Module 1: Creating Intercultural Awareness and Understanding Attitudes

Influences and Attitudes

From childhood, we are socialized into our culture and learn about what constitutes right or wrong. At the same time, we are constantly surrounded by outlooks and teachings from our family or school and are exposed to images and content from films, news, the internet, opinions we hear from other people, and so on. These sources constantly influence us and shape the attitudes we have toward ourselves and others.

Before engaging in the activity below, take a moment to think about how you feel toward difference; this could be about doing things in a different way, having a different opinion, or having a cultural background different from yours. How open are you to living in a diverse neighbourhood? How comfortable do you feel learning about doing things differently or seeing things from a different perspective?

Activity: Influences and Attitudes

  1. Read the following statements and decide whether they are acceptable or unacceptable from your own perspective. For example, how uncomfortable or annoyed would you feel if you heard someone say any of them?

Think about this

Look at the statements that seem more acceptable to you, why do you think that is? What about those you marked as unacceptable? What bothers you about themBelow, you will learn about the messages statements such as these may convey. 


At some point in our lives, each one of us holds ethnocentric attitudes because we rely on what we know to be right based on our upbringing—what we learned as we were growing up. We can clearly see this when we observe or interact with people from other cultures and we start forming ideas about what they do right or wrong.

Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s culture is better or superior to others, that the way we do things is right, and the way others do things, act, or behave is wrong. It is a very limiting view that leads people to make unfair assumptions about other cultural groups and impedes the appreciation of different ways of being and behaving.

The statements in the activity above show different degrees of ethnocentrism. In some, a simple change in phrasing would make a big difference. For example, instead of saying, “Hebrew and Arabic are written backwards,” it would be better to say, “Hebrew and Arabic are written from right to left.” This is a more accurate way of describing what you see that removes hidden criticism: “If it’s not written the way I do it (in English, for example), it is backwards.” Remember that for someone who grew up writing from right to left, that is the normal and correct way to write, and, from that view, perhaps English seems to be written backwards.

Taking another example from the activity, if someone says, “Nepalese food is gross,” it is quite unfair to people who grew up with it and enjoyed eating it. By the same token, the food you eat could be really strange to some people. Therefore, it would be better to say, “Nepalese food is very different from what I am used to,” which is a fair statement. Other statements in the activity are politically charged or express views that require a shift in thinking; these would take more time to inspire change. It is important to start by realizing how the way we say things can indeed be unfair or inaccurate and convey an ethnocentric tone—this should help you work toward changing an ethnocentric attitude.

Ethnocentric attitudes can hide behind expectations about others and comments in everyday conversations, as well as in advertising, curriculum content at school and university, policies, and even laws. To see this in context, watch this advertisement of Cadillac coupe 2014 and answer the three questions that follow.

Watch the 2014 Cadillac ELR TV Commercial, ‘Poolside’ (0’56”), a commercial from Cadillac.

Activity: Ethnocentrism

Write your answer in the space provided.


TakeAway Points

  • Since we are socialized within a group where we learn to identify right and wrong through the group’s implicit rules, it is common to develop a level of ethnocentrism. However, this is not an excuse to have an ethnocentric attitude.
  • The key to minimizing ethnocentric tendencies starts with being aware of your attitudes, where they come from, and being open to learning about others, understanding that other ways of doing things are just as valid.

Try These Strategies

  • Pay attention to what you and others say when talking about other people or cultural groups. It is appropriate to be proud of your country and heritage, but this does not give anyone the right to devalue or look down on people with different backgrounds or national origins.
  • Do not go with the flow if your friends or relatives make ethnocentric statements. Ask questions like, “How do you know they do that? Why do you think they behave that way? Have you met many people from that group? Are you close to them?”
  • You can also help by rephrasing statements. For example, instead of saying “British people drive on the wrong side of the road,” say, “British people drive on the opposite side of the road.” Sometimes a small change like that can encourage people to view things from a different perspective.