Cultural CV and Cultural Onion

An example for the five layers of culture (values, taboos, heroes, rituals, symbols)

Research Paper (undergraduate) 2009 6 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Miscellaneous


Natalie Züfle ICC

Task: Take one aspect of your culture that has influenced you. Write a “cultural CV” (up to 500 words).

One aspect that has influenced me on my culture is the competitive situation at school in Germany. At the latest in the 4th grade of elementary school marks started to matter, because in the Bavarian school system it decides then, if you can go to high school (Gymnasium) or if you will continue common school, which later on splits up again into intermediate secondary school (Realschule) or secondary general school (Hauptschule). This meant that you couldn’t have no worse grade than 2, except for one 31 in your school report in order to change to high school.

In high school, competition continued and became even tougher in the higher classes. In this type of school everyone had more or less to look after himself, meaning that there was only little teamwork. Rather, one had to do everything on his own – homework, study, tests and exams, of course. You were taught not to let look – let alone crib other schoolmates. Nevertheless, we developed nice cheating techniques (however, when one was caught this ended in a failed exam).

Soon, we began to compare each other’s grades and tried to figure out who had the best one. The peak was the final exams (Abitur), where we had a kind of ranking of our overall scores. This overall score in turn decided if one could afterwards study at university the subject that one wanted. At German universities there is a tough competition to get into certain, and usually much desired fields of study (like psychology, law, economics, medicine etc.). Thus, you needed either good grades or you had to wait for a long time, or do something else.

Almost the same applied to the option of doing an apprenticeship. The most important criterion for employers seemed to be a good school report, hereafter following social and other competences. For high-school graduates most times it was easier to get an apprenticeship as compared with graduates from other, i.e. lower level school types. After school I initially decided to follow the latter variant. And there, from my point of view, the contrariness of two systems collided. One the one hand, there was the vocational college with a similar competitiveness as compared to high school. On the other hand, there was the company in which I worked at the same time, and where I had to learn that in order to “survive” successfully on the market you had to look beyond your own nose, which meant not to hoard knowledge just for yourself, but to share knowledge with your colleagues, to ask them and to learn from them. This was assertively welcomed. In the beginning it was hard, as I was used to do everything on my own, but after a little while it made totally sense to me and I got used to it. Only like this, a society can be able to survive on the competitive markets of the world in the future.

Needless to say that at the time I entered the University for Applied Sciences, it was the same competitive game again. But with my earlier experiences from my apprenticeship it helped me a lot to learn and gain knowledge effectively during the practical phases in our authority.

Task: “Peel” two “cultural onions” (500 words). One for yourself and one for your culture. Try to find at least one example for the five layers of culture (values, taboos, heroes, rituals, symbols) that are representative for yourself and for your culture (you do not necessarily have to agree with your culture, just describe what you think is representative for your culture).


Within my Culture

“My house, my car, my boat”: Life in Germany is still quite structured in many parts of the country (especially when you are from the countryside). This means, briefly outlined, that as a kid you attend school, afterwards as a young grown-up you go to university or make an apprenticeship, find a partner, buy a car, start a family, and finally move into your own house, to its construction you often contributed with your own hands. A neat fence, alternatively a high hedge, painstakingly delimits one’s own plot of land from your neighbour’s. All in all, material things are important status symbols for Germans, signifying that someone has achieved major aims in life.

For me

People are hunter-gatherers. As for me, I have a weakness for collecting flags wherever I have been. They affiliate my memories with the special country I have been to. Moreover, I like to collect glasses – Coca Cola glasses. So, for instance, I have a Christmas edition, or several glasses from soccer world championships. I put them neatly into my glasses section in the kitchen and no one should dare to use these glasses for drinking purposes.


Within my Culture

In Germany there are several greeting traditions: so e.g. the younger person greets the elder one first, likewise the gentleman the lady, and a subordinate person the person higher in rank. Moreover, the person entering a room is usually the one who should greet first.

For me

There is a famous German book of conduct – the Knigge („Über den Umgang mit Menschen“). This book comprises many rituals about how a “good” person should behave. During high school we had a teacher who – whenever we did something naughty – let us write the respective chapter from the Knigge as an “extra” homework. In the aftermath I would say a good way to learn more about decent behaviour.


Within my Culture

Often it is politicians that are seen as a kind of heroes. At the moment one could say that the German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is seen by many as a hero, conveying charisma and wisdom. For others also Chancellor Angela Merkel is a hero, because she is the first woman who made it to the top, asserting herself very well on the international stage.

For me

When I was a kid, TV-stars who were strong, brave and ready witted were often my heroes. Examples are Colt Seavers, Harry Fox, or Bud Spencer and Terrence Hill. As a teenager, usually live-persons (like Judo trainers etc.) became my kind of hero, or more precisely: role models.


Within my Culture

Values in the German culture are among others: punctuality, neatness, cleanliness or diligence – to name a few.


1 Grades in Germany range from 1 (best) to 6 (failed)


ISBN (eBook)
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418 KB
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Free University of Berlin – Center for Global Politics
intercultural communication Interkulturelle Kommunikation cultural onion cultural CV



Title: Cultural CV and Cultural Onion