Module Two: Culture Bumps
cat039-s-pawClick HERE to go to the beginning of the Student Workbook

In this module, you will begin to identify:

  •                  Possible results of different perceptions






You will also practice:

  •                 how to predict
  •                 how to self- reflect
  •                 how to compare
  •                 how to visualize
  •                 how to evaluate
  •                 how to synthesize


First, take a few moments to answer the following questions.
  • What do I know about hospitality in the Middle East?
  • What do I know about the daily lifestyle of Middle Easterners?
  • What would I like to know about the daily lifestyle of Middle Easterners?
  • How effective am I in my intercultural, interpersonal interactions?

NOTES on Brian and Aziz: The Movie
Complete the following sentences about the movie Brian and Aziz

  • What were Brian’s expectations?
  • What were Aziz’s expectations?
  • What is the relationship between expectations and perceptions?
  • Where do you think our expectations come from?
  • Have you ever had an experience similar to this?

Now watch the movie Brian and Aziz





                                                                       A Reading on the Culture Bump
While living in another culture, we find some things that are the same as in our own country. In these instances, the two cultures fit together. However, there are other things that are different. The points at which the two cultures differ or bump into each other are usually the areas that interfere in the development of successful cross-cultural relationships. If the specific points of difference, or culture bumps, are analyzed, they can lead to a deeper understanding. If they are not analyzed, they can lead to skewed perceptions of people in the other culture.
The Source of Perceptions
Aziz has just formed a perception about Brian/Americans that is commonly held by many Arabs as well as other internationals. Some of these perceptions are that Americans are cold, unfriendly, or mechanical. Brian has also formed perceptions about Aziz/Arabs that are common in the United States perceptions of them as being untrustworthy, hostile and sneaky. We can understand how this has happened by examining the seed from which their perception grew. That seed is called a culture bump.
Definition of a Culture Bump
A culture bump occurs when an individual has expectations of a particular behavior within a particular situation but notices a different behavior when interacting with an individual from another culture. The expectations used in this definition refer to the expectations of normal behavior as learned in one’s own culture.

While Aziz expected certain differences in American people (Americans eat hamburgers more than Middle Easterners do), he didn’t expect Brian to continue to talk on the phone as another visitor arrived. He expected Brian to stop talking, to greet the guest, and then to continue his phone conversation. This culture bump was a surprise. And he certainly was unaware of the following culture bump, namely Brian’s (seemingly) hasty exit; he expected Brian to stay and talk, drink and eat for several hours, and then to have dinner together. His culture had taught him that when people do not eat and sit with friends, they were really insulting or perhaps saying, I’m angry with you or I’m better than you. Therefore, his perceptions of Brian as being unfriendly or cold or even mechanical came from specific behaviors on Brian’s part that Aziz could only interpret according to his own cultural standards. His blind spot about Brian emanated from a lack of understanding Americans according to American standards. Even Mazen, who had been in the USA for seven years, did not understand Americans according to American standards.

Likewise, Brians culture bumps included the room decorations, ornate pages from the Koran on the wall, an Arabic rug and vast quantities of real food-none of which even vaguely resemble the rock posters that he would expect to find on the living room walls of a university classmate. He certainly would not expect an American male classmate to cook a meal or to greet him by standing, shaking his hand, and asking about his family. His culture had taught him that for young males to cook for one another or ask about one another’s family was a way of saying, I’m a very close friend of your family, or I’m really after something from you but am being dishonest in not telling you what I really want. Again, Brian’s perception of Aziz as being untrustworthy or even vaguely threatening came from specific behaviors on Aziz’s part that Brian could only interpret according to his own cultural standards. His blind spot with Aziz emanated from a lack of understanding Middle Easterners according to Middle Eastern standards.
Characteristics of Culture Bumps
Culture bumps are positive, negative, or neutral. They are positive if the one having them likes the new behavior; they are negative if one doesn’t like them, and they are neutral if one doesn’t care or is accustomed to the behavior. But whether they are positive, negative or neutral, they are experienced as being different from us. If we discuss the culture bumps, we normally do so with individuals from our own culture. This is called mirroring and occurs with Aziz and his friend after Brian leaves. Brian also mirrors with his friend on the cell phone in his car. As a result, both are confirmed in their perceptions of the other. Thus, are the seeds of a perception sown. Ultimately, to unravel the perception, we must recognize the incident, name it correctly as a culture bump and come to understand it in a different way. We must, in fact, learn to recognize and name culture bumps. This skill requires an ability to separate the culture bump from the perception.

                                                                                      Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think culture bumps can be eliminated from one’s experience? If possible, would this be a good thing?
  2. Why do you suppose that Mazen, who has lived in the USA for seven years, still has little understanding of Americans from an American perspective?

Now watch the alternate ending to the movie.

Notice how

(1) Brian manages his emotions in this version. Also notice
(a) a why question and a (b) how question.
Who asks each of the questions? What is the universal situation?


                             A Group Activity: OBSERVATION: JUDGMENT OR DESCRIPTION?

Now that you know more about culture bumps and perceptions, the next step is to be able to tell the difference between a culture bump and the resulting perception. While it is somewhat artificial, it is useful to label these as descriptive observations and judgmental observations. A descriptive observation is one in which the event is described with no interpretation added (a report of exactly what happened), while a judgmental observation reflects the viewpoint of the observer. One way of testing whether or not an observation is judgmental is to ask the question, “Would I know that without being inside the head or heart of the other person?” If the answer is yes, the observation is descriptive; if the answer is no, then the observation is judgmental. This ability to separate is more easily said than done. A great deal of practice and self-motivation is required to become proficient.
Carefully consider the photograph below.  Choose one aspect of the photograph.  Together, write a descriptive observation of that aspect.


elderly woman on four wheeler






We see..

That could mean…

1. or

2. or




 Follow-up Activity
Place a J by the following statements that are judgmental observations and a D by those that are descriptive statements. Write an interpretation that is possible after those that are descriptive.

___a. People in the United States do not have strong family ties.
___b. Many children in the USA leave home at around age 18.
___ c. She’s a very good teacher.
___d. People drive crazy in this city.
___e. She’s crying.
___ f. His eyes are closed, his forehead wrinkled, his mouth open, his head inclined to the left and he is saying, “Help”.
___ g. Students in the USA do not respect their teachers.
___h. They are sad.
___ i. I have too much homework.
___ j. His hand is in her mouth.


                                                       An Activity: CULTURE BUMP TRIVIA

Finally, take a look at some culture-bump trivia from around the world. In your group, look at your trivia cards. Answer the questions in your group. Turn the card over to check your answers. Choose one of the cards and design a role-play to show the scenario to your classmates. See if they can identify the culture bumps.


                                                                   FINAL REFLECTION

  1. Think of a time when you have had a culture bump.
  2. Who or what did you have the bump with?
  3. When did it happen? (If more than once, list the first time)
  4. What was your perception of that person before the bump?
  5. What was your perception of that person after the bump?
  6. What would you have done in that situation?
  7. Why would you have done THAT?
  8. How do you think they would do THAT?


PhoebePhoebe the Culture Bump Cat says Congratulations!

You have completed the second stage of your journey.
You have learned what a culture bump is and how it is related to perceptions. You have also begun to learn how to identify and describe your expectations. You have also practiced predicting, self- reflecting, comparing, visualizing, synthesizing and evaluating.