Learning a Culture

‘Culture Learning’ is a topic that will hold my interest endlessly; not only because linguistics and how we communicate fascinate me, but also because I am a cultural transplant myself. When I talk about culture I mean language, conventions, traditions and rituals, as well as the sub textual behaviors of a civilization: communication in its broadest sense.

The popular philosopher and critical theorist Slavoy Zizek talks about how we are embedded in ideology and defines identity as follows: “Identity lives in the space between invention and reality.” (Slavoy Zizek, “How are we Embedded in Ideology”, Prague 2007).

What is reality, or said differently, what is truth? Truth is the sum of a society’s conventions. There are rules and meta-rules, which are unknown knowns, call them habits or unspoken conventions that set the parameters for moving flawlessly through a society. It is a social network of implicit rules that tell you how to deal with the explicit rules.

Immigrants come into a new set of rules that are the makeup of their host society. Some rules are obvious, some are not. Assimilation and integration starts with learning of the explicit rules. But the meta-rules or implicit rules we only learn over time by trial and error, by using our intuition and assessing situations and reactions to us.

When too many people do not know the implicit rules of a society, the context for these rules weakens. Once the rules lose their context, they collapse. That is what ‘fear of the Other’ really is – a fear of losing one’s own truth.

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