Cultural Differences Jason Roby COM 360 October 24, 2011 Professor Renee Peckham For any relationship to succeed both parties need patience, tolerance, and understanding. This becomes especially important when individuals come from dissimilar cultural backgrounds. If the individuals take the time to learn about the other’s culture many stereotypes and misconceptions will be eliminated. If they slow down and listen to one another they will likely find that despite their differences they share many basic needs; this can serve as the common ground or a starting point needed for understanding one another.
However, if both parties remain staunchly entrenched in their own culturally-based viewpoints confusion and turmoil will dominate their relationship. Overcoming cultural differences and cultural biases can be difficult, but can be rewarding to the extreme. Overcoming cultural differences and learning to appreciate diversity can open people up to satisfying relationships that transcend culture and stretch over time. This piece analyzes one such relationship that comes to life in the film Driving Miss Daisy. Miss Daisy Werthan and Mr.
Hoke Colburn form a friendship despite their numerous differences and radically contrasting backgrounds. This piece examines the film through the eyes of Hall and Hofstede and scrutinizing the cultural identities, biases, and patterns demonstrated by the characters through their verbal and nonverbal interactions. Culture is learned through our interactions with other humans. Interacting with family, friends, and strangers all contribute to a human’s cultural identity (Lustig & Koester, 2010). Anthropologist Edward Hall likened culture to a screen through which the world is viewed (Lustig & Koester, 2010).
Put simply, this analogy means shared experiences with others shape the meaning of words and symbols, and in turn shape how we perceive the world (Lustig & Koester, 2010). As a result, the unconscious patterns through which we view the world can cause individuals to fear what is strange or different from what they learned to be proper and true. All too often, beliefs and perceptions can be so radically dissimilar they act as a divider causing individuals with dissimilar beliefs to view one another with suspicion or malice.
The film Driving Miss Daisy illustrates an intercultural relationship between an African American man and a Jewish European American woman prior to and during the civil rights movement in the Southern United States. The film centers around two characters from disparate cultural backgrounds that are initially forced to interact, but over time form a life-long friendship. The film begins in Georgia in 1948 and follows the two main characters for more than two decades as their relationship unfolds. Despite exceptionally dissimilar backgrounds the two develop a strong bond over the years.
In the film, Miss Daisy and Hoke come from different cultures, and each are deeply entrenched in their own cultural patterns. Edward Hall’s theories specify cultures vary on a scale ranging from high to low context (Changing Minds, 2011). Miss Daisy is of the European American culture which is identified as a low-context culture, and Hoke is African American which is identified by Hall as high-context culture (Lustig & Koester, 2010). Some of the fundamental differences between the high and low context cultures are evident in this film.
As with low-context cultures Miss Daisy communicates to transmit meaning leaving nothing to the imagination. An example of this occurs early in the film when she clearly expresses her displeasure and aversion to her son’s desire to hire a driver after Miss Daisy wrecked her car. She also demonstrates another trait of the low-context culture by blaming the car. She also blamed her son for the wreck as he did not let her keep her old car. Blaming others for failure is associated with the low-context culture (Changing Minds, 2011).
Miss Daisy also demonstrates her low-context culture when Idella and Hoke are watching a soap opera in the kitchen. She point-blank informs them they are “Melting their brains. ” Hoke demonstrates his culture as plainly as Miss Daisy in the film. As is common with high-context cultures Hoke communicates to promote harmony (Changing Minds, 2011). When compared to Miss Daisy, his reactions are reserved, and he relies more on non-verbal communication where she relies directly on explicit code. An example of his indirect communication was evidenced in the way he approached Miss Daisy’s son, Boolie, for a raise.
He did not directly ask Boolie, but he began by telling him he had received another job offer. He danced around the subject and never directly asked for a rise in pay, but conveyed his intentions through implied messages that Boolie had to decipher in order to comprehend what was being asked. Toward the end of the film the cultural roles seemed to be somewhat reversed when Miss Daisy indirectly asked Hoke to attend Martin Luther King’s speech. Hoke was incensed by her roundabout method of asking him to attend with her.
He told her if she wanted to ask him to attend she should have done it directly, and he told her she should have asked before they were at the event. These overt differences in communication patterns were borne of the characters’ cultural differences. Over time the two individuals learned to communicate effectively and gained an understanding of one another in order to make a successful relationship. Through the years covered in the movie the communication barriers were gradually overcome as the two developed a close friendship that lasted the duration of their lives.
Geert Hofstede, a cultural anthropologist examined cultures and ordered them according by dominant patterns of value orientations regarding power, self, gender, predictability, and time (Lustig & Koester, 2010). Analyzing the power distance patterns of Miss Daisy and Hoke’s respective cultures it becomes evident there were major differences overcome in order for these two to form a relationship. All cultures have preconceived beliefs regarding class inequalities. Miss Daisy held it to be true that each individual has a rightful place in society and that authority figures should not be confronted or questioned.
During the time period this film portrays the European American culture can be ascribed as a culture with a large power distance. African American culture during the civil rights movement was seeking to minimize power distances, and believed that class and social inequalities should be minimized. Throughout most of the film Miss Daisy exemplifies large power distances demonstrating her beliefs regarding her status, and her beliefs that her authority should not be challenged.
Despite her insistence that she was not prejudice, she repeatedly demonstrated her beliefs that she was superior to and separate from African Americans by her continually referencing them as “they,” and referring to African Americans as little children who need to be instructed on what to do. Miss Daisy also demonstrated her power distance preferences when traveling to Alabama. Hoke informs her he needs to use the restroom; she tells him he can wait. She was shocked when he stood up for himself by challenging her authority over him as he pulled the car over to ccommodate his needs. Cultural identity references the sense of belonging within a certain culture or faction resulting from indoctrination in the internalized beliefs, traditions, and common practices of a certain culture (Lustig & Koester, 2010). Cultural patterns indicate the preference of the majority of members of a culture (Lustig & Koester, 2010). At times cultural identity and patterns act as foundations for bias or prejudice, and in turn serve as a barrier keeping those perceived to be different from entering our everyday existence.
Cultural patterns and preferences can be so deeply ingrained they act as barriers to intercultural communication and forming intercultural friendships. These patterns are replete throughout the film Driving Miss Daisy. Miss Daisy demonstrates her belief in social division by her describing her daughter-in-law’s socialization with persons of different religions with unconcealed disdain. She makes no effort to conceal she is suspicious of Hoke. She states, “They all take things, you know. ” This is confirmed in her mind when she discovers a missing can of salmon.
Upon this discovery, she calls her son, Boolie, tells him of the alleged theft. Miss Daisy is ready to fire Hoke when he comes to work with a replacement for the can of salmon he ate. At this point, Boolie’s communication with his mother was completely non-verbal. His disapproving look demonstrated his feelings clearly. He was telling his mother, “I told you he would not steal from you,” but without having to speak a word. Her silent response conveyed to her son with her eyes and actions she was embarrassed she was wrong, but there was no chance of her outwardly acknowledging this point.
Cultural patterns in the movie also manifest themselves in the assumptions the European American characters would make about the Africa Americans. Boolie’s wife, Katie Bell, was irate with her maid because she had forgotten to purchase coconut. Katie Bell was adamant she told the woman to write coconut on the shopping list. It never occurred to Katie Bell the African American woman could not read. The look on the maid’s face conveyed she was afraid to offer a rebuttal or an explanation. Miss Daisy also made the assumption Hoke could read. She was appalled to learn he was illiterate, and he was hesitant to divulge this fact to her.
As it happened this was one of the events that helped the two form a friendship. She told Hoke she had taught many a stupid person to read indirectly implying he was not stupid. She began teaching him on the spot. Later, as a Christmas present, which she pointed out she did not give Christmas presents as she handed him the gift, she presented him with a writing primer. Although nothing more about Miss Daisy teaching Hoke to read is seen in the film it is implied; Hoke is later seen reading the newspaper. Despite the deeply embedded cultural differences, the two characters form a deep-seated friendship.
Toward the end of the film the final cultural distinction reveals itself: the manner in which each culture cared for its elderly. Miss Daisy is in a retirement home, and Hoke is being cared for by his family. Boolie takes Hoke to visit Daisy, and her reaction to seeing him emphasizes the friendship that developed between the two characters over the period of years. She tells her son to go away; Hoke did not come to visit with him. Boolie wanders off, and the two characters share a special moment that can only exists between good friends.
Patience, tolerance and understanding are vital to making an intercultural relationship successful. Over time, Miss Daisy and Hoke learned about the other’s culture and along their journey many stereotypes and misconceptions regarding the other’s culture were eliminated. Over time, they learned about one another and found that their differences were not as great as their commonalities. Despite their different cultural backgrounds they learned to communicate successfully and formed a harmonious, life-long friendship. References (Changing Minds 2011 Hall’s cultural factors)Changing Minds. (2011).
Hall’s cultural factors. Retrieved from http://changingminds. org/explanations/culture/hall_culture. htm (Changing Minds 2011 Hofstede’s cultural factors)Changing Minds. (2011). Hofstede’s cultural factors. Retrieved from http://changingminds. org/explanations/culture/hofstede_culture. htm (Lustig M Koester J 2010 Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communinication across cultures)Lustig, M. , & Koester, J. (2010). Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures (6th Ed. ). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Beresford, B. (1989). Driving Miss Daisy. Georgia: Warner Brothers Pictures.