Friends of Orphans and Vulnerable Children

Friends of Orphans and Vulnerable Children
What could be better than an Ethiopian welcome, FOVC style?

Monday, September 6, 2010

FOREIGN TO FAMILIAR -- A Super-Important Book!

Foreign To Familiar has been called a MUST-READ for anyone who is involved in cross-cultural communications or who plans to do work (aid, mission, short-term, long-term) in a foreign culture.

Here's what one expert says about this book:
Foreign to Familiar is a splendidly written, well researched work on cultures. Anyone traveling abroad should not leave home without this valuable resource! Sarah's love and sensitivity for people of all nations will touch your heart. This book creates within us a greater appreciation for our extended families around the world and an increased desire to better understand them.

As a requirement for traveling with Team Tasfa, I am asking every member of the team to read this short book. Our time in Ethiopia will be brief, and an understanding of cultural norms and expectations will be INVALUABLE to each of our team members as we seek to maximize our time and effort in-country!

Here's a review of the book:
In her book Foreign to Familiar, Sarah Lanier seeks to aid the reader in cross-cultural communication and relationships by highlighting the differences between hot- and cold-climate cultures. While these concepts are unfamiliar to most readers, Lanier quickly introduces and defines the categories before discussing them in detail. Having lived in the Middle East, South America, Africa, Europe, and New Zealand, Lanier (who is American) is certainly qualified to address the issue. The reader gets the impression while reading that this book is the fruit of her own experiences and frequent lectures on the subject in different settings.

According to Lanier, "the population of the entire world can roughly be divided into two parts. The two groups represented are 'hot-climate' (relationship-based) cultures and 'cold-climate' (task-oriented) cultures". Lanier recognizes there may some overlap in the two categories, and cites one unnamed person who suggested that she use the terms "hot/tribal" and "cold/urban". She also recognizes that personalities differ within each culture. The primary distinction between the two cultures is that of relational focus as opposed to task focus. Those in the warm-climates tend to emphasize the relationships involved between individuals while those in cold-climates focus on the efficient performance of tasks.

After defining the groups and explaining the primary relationship/task distinction, Lanier spends the next six chapters explaining further manifestations of the cultural differences. In Chapter Three, the focus is on direct versus indirect communication. Chapter Four emphasizes the individualism of the cold-climates over against the group-identity of the hot-climates. Privacy, highly valued in the cold, is contrasted with inclusion as the norm in the cold-climate in Chapter Five.

Chapters Six and Eight discuss two elements of society in which the differences between hot- and cold-climates are very evident: hospitality and time. Those with international travel experience will find themselves laughing with familiarity as they read of Lanier's experiences. Of course, the hot-climates demonstrate much more warm hospitality, while the cold-climates are extremely conscious of time and planning.

In Chapter Seven, Lanier introduces a different distinction between cultures which sometimes clouds the distinction between hot- and cold-climate cultures. This distinction is between high- and low-context cultures. Drawing from Edward T. Hall's Beyond Culture, Lanier defines the high-context culture as the one which has a long history wherein traditions have become very formalized. Low-context cultures are those whose history is briefer, whose population is more diverse, and in which very few traditions have developed.

Some of the strongest points of Lanier's book are its brevity, clarity, and engaging tone of Lanier's style. The reader is aware that Lanier is not writing an academic treatise. Her aim is pragmatic. She delivers fully in Chapter Nine, entitled "Practical Next Steps". Here simple steps are outlined to aid the international traveler or other person who finds himself or herself developing cross-cultural relationships. Perhaps the most beneficial element of the book is the summary found at the end of each chapter. It is not as if the chapters are so lengthy that this is a necessity, but the brief outline form of the summaries makes relocating information very easy.

This book has made a positive contribution to the field of cross-cultural communication. In Foreign to Familiar, Sarah Lanier has provided a clear, brief, practical introduction to several key issues. The book is written on the popular level, making it accessible to a wide audience. This reviewer enjoyed the book and recommends it as a primer for anyone involved in cross-cultural communication.


Team Tasfa, please get this book as soon as possible (here's the link on Amazon). It's only $8.99, and I am confident we all receive a great deal of value by increasing our understanding of the culture in Ethiopia before we travel!

1 comment:

Kim P. said...

Thanks Lory for the great book suggestion. I'm off to order it right now.