Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are

Course No. 3092
Professor David Livermore, Ph.D.
Cultural Intelligence Center
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Course No. 3092
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Course Overview

You’ve heard it before: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The concept of cultural adaptation is hardly new. But is it always the best approach? In our increasingly globalized world, the need for cross-cultural understanding has never been more essential to our success in life, both personally and professionally—yet how can we possibly adapt to all the cultures surrounding us?

Whether you are tasked with building business relationships internationally, wish to be a more respectful traveler, or simply want to be a more thoughtful, global citizen at home, developing cultural intelligence, or CQ, is paramount.

Of course, we’re not born with a high level of CQ, and a country’s customs, values, and expectations may be hidden or too subtle and bewildering to pick up on. Common sense alone isn’t enough to help us navigate the cultural differences that can lead to costly misunderstandings, tension, and embarrassment. But groundbreaking research is revealing what we can do to improve our cultural intelligence. With the right guidance, CQ is a capability anyone can develop and hone.
Improving your CQ offers a host of benefits, including

  • the ability to make cross-cultural adjustments more rapidly;
  • greater critical judgment and decision-making abilities in cross-cultural situations;
  • a higher degree of creativity and innovation when working with a multicultural team;
  • increased earning potential; and
  • a greater sense of personal well-being.

In Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are, you’ll learn both the values held by cultures around the world and how those values influence behavior so you can successfully accomplish your objectives, no matter what the cultural context. Taught by Professor David Livermore of the Cultural Intelligence Center, these 24 eye-opening lectures address dynamics and customs related to working, socializing, dining, and marriage and family—all the areas necessary to help you function with a greater level of respect and effectiveness wherever you go.

In this course, you’ll encounter practical tips and crucial context for greeting, interacting with, and even managing people from other parts of the world. But you’ll also see that being culturally intelligent doesn’t mean fully adapting to the cultural preferences of everyone you meet. In fact, sometimes it’s better not to adapt. As Professor Livermore notes, culture is like an iceberg, with only a tiny fraction of it in view. The most significant part of a culture lies invisibly beneath the surface. Failure to account for this can result in extensive damage.

A Guide to the World’s Archetypes

  • Why do people from certain cultures have little regard for time?
  • Why might working overtime reflect poorly on you in Scandinavia?
  • Why should you avoid using your left hand when interacting with someone from the Arab world?
  • Why might someone in China give you incorrect directions rather than say, “I don’t know”? 

Customs of the World illuminates how thousands of years of history and a legacy of practices passed down through generations create differences in behavior that may seem rude or strange to some and perfectly acceptable to others.

In the first half of the course, you’ll analyze 10 cultural value dimensions that researchers have identified as helpful for comparing cultures; and you’ll see how these “sophisticated stereotypes” or “archetypes” play out in day-to-day lives.

For example, you’ll explore the differences between cultures that adhere to clock time, as in the United States, and cultures that operate on event time, as in Brazil. And you’ll identify the differences between “being” cultures such as in Mexico and “doing” cultures like that of the Japanese.

Some of the other dimensions you’ll explore:

  • Individualist versus collectivist: In the United States, the will of the individual is championed, whereas in India, priority lies with the family unit.
  • High power versus low power distance: Some cultures are uncomfortable with visible inequality in power and status, while others accept it.
  • High-context versus low-context communication: Speaking bluntly is appreciated in some countries, while conversational directness is avoided at all costs in others.
  • Neutral versus affective: Many cultures, such as that of the Japanese, show minimal outward signs of emotion. Others, like Italian culture, are highly expressive. 
  • Universalist versus particularist: Some cultures believe rules should apply to everyone equally, while others think each situation and person needs to be handled uniquely.

Be More Savvy at Home and Abroad

An awareness of these cultural dimensions will guide you as you navigate real-world interactions. Your new understanding of power distance, for example, can be applied cross-culturally when

  • addressing people at various levels of status;
  • leading group discussions;
  • deciding where to sit—or seat others—at a social function;
  • interpreting the behavior of children; and
  • asking colleagues to join you for meals.

And you’ll learn a plethora of other practical tips for dealing with business associates and friends from other nations, whether on your home turf or theirs.

Span the Globe in 24 Lectures

In the second half of the course, you’ll look at 10 cultural clusters around the world. Once you combine your understanding of the 10 cultural dimensions with your knowledge of these 10 global clusters, you’ll have strategic insight into how to be more effective as you live, work, and travel in our globalized world.

From the Nordic, Germanic, and Eastern European clusters to the countries in Latin America, Confucian Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, you’ll traverse the continents, expanding your awareness and comprehension of people’s customs, values, aspirations, and motivations.

Discussion of each cluster concludes with “do’s and taboos” for interacting with people from those countries; however, Professor Livermore is careful to point out that cultural intelligence can’t be reduced to a simple list of do’s and don’ts. It requires a more nuanced perspective that balances an understanding of cultural norms with your knowledge of who you are, what you believe, and the particular situation and people involved. Only then can you determine how to behave in ways that are both respectful and productive.

Learn from a Sought-After International Speaker

As an adviser to leaders of Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and governments who has worked in more than 100 countries around the world, Professor Livermore brings an unparalleled depth of cross-cultural knowledge and sensitivity to these lectures. Insights and cautionary tales culled from his decades of travel and experiences living abroad lend a personal touch to the presentation, while detailed maps, charts, portraits, and on-screen text guide your learning.

Clear, organized, engaging, and, best of all, practical, this course is an indispensible guide for our times. So make an investment in your cultural intelligence with Customs of the World.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    Culture Matters
    What is culture? How do you know whether you can attribute a person’s behavior to culture or personality? Why are business executives increasingly paying attention to the realities of cultural differences? Start to answer these questions as you explore why virtually every aspect of our lives is shaped by culture. x
  • 2
    Developing Cultural Intelligence (CQ)
    According to research, there are recurring characteristics that exist among those who can be described as culturally intelligent. Examine these capabilities, then learn a variety of ways to enhance your own cultural intelligence. Consider the potential benefits of improving your CQ, from being a better global citizen to increasing your earning power. x
  • 3
    Identity—Individualist versus Collectivist
    Begin your exploration of the 10 cultural value dimensions most useful when comparing cultures. As you contrast individualist and collectivist societies, learn how these differences shape personal behavior and society in countries such as the United States, China, and India, then get helpful tips for working with people from each background. x
  • 4
    Authority—Low versus High Power Distance
    Power distance—the degree to which members of a society are comfortable with inequality in power, influence, and wealth—is one of the most significant value orientations that shape behavior. Identify cultures and settings with high and low power distance indexes and learn how you can use an understanding of this dynamic to avoid misunderstandings or awkward situations. x
  • 5
    Risk—Low versus High Uncertainty Avoidance
    Your tolerance for risk and the degree to which you believe people should develop contingency plans is not only a reflection of your personality, it’s also a product of your cultural background. Compare behavior between high and low uncertainty-avoidant cultures, and conclude with tips for interacting with people from both. x
  • 6
    Achievement—Cooperative versus Competitive
    The degree to which a society emphasizes the importance of nurturing, collaborative behavior over achieving results varies widely and can cause confusion, particularly for business travelers. Look at countries and personalities at each end of the cooperative-competitive spectrum, and learn why the most lively groups, organizations, and work teams include people from both orientations. x
  • 7
    Time—Punctuality versus Relationships
    There is perhaps no cultural difference that people relate to more than the stewardship of time. Learn how researchers account for these variations, and see how a culture’s tendency to be “polychronic,” or have a long-term orientation, correlates with punctuality being a low priority. Conclude with practical suggestions for dealing with people who may not share your view of time. x
  • 8
    Communication—Direct versus Indirect
    Do you appreciate people who “shoot straight” or do you find that communication style overly direct? The culture in which you were raised has a lot to do with your answer. Differentiate between high-context cultures such as that of Liberia, where much is left open to interpretation, and low-context cultures such as in Holland, where little is taken for granted. x
  • 9
    Lifestyle—Being versus Doing
    Return to the topic of how we relate to time, but shift your focus to contrasts between “being” and “doing” cultures and ways you can effectively relate to people whose orientation differs from yours. Consider how our environment shapes this value and can even create variations within a culture—as in differences between New Yorkers and Midwesterners. x
  • 10
    Rules—Particularist versus Universalist
    People in North America, western Europe, and Australia tend to be universalists who believe a singular set of rules should apply to everyone regardless of circumstances. Particularists, found in many Asian societies, Latin America, and Russia, believe each situation should be handled individually. See how these dimensions play out in daily life and learn why bribes are expected when you visit particularist countries. x
  • 11
    Expressiveness—Neutral versus Affective
    In many cultures, long pauses in conversation are uncomfortable, but in Asia—which has a “neutral” expression culture—it’s a sign of respect. Consider how expressiveness is often a product of our cultural and socioeconomic origins, then examine the concept of “face” and get tips for making someone from a face-conscious country feel comfortable. x
  • 12
    Social Norms—Tight versus Loose
    As the intermingling of cultures and religions increases globally, so too does tension in many societies. Contrast “tight” cultures, where there are rules, norms, and standards for “correct” behavior, with “loose” cultures that have greater “category width” and will tolerate a variety of viewpoints and behaviors. x
  • 13
    Roots of Cultural Differences
    Cultural value dimensions must be understood within the broader framework of cultural intelligence, or else we stereotype people. Pause at this midpoint of the course to consider deeper questions about why cultures do what they do and how far you can apply these various generalizations. Then get an introduction to the 10 global clusters that you’re about to explore in detail. x
  • 14
    Anglo Cultures
    As you begin your examination of specific locations around the world, explore the currents that flow throughout this geographically dispersed culture with historical ties to the British Empire. Consider what it means to be an “average American” and get a list of do’s and don’ts for dealing with people from the Anglo cluster. x
  • 15
    Nordic European Cultures
    In Sweden, every employee (grad students included) gets five weeks of paid vacation. Across Scandinavia, dressing prosperously is frowned upon. See how the people of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden live life based on Jante Law—which says people shouldn’t see themselves as special or better than anyone else. x
  • 16
    Germanic Cultures
    German culture emphasizes orderliness, straightforwardness, and loyalty, so it can be easy to interpret its people’s behavior as rigid, aloof, and untrusting. Investigate the long history of the German cluster, its way of life, and what we can learn about Germany from its art, literature, and music. x
  • 17
    Eastern European/Central Asian Cultures
    Characterized by a tough tenacity forged through centuries of harsh weather, constant movement, and the dominance of other clans and empires, this diverse cluster includes countries such as Russia, Slovenia, Poland, Greece, Kazakhstan, and Albania. Take a closer look at what connects these cultures and the reasons why—despite their having a reputation for hospitality—customer service seems to have limited priority. x
  • 18
    Latin European Cultures
    Why do the French and people from the United States often seem to dislike each other? Find out in this lecture on the culture and dining customs of the Latin European cluster, which includes Italy, Portugal, France, French Switzerland, Belgium, and—although an outlier—Israel. Also get tips for handling catcalls as the locals do when you visit Italy and other countries in which such behavior is common. x
  • 19
    Latin American Cultures
    Why are you expected to provide your own nurse in some Latin American hospitals? What does it mean to be Latino? Draw distinctions between Latin America and Latin Europe as you investigate common Latin American cultural traits, including the central importance of family, adherence to Roman Catholicism, and a contagious form of optimism. x
  • 20
    Confucian Asian Cultures
    Etiquette, order, and protocol are important to Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures—but so is getting drunk. See why this is especially true in Chinese business culture, where relationships can make or break you, and learn the five key relationships that govern most of life in Confucian cultures. Also, look at where the custom of using chopsticks comes from. x
  • 21
    South Asian Cultures
    We often think of Asia as having a monolithic culture, but the South Asian cluster has very different characteristics and core cultural values from places such as China, Japan, and Korea. Explore the various foods, religions, languages, ethnic influences, and other aspects of countries including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. x
  • 22
    Sub-Saharan African Cultures
    Why are Africans so religious? Why are African brides looked upon with such high regard? How big a problem is corruption in Africa, really? Get answers as you examine the diversity of Sub-Saharan Africa’s customs, religious and tribal traditions, and lifestyles, as well as its unifying history of colonization and slavery. x
  • 23
    Arab Cultures
    The news often depicts the Arab world as a place filled with conflict and unrest—but is that an accurate portrayal? Learn the Five Pillars of Islam, why you must avoid using your left hand when interacting with others, what it means to be an Arab, and more in this lecture that clears up misperceptions frequently associated with Arabic culture. x
  • 24
    Cultural Intelligence for Life
    Using the hypothetical situation of traveling to Southeast Asia, learn CQ strategies that help you prepare for and make the most of your trip, whether your destination is in that part of the world or elsewhere. Also, get tips for avoiding jet lag and quickly identifying where the place you’ll be visiting falls within each cultural value dimension. x

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  • 168-page printed course guidebook
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  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

David Livermore

About Your Professor

David Livermore, Ph.D.
Cultural Intelligence Center
Dr. David Livermore is president and partner at the Cultural Intelligence Center in East Lansing, Michigan, and a Visiting Scholar at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Before leading the Cultural Intelligence Center, he spent 20 years in leadership positions with a variety of nonprofit organizations around the world and taught at several universities. Professor Livermore completed his Ph.D. at Michigan State...
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Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 66.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New Learning for me. I recommend this course not only for cultural intelligence but for self knowledge. One doesn't have to travel to apply these principles but can gain deeper awareness of oneself. This course is perfectly comprehensible in audio. There is no need to get video.
Date published: 2019-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course. I travel a lot. This course really helped me to appreciate the basis of some of the differences you see in behavior in different countries. And be less judgemental about them?
Date published: 2019-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Read Great Read, gives you a very good insight to people thinking and reason behind it. Which helps in you understanding people and working with them.
Date published: 2019-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Where's the McDonald's? So why did I choose a course on understanding cultural differences? Was I smitten with wanderlust or was I merely trying to make better sense of the world at my doorstep? How do others perceive me? Doctor David Livermore offers a good insight into how other cultures think and behave, and how we may interact with ease. He keeps shop talk to a minimum, stressing more on personal and affective stories rather than on rational discourse. The frequent tips and taboos when dealing with other cultures were helpful, as were polarities of cultural dimensions. Examining the world in terms of ten country clusters provided a good overview presented within twenty-four lectures. Doctor Livermore confided at the beginning of one of his lectures that he loves to travel and immerse himself in local customs and ways of life so he may take away valuable experience. Many people love to travel, so this course is recommended to those with an interest in ways of people around the globe.
Date published: 2018-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! I been listening the Great Courses for several months now, and this is one of my favorites. Excellent info, well-presented. The app could use some work - poky downloads, does not auto-connect when I return to my car. These are minor complaints, though. Overall, an excellent value!
Date published: 2018-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Insightful I listened to the CDs. The lecturer first provides 10 significant continuums upon which cultures and societies differ, e.g., collective vs. individualism and open vs, closed. He then breaks the world down into 10 cultural regions, e.g., Latin, Confucius and English-speaking. He then applies the 10 continuums to the 10 cultural regions and provides deep insight into each region based on the continuums. Very enlightening!
Date published: 2018-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Essential for Anyone in International Settings I work with international organizations and collaborators on a daily basis. I originally took this course in 2014, but have found that I repeatedly return to its content. What makes this course so interesting is that it looks at cultural intelligence two different ways. In the first section, it addresses characteristics (i.e. approach to time or authority), and then in the second section, geographical regions. The result is that you get a mental matrix for understanding the culture and manners no matter where you are. This is a really excellent course, and highly recommended for those who have regular interactions with people from different cultures AND for those who are just curious about the differences,
Date published: 2018-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Lot to Learn This is a very interesting course. The professor does a great job explaining the concept of cultural intelligence, spending a lesson on each element of cultural intelligence. The most interesting part of the course, though, was the second half where he visited every major cultural group in the world to discuss the major characteristics and differences. I feel like I learned a lot from this course, and it was well-worth my time.
Date published: 2018-04-13
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