DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Culture Shock: The Greater the Differences the Greater the Similarities

Written by: on September 5, 2019

I am certainly no expert when it comes to culture. Though I find some cultures fascinating some are harder for me to understand and get my mind around. Once I do, I always tend to focus on the similarities lying amidst the many differences. One of the fascinating aspects of any place whether abroad or local is learning to understand why people are the way they are. In reality a good dose of culture shock forces us to realize that we all have a certain amount of ethnocentrism. We all tend to judge other cultures against our own. What is normal to us can be terrifying to others. It is also a healthy reminder not to take ourselves to seriously, especially when visiting a culture steeped with longevity and history. I am often reminded that we are teenagers in comparison to many cultures.

Orin Hargraves Culture Shock! London brought a smile to my face when discussing the queue. Who doesn’t dislike standing in a line for a long period of time and have someone cut in front of the line? On the other hand, I would be the first to admit that “one at time in order” isn’t always convenient, but then again there is more to life than convenience.

I greatly appreciated Hargraves reality check on the 3 types of London. The London of our imagination, the touristy London and the real everyday London that can only truly be experienced by living and mingling with the locals. This in true of every place I have every visited. The culture of the area can’t truly be experienced until you can break through the facades and take time to know the people.

Terry Tan a self-proclaimed transplant into the British Culture from Singapore gave me great food for thought. Though Culture Shock! Great Britain was intended to be a survival guide it was also a window into his personal journey of immersing into the British Culture. I had to laugh out loud as he described his experience of seeing his neighbor’s daughter with “war paint” on her face and her hair “waxed” so it stood upright in the shape of a pyramid. His comment “It was a startling introduction to a different culture and set of values” (p108) flooded my mind with memories of over 30 years ago having moved my family from a small Wyoming town of under 1000 to the Seattle Washington area. Taking my kids to Seattle for a day of exploration was truly an eye opener for a good old country boy. The idea of “I wouldn’t let my daughters out of the house dressed like that” crossed my mind more than once that day, as well as, many times since then.

I was saddened a bit at Tans discussion on the loss of the British food culture due to the large influx of American fast food. (p126) Or the fact that American TV shows are viewed with a certain amount of criticism. (p237) There is something uniquely special and sacred about breaking bread with the locals of an area in a restaurant or attending an event that is specific to the area. It is enjoyable to see entertainment from the culture being visited. I can’t imagine an individual crossing the globe with hopes to eat a McDonalds hamburger especially if they don’t eat one at home. Nor do I believe they hope to attend an American form of entertainment while traveling abroad. Some of my fondest travels were oriented around eating local cuisine in some out of the way location and meeting the local people. Whether eating city goat (dog) in Bali, smoked duck in Singapore, boiled peanuts and crawfish in Louisiana or BBQ in Texas the enjoyment comes from the experience, as well as, the variety of fare.

Having met a variety of people through both business and ministry I can’t help but feel blessed and enriched by the people I have met. When I make my annual trek to Canada to teach, I am often amazed how many Canadians are dumb struck by our political news. It appears our political drama is of great humor to them. When seen through their eyes our outspoken and free minded political climate does look ridiculous at times. Even something as simple as a cup of regular coffee can be a learning experience. A regular cup of coffee is straight black caffeinated where I’m from. In Alberta Canada a regular cup of coffee is one cream and one sugar. Thank goodness I had the where with all to seek to understand before I uttered a complaint. There are few things more embarrassing then showing one’s cultural arrogance because you failed to understand the culture your visiting. Whether exploring the diversity of the area we live in or when traveling abroad it is well advised to keep in mind that we are guests.

When you break through the surface of any culture, whether abroad or locally, amidst the vast differences are a lot of similarities. In every case I have had the privileged to bridge the gap between cultures I am always amazed are how similar we really are. We all have a certain amount of national pride. We all have political opinions. We all have a belief system that drives us. In reality we are all broken, flawed and in need of help in one facet or another. We all want to be heard and to be understood. We all have rules of engagement and family traditions. We all have family drama in one sense or another. We all have a list of dreams and disappointments. Understanding the similarities make the differences much easier to maneuver. Listing to understand before being heard was sound advice when I received it years ago as it still is today. The old saying that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” goes a long way.

But then again maybe I’m off my trolley rocker and just being a Plonker. Maybe I’m just writing a load of malarkey and need to get off my high horse. You be the judge!


About the Author


Greg Reich

Entrepreneur, Visiting Adjunct Professor, Arm Chair Theologian, Leadership/Life Coach, married 39 years, father and grandfather. Jesus follower, part time preacher! Handy man, wood carver, carpenter and master of none. Outdoor enthusiast, fly fisherman, hunter and all around gun nut.

10 responses to “Culture Shock: The Greater the Differences the Greater the Similarities”

  1. mm John McLarty says:

    Good thoughts, Greg. I appreciated the reflection and the challenge to remember to look for the points of connection, even in places and people who may be different. I’m looking forward to our journey.

    • mm Greg Reich says:

      I look forward the fellowship and journey as well. In a world that spends a great deal of time trying to explain our differences I find it far easier and more enjoyable to focus on the similarities.

  2. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Your pursuit of common ground begs questions for me as to your personal story, background, and passions. Can I infer that harmony, peacekeeping, mediating and reconciliation are strengths and passions for you? I could be reaching, but I thought I’d ask.

    • mm Greg Reich says:

      Shawn you’re perception is partially correct. Though the drive and passion behind my love for diversity and reconciliation is far more complex that I can put into this space let me just say. I do not believe in abandoning a fallen fellow soldier in the faith nor discarding the wounded. The commodity of heaven is the hearts and minds of people. It is my heart to value what Jesus values. Sadly, I must confess I fall short.

  3. mm Dylan Branson says:

    When traveling, it’s often interesting (and sometimes entertaining) to see how various cultures receive various stereotypes, only to find that they are blown out of proportion. Last year, I did an activity with one of my classes where I asked them to list stereotypes they had of the United States.

    Among the many comments were “everyone has a gun”, “you eat McDonalds every day”, “your houses are so big”, and “Americans are fat”.

    We deconstructed all of these stereotypes (and went into Hong Kong stereotypes to give them an opportunity to deconstruct those as well). But it’s enlightening to process through the various ideas that people have about a culture going into it. Like you said, once you really look into it, there are differences, yes, but there are also many similarities (even if those similarities are expressed in different ways). In the same way, although there may be differences between the US and the UK, we can find different touch points in the similarities and use those to navigate the differences in a healthier way.

    • mm Greg Reich says:

      Dylan I have found this to be true as well. When I traveled to Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia I was considered a rich American. The Christians would talk bout the American church as if it was the promised land filled with milk and honey. It was interesting to see their reactions when I explained that we struggled with divisions and problems similar to their own. Granted we have it far better than most of the world but we are not without our problems as well.

  4. Darcy Hansen says:

    Greg, thank you for your reflection and sharing bits of your world travels. Though I have no intent of eating McDonald’s while there, I’m not sure I’m nearly as adventurous as you when it comes to trying new foods. I agree that as much as we are different, we are also so very similar. Humanity truly is a wonder to behold, especially when exploring other cultures in the world. Looking forward to learning with you!

    • mm Greg Reich says:

      Darcy I do have my limits to what I will eat but I do enjoy the discovery process. I am sure we will all have a journey to remember.

  5. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Hi Greg, appreciate your care to listen.

    There’s a sometimes silent or unknown expectation that, what follows from the listening, is an informed response. A kind or compassionate action beyond the ‘attentive listening’ that proves the ‘care’ in our ‘listen’!

    Perhaps this is where the ‘knowing of our care’ in those we are listening to arises?

    I miss this often.

    There’s an impact that happens within our care for one another, while we listen closely identifying the similarities and differences between us. A well-informed empathy can be worked out like this.

    It’s a bit of a dance this appreciation for the ‘other’ (person/culture) listening/observing/identifying attentively, learning with care and responding well!

  6. mm Greg Reich says:

    Chris you are correct in that the dance of appreciating of others of different opinions and cultures can be tricky. I think it can even get more challenging as we form deeper convictions in life. Like you I think this is where we prove our caring through seeking to understand. The challenge comes when we reach a place of agreeing to disagree. Appreciating our differences without feeling the need to make them our own.

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