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Why Can't I Talk to My Neighbors? Understanding Cross-cultural Relationships

Updated on July 11, 2011

If you live in an urban or suburban area, chances are you are surrounded by neighbors from different cultural backgrounds. I am a white caucasion with a white-anglo-saxon protestant background. In my case, I have a family from Mexico on one side of me, another from India or Pakistan on the other side of me; and an African-american family across the street from me. Although I have not personally had any problems with my neighbors, it is conceivable that communication could be difficult. Cultural experts say this is because we all come from different cultural backgrounds characterized as cultural dimensions. This hub discusses the concept of cultural dimensions and attempts to show that understanding cultural dimensions can be very helpful in cross-cultural relationships.

Cultural Dimensions

Cultural experts have discovered up to nine different cultural dimensions. Those nine cultural dimensions include:

  • Power Distance
  • Individualist vs. Collectivist
  • Future Orientation
  • Gender Egalitarian
  • Assertiveness
  • Humane Orientation
  • Uncertainty Avoidance
  • Low vs High-context Communication

Power Distance

This cultural dimension refers to the tolerance level for power sharing. Cultures prone towards low power distance orientation are not afraid to share power or challenge authority while cultures with high power distance are more apt to tolerate lack of power sharing. When dealing with a neighbor from a high power distance culture it might not be advantageous to confront him in front of his family.


This cultural dimension refers to the relative degree to which a person thinks of his own needs first or the needs of the group first. A person from an individualist culture might think of "me" first whereas the person form a collectivist culture who might think of "we" first.

Gender Egalitarianism

This cultural dimension has to do with gender roles in a society and the rights of women within a given culture. I had a friend who lived in Pakistan for awhile. His Muslim Pakistani friends would become incensed and offended whenever they found him helping his wife with household cores. Some Latin American cultures also exalt the male members of society over females. If attempting to establish a relationship with a male member of a low gender egalitarianism culture, you might not want to do traditional female assigned jobs in front of him.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance refers to the degree to which societal members tolerate change. Cultures with high uncertainty avoidance are very traditional´╗┐ and very slow to adopt change. Those from high uncertainty avoidance cultures do not fill comfortable with ambiguous situations.

Low- and High-Context Communication

Another important cultural dimension has to do with communication styles. Researchers have found that communication within most cultures can be classified along a low- and high-context ´╗┐continuum. Those from high context cultures build very solid relationships and do not need many words to explain a task or situation. Those from low-context cultures do not need much background in the relationship to share and discuss ideas. Due to a lack of context, those from low-context cultures use a lot of words to explain meaning.

To learn more about cultural dimensions go to or



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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      The only neighbor of a different culture we have is Hmong(I hope I have that right) they and others in our small city tend to keep to themselves.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image

      CASE1WORKER 6 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      I would agree that it can be difficult. However we have people of different races on both sides of us and over the road. However, we all carry a British passport so we are all British. Religions and customs may vary but actually they make us very welcome and at a recent church event I found myself surrounded by Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus- However I do live in a really multi ethnic city!

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 6 years ago from Corona, California

      heart4theword and glassvisage, thank you both for your encouraging words.

      glassvisage, many from suburban America are just beginning to understand what it means to interact with folks from other cultures. Less than a generation ago, we were still pretty much a segregated society. Richard Slimbach is a professor at Azusa Pacific University, he has great journal article called the Tanscultural Journey in which he talks about how to negotiate the diversity in the Los Angeles area.

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 6 years ago from Northern California

      Culture is certainly a huge part. I always had difficulty getting to know my neighbors because our lifestyles were so different - our schedules varied, and a lot of my neighbors had families while we didn't, so going out and participating in activities was more difficult. Good idea for a Hub. Thanks!

    • heart4theword profile image

      heart4theword 6 years ago from hub

      I was drawn to this page, by the picture you chose:) Love it:)