidden intentions and hints. Harmony is more important than truth. Wit and fun are highly appreciated. Ways of saying "no" without uttering the word.  A pair of twins is the extreme high context culture.

Basil Bernstein's restricted and elaborated codes are analoguous.


1. g) National Cultures



1. h) A few definitions of culture
  • "the total way of life of a people", "the social legacy the individual acquires from his group", "a way of thinking, feeling, and believing", "an abstraction from behavior", "a set of standardized orientations to recurrent problems", "a set of techniques for adjusting both to the external environment and to other men" (från Clyde Kluckhohn: Mirror for Man)
  • History Shack definitions and terminology of culture
  • Andrews University's Culture definitions and traits


1. i) Texts to read as an introduction to ICC
Hemming, E. (2006). Intercultural Communication - an introduction [www].
2. Communication
2 a) Basics of communication



AWARE & INTENTIONAL: "the message", level of style, a small part of the non-verbal communication

AWARE & UNINTENTIONAL: dialect, sociolect, accent, personal style

UNAWARE & UNINTENTIONAL: the major part of the non-verbal communication

"One must remember that one's own point of view may constitute half or more of the reason for any breakdown that occurs." (Glen Fisher: Mindsets)

"Releasing the right response is more important than sending the right message" (Edwars T Hall: The Power of Hidden Differences)

Icebergs communicating


2 b) Non-verbal processes

Non-verbal behaviour

Gestures, facial expressions, eye contact and movements, posture and body movements, touching, dress, object, silence, use of time and space, prosody (voice qualities: melody, stress, pauses, volume)

Exemples: eye widening, glances, holding hands, hand signs

Rita Mårtensson: ”Business relations in Europe”, chapter 5: Communication and cultural expressions


Body movements (gestures):

-         signs with verbal translations

-         illustrators

-         expressive movements

-         conversation management

-         ”fidgeting”

Physical characteristics and attraction

Touching (haptics)


Proxemics (Three zones: elbow, wrist and fingertip)

Artefacts (e.g. dress codes)

Surrounding factors

Body Language in general

Decoding Body Language

Brazilian Body Language


Non-verbal Dictionary


Cultural Gestures

Non-verbal Communication

Filipino body language

Conception of time

Linear conception of time: One thing at a time, planning: long-term and detailed. The dictature of Time, impersonal oppression and automatic fairness. Time is money. Time can be saved. M-time (monochronous time)

Parallel conception of time: Do many things simultaneously. Living in the present - there is time in abundance. People oriented - and "unfair". Planning is seen as unrealistic behaviour. P-time (polychronous time)

Conception of space

Private sphere, angular distance (opposite, side by side, territoriality, social status, sit or stand?

Furnishing, interior decoration and architecture

Money and generosity

Money as private: Offering one's own things feels intimate, buying cigarrettes from one's friends, hair-splitting for fairness' sake. When given a compliment: -Thanks!

Money as utility: Used to create good atmosphere, generosity is prestige, offensive to pay back small amounts. When given a compliment: -Take it as a gift!


2 c) Verbal processes


Lost for words (BBC)    How to say I love you in 100 languages

Rita Mårtensson: ”Business relations in Europe”, chapter 5: Communication and cultural expressions


  • Minority complex visavi the English culture

  • Exactness, politeness, telling-offs, face loss (not admitting mistakes), not taking one's stand, need of encouragement, consensus or conflict and extreme expressions, delaying tactics, signs of respect

  • Irony, understatements, compliments

  • when not to take words literally, hints, non, c’est impossible!

  • Not answering

  • Small talk

  • Topics

  • Humour, jokes

  • Feeling sorry for others

  • Rhetoric

  • Silence

  • Ambiguous words

  • Translation and cultural interference

  • Feedback, interrupting, "the sea shell model"

  • Differing norms in different situations in different cultures 


  • Greetings

  • Titles (uncertainty avoidance)

  • Right level (respect)

  • Form of address (power distance)

  • Formality

  • Ritual submission

Airport Gag


2 c) Codes

Combinations of signs (visual and acoustic in time and space)

The secret meanings of the signs (interpreted by THE INITIATED only)

Normality and norms

What the display stands for


3. Perception

3 a) Definition

The process with which we select, interpret, categorise, evaluate and organise signals from the surrounding world.

Perception is influenced by belief, value and attitude systems. Those are learned.

David S. Hoopes on Perception

Method of transparency: DICE: Describe, Interpret, Check, and Evaluate


3 b) Expectations: Selection and interpretation

Attitudes (positive or negative)

Prejudice (stereotypes)

Attention and interest (biololgical variations and self confidence)

Outlook on people and world view

Categories (depending on one's experiences)


3 c) Attribution (explanations)


Exemple from the communication between men and women: Male and female brains

3 d) Illusions etc.


                     Find black dot

3 e) Video clips on perception


4. Consequences of intercultural communication

4 a) Learning to understand according to Robert Hanvey

1. Will and respect

2. Participation

3. Rewards for participation

4. Deepened participation

5. Deep understanding

4 b) Awareness levels according to Robert Hanvey

1. Superficial phenomena (e.g. tourism)

2. Important and subtle phenomena (e.g. clashes of culture)

3. Important and subtle phenomena (intellectual understanding)

4. How it feels for the others (living the culture)

 4 c) Development stages according to Milton Bennett

From etnocentrism to etnorelativism 1 - 7

1. Lack of interest, large categories, certain groups seen as subhuman

2. Ideas of superiority of one's own culture

3. All cultures similar

Below are listed stages that require a substantial amount of time spent abroad

4. Different behaviour accepted

5. Different values accepted

6. Empathy and ability to "change cultures"


4 d) Business relations

International Business Culture

International Business Etiquette and Manners

Dos and Taboos

US-Malaysia Puzzling questions

Trompenaars' organisation cultures: Family, Eiffel Tower, Guided Missile, Incubator


4 e) Clashes of Culture

Mohammed Caricatures

Four Cultures, One Company (USA & Malaysia clashing)


Swaziland aid efforts

Mahir and Borat


4 f) Culture shock

The U curve applying to sojourns in foreign cultures

Coming back home, read more here

4 g) Creativity and negotiations

de Bono's motorway

Ability of changing perspectives, humour

Cross-cultural negotiation

Negotiations and resolving conflicts

Negotiating in English

4 h) Myths and stereotypes

Stereotypes here

Urban legends here   Xenophobia 1 2

Deserted island     Prejudice and scapegoating here

Women's English


Central concepts in ICC
  1. Aware/Unaware/Conscious/Unconscious

  2. Category

  3. Clash of cultures and Culture shock

  4. Code & Sign

  5. Collectivism

  6. Communication style

  7. Conception of space

  8. Conception of time: Polychronic/Monochronic

  9. Context

  10. Description

  11. Dialect/sociolect/chronolect

  12. Empathy

  13. Etnocentrism & Etnorelativism

  14. Expectations and Roles

  15. Gender: Masculinity & Femininity

  16. Individualism

  17. Intentional/Unintentional

  18. Interpretation

  19. Mental programming

  20. Non-verbal communication (NVC)

  21. Norms & Taboos

  22. Perception

  23. Power distance/hierarchy

  24. Prejudice, Stereotypes & Projection

  25. Ritual

  26. Scapegoat

  27. Symbol

  28. Uncertainty avoidance

  29. Values

  30. Worldview

 5) Links to more information on culture