All of the customs, beliefs, value, knowledge, and skills that guide a people’s behavior along shared paths are part of their culture. Culture can be divided into material aspects (the products of a people’s arts and technology) and nonmaterial a spects (a people’s customs, beliefs, values, and patterns of communication). People throughout the world have different cultures. Thus their standards for behavior often differ. We tend to assume that certain behaviors have pretty much the same meaning around the world, and we anticipate that other people will act as we do. But this is clearly not the case. When we are thrust into a different culture, we may find ourselves in situations for which we are unprepared.
Not surprisingly, interaction among peoples of different cultures is often filled with uncertainties and even difficulties. Take, for example, the matter of the “language of space”, which is identified by the anthropologist(人类学家 ) Edward T. Hall. He notes that, getting involved in a conversation, the Arabs tend to get very close to other people, close enough to breathe on them. That is because when Arabs do not breathe on a person, it means that they are ashamed. However, in the same situation, Americans insist on staying outside the range of other people’s breath, viewing the odor (气味) as distasteful. In that case, when an Arab is conversing with an American, he may ask himself, “Why are Americans so ashamed? They withhold their breath”; whereas the American on the receiving end would wonder, “Why are the Arabs so Americans typically back away as all Arabs come close, and the Arab follows. Such differences can have serious consequences. For example, an Arab business representative may not trust an American who backs off. On the other hand, the American may distrust the Arab for seeming so pushy.