A good starter activity in learning about culture is finding out a little more about the UK. The link below takes you to a TES resource that begins with a quiz based on National Statistics information. From this, students are provided with a resource on a ‘different’ culture – the Shirbits. Reading through the information on the Shirbits as a class will no doubt result in some disbelief from members of the class at the thought of individuals dragging razors across their face or worshipping the box on the wall above the pool of water. Rearranging the letters in Shirbit will show them that what we are actually looking at here is British culture. It is a very useful reminder that ‘the other’ is not necessarily, strange, devious or ‘wrong’, it’s all down to cultural interpretation.
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Students are then encouraged to think about norms of behaviour – a norm being an informal rule of a society or culture. Students can be asked to brainstorm different British norms (for example, queuing) and to think about the sanctions imposed when people break a norm (for example, tutting). The following article outlines some taboos and norms around the use of chopsticks in Japan. These are a good discussion point and from this students can be asked to suggest the norms around food and eating in Britain. Do the norms vary depending on the location of the food being eaten or on the age of the person consuming the food?
The HSBC adverts (promoting themselves as ‘the world’s local bank’) also provide an insightful view of the social relativity of norms:
Students can make a note of the social norm and the reaction of others around that norm. As a follow on task, students could be asked to consider how social norms can change over time. What things are now considered against the norm that at one time would be acceptable (or vice versa). Examples around child-rearing can be a useful starting point, e.g. mothers putting the baby and pram outside in their garden for their afternoon nap (1950s). This can be compared with childcare practices in countries such as Sweden and Finland today:
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