Book Review – Foreign to Familiar


Lanier, Sarah A.  Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot – And Cold – Climate Cultures. Hagerstown, MD: McDougal Publishing, 2000.  ISBN 1-58158-022-3

Someone from Ecuador visiting the United States for the first time complains that, “When I asked for a ride, I was told that there was no more room.  Americans are so rude.”  A Western European returning from travels in Africa says to a friend, “Africans have no sense of priorities.  They are always late.” These are common complaints and anyone working in a cross-cultural environment is bound to have heard similar complaints.  Perhaps you have had similar thoughts yourself.  The question is, are Americans always rude?  Do Africans really have no sense of priorities?  Or, is something else going on.  In the book Foreign to Familiar, Sarah A. Lanier, attempting to answer these, and similar, questions that always come up when cultures collide.

The fact of the matter is that many of conflicts that occur between people of different cultures can be broadly explained through the concepts of hot-climate cultures and cold-climate cultures.  Lanier explains how Americans are not rude.  Instead,  Americans as a cold-climate people are interested in ineffiency and therefore give direct answers to questions rather than worry about the answer’s impact on relationships.  In contrast, someone from a hot-climate culture, such as Ecuador, is more interested in maintaining relationships and would avoid giving a direct negative answer.  Neither is correct or incorrect, it only matter of the culture where you happen to be.  Similarly, Africans come from generally hot-climate cultures, where time is event based rather than schedule based.  Thus, Africans have a sense of priority, the event – just not the priority sense of person from a cold-climate culture.  Lanier expands these concepts and explains them in terms of relationships, communication styles, group identity, privacy, hospitality, social context, and time.  This book is written is highly practical and readable format and is essential for anyone seeking to work and relate cross-culturally.  It should be required reading for anyone participating in short-term missions or as a long term missionary.  This book gets five stars!!!

1 comment to Book Review – Foreign to Familiar

  • This is an easy read and a great book for someone who may be just starting out learning about different cultures and why some things appear “wrong” in other parts of the world. This book makes sense!

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