On being culturally responsive

As a social worker, being attuned to different cultural beliefs and practices has always been on my mind.  I have seen my field move from a focus on cultural sensitivity to the notion of cultural competence – and now to what makes more sense – cultural responsiveness.  This concept acknowledges that it is totally impossible to “master” knowledge about any given culture – or more importantly the individual culture of any given person.  During these early years of my marriage, this concept has been a presence for me on the road trip through my cross-cultural marriage, even though I still hold some skeptical feelings for all of it on many levels – much of which is being worked out in the writing of this blog over the years.

One great resource on cultural responsiveness was prepared in California (for a disability services audience, but I think it applies here too). I have pirated and edited some of their central tenets that apply to cross-cultural marriage, below:

·  Be aware of your own cultural background.
This is basic, but it gets back to the old tenet that you have to know yourself before moving outwards.  From the California guide:  “Think about it in terms of the values, beliefs, and customs of your culture and how these influence your attitude and behavior. Understanding one’s own culture is important because of the tendency to regard one’s own cultural group as the center of everything and the standard to which all others are compared. For example, take a look at the importance of punctuality as a part of your
culture. Being “right on time” in some cultures may mean that one may arrive
drastically before or after the appointed time.”

·  Convince yourself that just because someone else’s customs and beliefs
are different from yours, there are no right or wrong cultural beliefs.
From the California guide:  “All beliefs and customs can be correct in the culture in which it occurs. In an individualized approach to planning, customs and beliefs should not be
discounted as incorrect or improper. They should be discussed.”

·  Learn about the culture that your partner is from – but beware stereotypes and catch-all advice.
Again, this is basic.  You can’t read enough non-fiction, news and fiction about the culture your partner is from – or watch TV, find YouTube videos, etc.  Beware stereotypes and work on “triangulating” your resources.  Learn about your partner’s country, history, language, politics, soap operas, cuisine, sports, etc.

·  Become educated in cultural beliefs of the country your partner comes from.
Moving beyond just learning about culture – try to learn about the beliefs your partner, her/his family and friends and others may hold.  From the California guide “This will broaden your ability to anticipate their reactions, including their reactions to your actions.”

·  Develop and use vocabulary of greetings and key phrases in your partner’s home language.
Once again, basic.  From the California guide: “This can serve as an “ice breaker” and may make people feel more comfortable with you. It shows that you, at least, have taken time to enter into their world.”

 ·  Discover commonalities of experiences.
From the California guide:  Use these experiences to establish a “bond.” This will help you relate to people as individuals rather than as people from country X.

8 Responses to On being culturally responsive

  1. Sherri Yaglidere says:

    I am Impressed, I an american women who has been married over 20yrs to a Turkish “man”. For the most part it has been misrable!!!. NO ability to compromise, selfish , cruel, hurtful etc, etc etc. If I spoke to any women, thinking on doing the same thing I tell them. RUN!!!!!!

  2. Liz Cameron says:

    Dear Sherri,

    Thank you for your comment – it sounds like it has been a tough road. Parsing out how much of the challenges are culture, how much are gendered expectations and how much are personality – among other things – is tough to do.

    In my opinion, although the stereotype of Turkish (and, I would argue, all Middle Eastern men) is akin to what you share, I think it is important to look at each person as a unique human being vs. group them together…

    I think people should learn as much about their potential mate and partner as possible – spend as much time as possible together – deal with as much conflict as possible together before committment…but I wouldn’t bin all Turkish men lock stock and barrell.

    I am sorry that your experience has been so tough – and I wish you all the very best.


  3. Marilyn says:

    Liz – this post resonated greatly with me. I run cultural competency workshops in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and this is the very first thing that I communicate to participants. I pass out a cultural “passport’ and ask them to write three words or phrases that would describe their culture. Secondly I ask them to write down three things that they wish a healthcare provider knew about their culture in order to give them the best care possible. It is an excellent exercise to get them first of all thinking about what beliefs and values they hold. Only as we know those can we understand why we face conflict in some situations more than others. I look forward to reading more of your blog and love the title. I grew up in Pakistan and then lived in Pakistan and Egypt as an adult. I’ve visited Turkey many times and love it!

  4. Rozzici says:

    I am sorry for your experience. I wonder why you stayed married for 20 years though?

  5. Rozzici says:

    I have been married to a Pakistani for 40+ years, very happily might i add . Its all about understanding, compromising and respecting each other.
    I have also spent a lot of time in Turkey and have many friends there

  6. Greta says:

    Great blog you’ve got here.. It’s hard to find high quality wroting like yours nowadays.
    I truly appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!

  7. Meredith says:

    Thanks for the marvelous posting! I definitely enjoyed reading it, youu will be a great author.Iwill ensre that I bookmark your
    blog and will come back later in life. I want to encourage one tto continue your great writing, have a nice morning!

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