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cultural literacy

Mark E. Mendenhall


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Cultural literacy is the expert knowledge of both surface and core cultural values, norms, mores, traditions, and operating procedures of a culture. Empirical research in the field shows that expatriates serving in an expatriate assignment must increase their cultural literacy in order to be successful in these assignments. Cultural literacy involves more than knowing, for example, when and how to bow in Japan when greeting a client. An expatriate who is culturally literate understands why that tradition exists, and understands the deeper core cultural values to which that tradition is linked. When expatriates do not possess high levels of cultural literacy they naturally operate from their personal views regarding what is and what is not appropriate behavior across various life situations in the foreign culture. One's personal views are obviously only workable as guides to behavior in one's culture of birth. Thus, applying personal views as guides to one's behavior while overseas invariably leads expatriates into troubling, embarrassing, and sometimes dangerous incidents in the foreign culture. Cultural literacy enables an expatriate to understand the reasons behind the behavior he or she encounters overseas, and this understanding enables the expatriate to avoid stereotyping, racial prejudice, and other forms of inappropriate behavior while living and working in a foreign culture. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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