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The Culture Code – Why we live and buy as we do
People of faith often take the challenge to get to know the culture of the ancient literature they refer. They must ask, What are these ancient people trying to say to each other about what is meaningful to them? I suggest that we must also “exegete” the cultures of 21st century Nashville or Miami, Edinburgh or Dusseldorf, Paris or Barcelona, Tokyo or Sidney. What’s particular to a context? What’s universal? Last week I read The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille. [Yes, the author is French but let’s give him a chance.] Rapaille is also an immigrant to America. Like me. He’s a cultural anthropologist that consults half of the Fortune 100 companies on marketing issues.
In a way, Rapaille does what every thoughtful missionary has always done. He decodes culture. This task, once the domain of overseas workers, has come “home” and become part of the work for every church planter, pastor and leader in the West. We live in a changed culture and the clues to communicating with and reaching people have changed. Rapaille discusses several items of interest. Among these are
- What does “shopping” mean for Americans?
- What does “food” and alcohol” mean in America?
- “Work” and “money”?
- “Health” and “youth”?
- What do the Germans, English and French think of Americans?
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to engage The Culture Code and many of the questions above. I look forward to all of your comments, but I’d be especially interested in the thoughts of our friends outside of the States.
What is the Culture Code? The Culture Code is “the unconscious meaning we apply to any given things – a car, a type of food, a relationship, even a country – via the culture in which we are raised.” Soccer is a case in point. As a very young boy I asked my grandmother in El Salvador about a living Brazilian soccer legend who was at the top of his game.
“Who is Pele?” I asked.
“He is the king.” She said.
As I write this, I still feel the “goose bumps” like I felt them then. Goose bumps –or strong emotion –matter. Rapaille reminds us that “emotion is the energy required to learn anything.” The way we feel about baseball or Jeeps has everything to do with the emotional imprinting that happens to us as young children –before 7 years old according to Rapaille — and as we grow up in a particular culture.For me Pele is the King who presides over the “beautiful” game. And, every four years, everything must submit to this when, during the World Cup, the nations gather to determine the real champions of the whole world.
In terms of something less inspiring. What is the code for toilet paper? Rapaille’s research indicates that the American child receives an imprint when his parents applaud him for using the toilet on his own. But the emotional imprint for this high achievement is not associated with the toilet itself.
Until the child is able to clean himself his parents must still be intimately involved in the process. However, when the child can finally use toilet paper, he can close the doors and lock them, then he is free of his parents and his parents praise him for it.Because of this Rapaille declares that in the American Culture the Code for toilet paper is INDEPENDANCE. This insight led the Ritz Carlton to go after complete privacy and independence as their guides to designing their bathroom experiences.
So you thought when it came to toilet paper that people just bought whatever is on sale? Apparently not. How about you?
I’m still trying to decide what the soccer code is for me. It’s a fun exercise. MAJESTIC. ELEGANCE. ACTION HEROES. I’m not sure yet. But it has something to do with the fact that a poor boy from Latin America could grow up to be famous and loved. Yes, that a poor boy could grow up to be a millionaire. Oh wait, those are the lyrics for “only in America.”
What do you think?
See you in the Mystic…
Next Week: Decoding Seduction, Sex and Love.
Register Now: Decode Western Culture at HUMANA 2.0 in Orlando this February 7-8. Register before January 21 and save up to $50.00 per registrant.