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What is Culture?

With a diverse population existing in the United States today, our country is a melting pot of different cultures, each one unique in its own respect. Culture, distinguishing one societal group from another, includes beliefs, behaviors, language, traditions, art, fashion styles, food, religion, politics, and economic systems. Through lifelong and ever changing processes of learning, creativity, and sharing, culture shapes our patterns of behavior and thinking. A culture’s significance is so profound that it touches almost every aspect of who and what we are. “Culture becomes the lens through which we perceive and evaluate what is going on around us” (Henslin, 1993).

Trying to define the complex term of culture with varying elements of distinguishable characteristics is a difficult task. Perhaps, a description of a culture would be easier to explain. For instance, an Iranian woman has just appeared in your office for services and it is immediately evident that her culture is very different than yours. First, her dark colored clothing covers her entire body from head to toe, including a black veil over her face. Secondly, as she speaks, a cultural difference is detected in both, her language and gestures. Her accent and the non-visible facial expressions create a barrier for comprehending the communication. Later, as the service for the woman progresses, her beliefs, values, and norms of her culture are dispelled. For example, in order for the woman to show her face to another male in public, she must first request permission from her husband to unveil. During further discussion, it becomes even more apparent, that this Iranian woman is subservient and possesses a lower level of status than that of Iranian males. All of these characteristics are indicative of this woman’s culture.

As conveyed in the above description, the characteristics represent the unique symbols of one’s culture. Symbols, in representative form of communication, art, expressions, materials, and so on, allow a cultural group to develop complex thoughts and to exchange those thoughts with each other. Through the exchanging of symbols, one’s cultural ideas, beliefs, and values, are passed on from one generation to the next.

People are not born with culture; they have to learn it. Throughout the development of the entire life span, culture is learned from the society in which we live. Furthermore, in the diverse population of the United States, ethnic groups or societies will have to interact with other groups outside the realm of their individual self. In order to do so, it is necessary for the societies to exchange languages, ideas, or even, technology. In addition, the changing environments of the world population requires a need for cultural adaptation for basic survival. For example, a move from the United States, where basic resources are plentiful, to Russia, where the resources are scarce, would force an adaptation to the cultural differences in order to develop a new lifestyle.

In conclusion, culture defines who we are, how we think, and how we behave. Some kinds of culture are include better means of making life securer than others. Cultural traits that offer some advantages, utility, or even pleasures are sought and accepted by societies. According to a prominent anthropologist, “Culture is contagious.” “A culture is a means to an end: the security and continuity of life.” (Britannica.com, p.12).


Henslin, J. (1993). Sociology: a down to earth approach. Needham Heights: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Introduction to culture. Britannica Encyclopedia. Retrieved Sept. 8, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.britannica.com/bcom/ed/article/6/0,5716,118246+12+109857,00.html

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