Why is this blog all about culture?

“Every type of bigotry, every type of racism, sexism, prejudice, every dogmatic ideology that allows people to kill other people with a clear conscience…every kind of ignorance in the world are all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles. We believe what we see and then we believe our interpretation of it and we don’t even know we’re making an interpretation most of the time. We think this is reality.” – Anton Wilson

As we have learnt from relativity, there is no absolute point from which reality can be seen; we are all looking from our own position through our respective reality tunnels. When we realize that all the others have similarly their own tunnels– and that often they are very different, we begin to understand many of the things that differentiate us. This removes a wall – an obstructive object between us and the rest of the world that is different from us.

It is my belief that most of the pressing issues that we struggle or deal with today, individually or collectively can be better understood once that wall is removed. Many of the conflicts between people and communities can become more accurately framed. Of particular interest to me are  rifts between and within societies.

Culture is at the center of it all because how we perceive our world is very cultural. That tunnel, by which we view what we perceive as reality, is culturally constructed. We learn how to see the world. It is at the center of how we perceive and what we perceive. That is how we create meaning from our environment. What we believe is reality depends on how we perceive our world.

The questions that have emerged from the experiences throughout my life, especially of moving from Egypt to Switzerland,  and making a life here, have their roots in one underlying question:

Are we all the same or all different? Are our similarities stronger or our differences?

Another way of looking at it is to engage in the nature-nurture discourse. Nature points to what we human beings share, that is innate in all of us and makes us into who we are, whereby nurture influences what we become by way of socialisation – what is learned (that certainly varies from place to place and across time).

Reconciling both those ideas, I find Hofstede’s triangle of human mental programming a brilliant depiction of the different layers that form our individual identity – a cultural identity:


According to his model, at the base we are all similar: Human. Here, words like biology and human psychology explain the fundamental base we all share. This part we inherit from our ancestors. Then comes a layer of cultural programming different from one group to another. (According to Hofstede, it is the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others). Different from one nation, region, profession, gender… or any category that shares a socialization process can be a group that shares a software by which we process the environment. i.e. this part we learn. We are also complex cultural beings. This means that no one culture defines each person but a particular configuration that can perhaps be unique to each one. Each cultural category we may share with many others but the mix is ours. Yes I am an Egyptian Christian woman. That means I share being Christian with all the Christians of the world. I share being Egyptian with all other Egyptians. I share being a woman with all the women in the world. My mother tongue is Egyptian Arabic and I grew up bilingually. I live in Switzerland with many other immigrants.  Each of these parameters is not unique to me, but the mix is. No one can be defined by one cultural dimension. No one is just German for example, as I am not only Egyptian. Each of us exhibits cultural traits from multiple and often overlapping groups to which we belong. Not only national, lingual, gender…but also sexual orientation, class and generation.

And then, on top of this middle part, there is the apex of the triangle:  Personality- another level of uniqueness. A set of experiences that are unique to a person will influence the way that person perceives the world. It is both inherited from ancestors and parents (genetic) and also learnt from community and personal experiences.

So we are all the same and all different and the key is to assign what goes where: What is universal, what is cultural and what is individual? That helps explain a common challenge when people interact with one another. A misperception of similarities when there are differences and vice versa. Because each individual is a cultural being, every interaction can be viewed as intercultural.

So with that in mind, I started investigating some of those questions that have surfaced over and over again from my experience after moving away from Egypt and settling here in Switzerland.

In some of the topics I discuss on this blog, I try to gather different perspectives which represent different cultural views. Most of the time, I present my own account of how I experienced the situations and circumstances that I present- which is only one way of looking at it. Either way, the perspective that I hope I present is one that looks with a different lens.

Back to Homepage