South Africans live in the Rainbow nation. As one of our national television stations used to declare, “We are one”. And that we are, but keep in mind that we’re still 11 different cultures sharing one country. In an average day, you can interview a person with Xhosa heritage, be greeted by an Afrikaans receptionist and sit next to a Sotho person during a business flight.
Most of us navigate these situation without so much as a second thought as to the culture of the person we’re facing. But this could lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. It’s then easy to brush these off to the other person having a bad day or not being a people’s person, for instance, but it just be a cultural difference.
Say the latter is the case, won’t your day be much more pleasant, and perhaps even efficient, if you made yourself aware of the differences between all of the cultures in our country?
Educate yourself on South Africa’s cultures
The first step to understanding someone from another culture, is to learn more about their culture. This does not mean an extensive knowledge of every last tradition is required; just familiarise yourself with the basics.
You could build this body of knowledge by doing a search on the internet, but it would be much more interesting to sit down and chat with someone from particular culture. They’ll have more to share than any website could ever have.
But don’t generalise
South Africa, and the world as a whole, is becoming more Westernised by the day. This means you should never generalise about a culture – the person you’re exchanging pleasantries with could be of a new generation, with newer ways of thinking and doing.
Personality of course also plays a role in communication. The person’s culture might dictate one thing, but their personality, shaped by life experiences and innate qualities, could make them behave in exactly the opposite way. Keep this mind!
Interact with different cultures
So know you’re armed with all of this information on all the cultures. Now what? Now it’s time to integrate. Don’t just sit at your normal table during lunch time, speaking only to the people (and possibly) cultures you’re comfortable with. Interact and communicate with colleagues from other cultures too. Practice does in fact make perfect, so you’ll be interacting faultless in no time.
Learn the language
Being able to speak someone’s language will earn you instant respect. The fact that it will make communication easier goes without saying. Start small, with basic words. Pick them up from the new friends you’ve made at work or enrol in an evening class.
Eventually start reading news articles and other short snippets so that you can recognise the written words as well. Don’t understand anything? Then it’s as easy as consulting a language book or website for the correct Sesotho translation, or Xhosa translation, or Zulu translation… you’ll be able to find them all easily!
Let us not forget to be open minded too. Different cultures comes with different views. So be open to being challenged. You might be introduced to a whole new way of thinking and who knows – you might end up a far more cultured and enriched person.