About Dianne Hofner Saphiere

There are loads of talented people in this gorgeous world of ours. We all have a unique contribution to make, and if we collaborate, I am confident we have all the pieces we need to solve any problem we face. I have been an intercultural organizational effectiveness consultant since 1979, working primarily with for-profit multinational corporations. I lived and worked in Japan in the late 70s through the 80s, and currently live in and work from México, where with a wonderful partner we've raised a bicultural, global-minded son. I have worked with organizations and people from over 100 nations in my career. What's your story?

Developing Cultural Competency as a Life-long Journey

CSxMJSzXAAARY7-I have long admired Christian Höferle of The Culture Mastery. He is a German-born intercultural trainer and consultant living in Georgia (USA), a certified facilitator of Cultural Detective, and writes a funny and useful blog that has taught US-born me a lot about southern US culture.

Christian recently began a new podcast series—The Culture Guy—that keeps me chuckling while also reminding me what’s important about cross-cultural effectiveness. I was honored to be his third guest, and thoroughly enjoyed the wide-ranging conversation. Christian is intelligent, witty, and committed to excellence. I trust you will find the interview worthwhile; you can listen by clicking the playbar below or on this link.

After you’ve listened to the podcast, please take a moment to share with us one of your “cultural fool” moments, an example of when your “common sense” wasn’t shared, or a favorite tip for success across cultures. We look forward to reading them!

Cultural Appropriation of Day of the Dead?

©1.IMG_0542You may know that I am US American born, and that I live in México. The latter is a huge country overflowing with diversity, art, and tradition. México is the world’s 13th largest economy, home of a growing middle class. Here in Mazatlán where I live, “Day of the Dead” is a big deal. Many families and businesses decorate altars and visit cemeteries to honor, remember, and often party with the dead. We have a huge street walk with marching bands and flowing beer, and a beautiful event involving dance, music, and poetry in our historic theater. Many locals and immigrants paint their faces and dress up.

However, not many of us here realize that there has been quite a backlash outside of Mexico to the cultural appropriation and commercialization of Day of the Dead by non-Latinos.

I first realized how “hot” Day of the Dead was on my recent visit to a US liquor store. There, I was astounded by the quantity of Day of the Dead- or calaca-themed beer and liquor! To be honest, skeletons and skulls in and of themselves seem to be popular, and anything Mexican (amigoslucha libre….), Spanish (Don Quixote), or mystical (voodoo) as well. The commercialization is, indeed, real. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Living here in Mexico, where we are privileged to be steeped in the traditions as well as the festivities, I hadn’t realized the concerns about appropriation of Day of the Dead until I read a post by one of the bloggers I follow, Aya de Leon, entitled, “Dear White People/Queridos Gringos: You Want Our Culture But You Don’t Want Us — Stop Colonizing The Day Of The Dead.”

In reading her excellent article and researching the matter a bit more, it seems that most Latinos are proud of this holiday. They understand that recognizing the dearly departed is a universal desire. Most are happy to share and ready to welcome us into the Día de los Muertos traditions, which have existed since Aztec times. But they most definitely and understandably resent our taking on the traditions as our own and transforming them into something they’re not — emptying the traditions of their soul. She writes:

And the urge to colonization is born when your own land and resources have been taken over by the greedy and your cultures have been bankrupted. Halloween has a rich history as an  indigenous European holiday that celebrated many of the same themes as Day of the Dead, but you have let it be taken over by Wal-Mart… You have abandoned Halloween, left it laying in the street like a trampled fright wig from the dollar store.

Take back your holiday. Take back your own indigenous culture. Fight to reclaim your own spirituality.

Please. Stop colonizing ours.

Aya gives examples of Day of the Dead festivals organized by non-Latinos in which Latino voices and faces are not even present! She talks of a sort of Cinco-de-Mayo-ization (my words) of Day of the Dead, in which white hipsters wear calaca face paint, stand amongst broken marigolds listening to white bands, and drink gentrified, holiday-themed micro-brews, without so much as a thought to what the true tradition is or means. She explains, and rightly complains, that we love Mexican culture when it’s convenient and fun, but not when it involves advocating to solve undocumented immigration, illegal gun exports, or rampant femicide.

So where, exactly, is the line between participating in and honoring Day of the Dead and appropriating or colonizing it?

Cultural appropriation is often used as an accusation, implying theft. But cultures, their traditions and artifacts, often aren’t clearly distinguishable. Throughout history people have intermingled, shared, and been inspired by one another.  As an interculturalist, I’m all about diversity, integration, collaboration, creativity. There is nothing inherently wrong in us learning from and building on one another; that is actually, rather, a really good thing!

The problem, Aya tells us, is many who are welcomed to the Day of the Dead table are poor guests. We don’t sit at the table; we take the table over. We don’t pay our respects, acknowledge our hosts, or say thank you. We need to be conscious that if we organize themed events, we should use them as opportunities to showcase Latino artists and musicians, and we should hold the tradition with reverence, respect, and a desire to learn and honor.

In an insightful piece in Quartz, Noah Berlatsky tells us that the problem with cultural appropriation is racism:

“There’s nothing wrong with Elvis loving and imitating Jackie Wilson. But there is something wrong with the fact that Elvis is hailed as the King of Rock n’ Roll, while most people barely know who Jackie Wilson is…

White performers, like Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus, use twerking in their videos on the way to becoming more successful and awarded than the black women who developed the style in the first place. When the white borrower, predictably, earns more accolades than the borrowee, artistic freedom and admiration is transformed into something much more problematic…

While country music loves black music, it mostly excludes black artists, in the sense that those artists are not considered central, and their contributions aren’t recognized.”

Therefore, all of us need to be vigilant to extend power and privilege, credit and honor, to the origins and originators, not just to those who adapt. However, our modern-day systems are skewed against us. Those who write a book are credited with ideas expressed by others; individuals and corporations can copyright and trademark something that has a long tradition and belongs to a group of people.

Did you know that Disney even attempted to trademark Day of the Dead? They were making a movie called Day of the Dead, and wanted to trademark the title. Thanks to huge response to a petition on Change.org, Disney rather quickly pulled its application. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, here’s what some of those opposing Disney’s trademark application had to say:

“Our spiritual traditions are for everyone, not for companies like Walt Disney to trademark and exploit,” wrote Grace Sesma, the petition’s creator. “I am deeply offended and dismayed that a family-oriented company like Walt Disney would seek to own the rights to something that is the rightful heritage of the people of Mexico. This is a sacred tradition. It’s NOT FOR SALE,” wrote Consuelo Alba, of Watsonville, Calif.

The trademark application was “odd” to Evonne Gallardo, executive director of the Boyle Heights art center Self Help Graphics. The center puts on one of the largest Day of the Dead celebrations in Los Angeles and has been sponsored by the Walt Disney Co. “The right thing to do is not to attempt to trademark a cultural and spiritual celebration,” Gallardo said. “I have yet to see a trademark on Christmas or Hanukkah.”

The movie was re-titled to “Coco,” no doubt so that Disney could trademark the title and create a website. One of the most spirited activists to oppose the trademark application was cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, creator of that incredibly powerful graphic above. In a great act of corporate listening and learning, he was recently hired on by Disney to work on the film about which he protested! Our speaking up to defend our heritage can have positive results! The movie is being made, showcasing a beautiful tradition, and it now includes more representation from the very culture it portrays.

Today as I started to write this post, I read an interesting article in The Atlantic: “The Do’s and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation.” In it, Jenni Avins provides six recommendations to prevent appropriation, including involvement of and engagement with members of the culture. She points out that cultures are fluid and constantly changing, so we can’t ask that they stay frozen in time. On the other hand, foreign passion has often helped preserve native traditions, arts, handicrafts, music, dance, literature and even languages. Like Aya, she highlights the importance of acknowledging and honoring the source, the origin, of cultural arts and traditions. Jenni also provides two “don’ts”: never wear blackface, and never use sacred artifacts as accessories.

If you celebrate Day of the Dead, please, participate in and enjoy the festivities, and use the opportunity to truly remember those who have preceded us in death. Day of the Dead provides a perfect time for us to learn from our Mexican and Latino neighbors and friends, and to share with them a human universal: remembrance and longing for those we’ve loved and lost.

I would heartily welcome your sharing with us stories of when you felt torn between wanting to participate in or honor a culture, and fearing that you were appropriating. For me, I quickly remember two different occasions when esteemed colleagues gifted me beautiful and expensive native dress, and requested that I wear it during training. I just couldn’t. I felt comfortable to wear their gifts for a social occasion, but for an intercultural training, where I was in a power position, and not a member of or fluent in the culture the dress represented, it just didn’t feel right. Yet I know I disappointed my colleagues. I do wear blouses made from kimono fabric, or blouses or skirts from other cultures. There’s just something about a complete outfit and hairstyle combination that makes me feel like I’m trying to be something I’m not.

How about you? Do share!

Focus on Happiness vs. Growth!

“Overconsumption” photo ©The Guardian.

Interculturalists have long known that the answers to our world problems lie within the diversity of values and wisdom in the people of our world. Today I learned that economists are now agreeing with us.

For over seventy years economists have told us that growth is the solution to world poverty, that “growth” equals “progress.” Progressives and some of the world’s wealthiest have recently begun to advocate taxation schemes to redistribute monies from the wealthiest and thus build a bit of justice into our systems. Yet, neither approach will work.

Since 1980, the global economy has grown by 380%, but the number of people living in poverty on less than $5 (£3.20) a day has increased by more than 1.1 billion. That’s 17 times the population of Britain. So much for the trickle-down effect.
—Jason Hickel in The Guardian, 23 September 2015

We are already over-consuming Earth’s bio-capacity by 60%. The real problem is overconsumption by the world’s wealthiest countries, and the way in which we conceptualize “progress.”

Our planet only has enough resources for each of us to consume 1.8 “global hectares” annually—a standardised unit that measures resource use and waste. This figure is roughly what the average person in Ghana or Guatemala consumes. By contrast, people in the US and Canada consume about 8 hectares per person, while Europeans consume 4.7 hectares—many times their fair share.
—Jason Hickel

In a wonderfully insightful article in The Guardian, Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, tells us that an intercultural approach and cross-cultural values may be the solution to problems facing our world. Jason tells us how “economist Peter Edward argues that instead of pushing poorer countries to ‘catch up’ with rich ones, we should be thinking of ways to get rich countries to ‘catch down’ to more appropriate levels of development. We should look at societies where people live long and happy lives at relatively low levels of income and consumption not as basket cases that need to be developed towards western models, but as exemplars of efficient living.” Costa Rica, for example, manages to sustain one of the highest happiness indicators and life expectancies in the world with a per capita income one-fourth that of the US.

“Perhaps we should regard such countries not as underdeveloped, but rather as appropriately developed. And maybe we need to start calling on rich countries to justify their excesses! According to recent consumer research, 70% of people in middle- and high-income countries believe overconsumption is putting our planet and society at risk. A similar majority also believe we should strive to buy and own less, and that doing so would not compromise our happiness. People sense there is something wrong with the dominant model of economic progress and they are hungry for an alternative narrative.”

Jason directs us to Latin American values such as “buen vivir,” living the good life, to which I’d add also a respect for the planet, Pacha Mama, and community values such as the African “ubuntu.” You can find in-depth explanations of hundreds of non-dominant values in Cultural Detective Online. Changing our western- and northern-centric definitions of progress to a definition more inclusive of the eastern and southern value system could be just the ticket to our survival as a species. Jason also points us toward books such as Robert and Edward Skidelsky’s How Much is Enough?

As Jason concludes his article:

Either we slow down voluntarily or climate change will do it for us. We can’t go on ignoring the laws of nature. But rethinking our theory of progress is not only an ecological imperative, it is also a development one.

This is not about giving anything up. On the contrary, it’s about reaching a higher level of understanding and consciousness about what we’re doing here and why.

Cultural Detectives, let us use this new-found recognition as a catalyst to breathe new motivation into our efforts!

University of Valencia Master’s in Cross-cultural Management

logo-uvSo many people in Europe ask us about Cultural Detective Facilitator Certifications and other professional development opportunities. We of course always mention the Intercultural Development Research Institute in Milan, of which I’m a proud faculty member.

Soon there will be a terrific new opportunity: a Master’s in Cross-cultural Management, offered by the University of Valencia in Spain. The program is extensive and very practical, including cross-cultural management theory as well as cross-cultural marketing, project management, negotiation, conflict resolution, global teams, international assignments, and intercultural training and coaching. The program culminates in an internship or final project.

The faculty teaching this program are incredible, and I am proud to be among them. It is an incredibly talented and diverse group of professionals from around the world.

You can pre-register now, or download a brochure to pass on to your students or colleagues.

Great Press Response to CD’s New Book!

JoeLurie600Cultural Detective is the proud publisher of a wonderful new book chock-full of stories of intercultural interaction from around the world—a book that contains loads of proverbs and insights to current events as well: Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures, authored by Joe Lurie.

Response from the press to the new book has been swift and highly positive.

  1. The first article came from the National Peace Corps Association. Joe has a fellowship endowed in his honor, one designed to enable returned Peace Corps volunteers to obtain their PhDs. Isn’t that terrific? So they used our book to encourage people to apply and further their education! Read more about Joe, the book and the fellowship in this terrific article.
  2. University of California Berkeley profiled Perception and Deception in a public affairs news release, Former I-House director explores cross-cultural encounters in new book.
  3. Perception and Deception was also showcased recently in Psychology Today, in an article entitled, Do You Perceive Things the Way They Really Are?

Joe has been doing quite a few readings, and one that is open to the public is coming up on Tuesday, December 8, at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. He is an incredible storyteller, and it’s sure to be a lively audience, so don’t miss the opportunity!

Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures is available in print or ebook versions, via your local bookseller or amazon. Be sure to get your copy today! The book makes a wonderful gift.

What Will They Think of Me?


The International Improv Conference in Mannheim Germany June 2015

We are pleased to share with you today a guest blog post by Patricia Comolet; bio follows the post.

What is one of the main challenges of going into a new cultural situation? Of course—dealing with the unknown—and, often, the self-doubt that it can trigger:

OMG do I need to take off my shoes here? But I have a hole in my sock! What will they think of me?

In other situations, it could be defensive self-assertion that might be triggered:

It is clear that this situation requires someone here to take charge. As the new COO it is my job to step up to that challenge. I need to show that I know what I’m doing or what will they think of me?

Underneath the stress of adapting to an unknown situation or culture can be the insidious fear of judgment.

“Improv” is the art of improvisational theatre, and I find that building an “Improv mindset” is a unique way to prepare for a new office, new city, new country, and /or new culture. It offers a different and vibrant way to deal with the underlying question: What will they think of me?

Why is this so? In the world of Improv, the notion of judgment, with time and practice, fades. Instead, we learn a serendipitous mindset of responding, to the best of our ability, to whatever is presented. I believe that I can manage whatever shows up if I adapt some essential guidelines gained through Improv.

Through Improv exercises we can learn to give ourselves this initial moment to pause and open up to where we are and with whom we are interacting.

Want to try it? Get a partner who is open to learning.

  • Begin by simply looking at your partner to assess his/her current state. What’s going on for him/her? Take the time to assess the environment. What is happening around you? (Developing observational skills and emotional intelligence are two very fundamental intercultural competences, pivotal for any Cultural Detective.)
  • Then comes the basic improv approach: Yes, and. You respond to what has been proposed with a “yes, and.” However, this is not your run-of-the-mill “yes, I hear your thoughts, and here is my idea.” Rather, this is a most distinctive and committed “Yes, and I could add this to your thoughts.” Improv involves an upward spiraling “yes, and” with each participant focused on what they can add to the original proposition. You’ll find the “yes and” in the Cultural Detective list of A Dozen Best Practices for Enhancing Intercultural Excellence.

The magic happens in the process. Allowing ourselves to let go of our own approach or perspective long enough to hear and work with someone else’s provides the time and space necessary to really connect with others. The process builds bridges across divides.

It requires focused intention to step into the other person’s idea/culture/mindset, but once there, like Alice through the Looking Glass, there is a sort of wonder at what is possible. I found, in my improv training, a simmering excitement as I was caught up in the possibilities I could come up with—once I acknowledged the other’s vision of things.

By working with this technique we build acceptance and openness to new ideas. (More intercultural competences being honed here, right?)

Facts, feelings, and intentions are the raw material we have to work with. In the theatre, as in the world of cultural differences, it is the interpretations we assign to what we see and feel that trigger emotions within us. It is those emotions that influence our interpretations. By raising awareness of the power of the interpretations we unconsciously apply to unfamiliar situations, we can open a whole new way to experience what is going on around us. Improv provides a framework for considering other possible interpretations.

In the theatre, as in the world of cultural differences, it is the interpretations we assign to what we see and feel that trigger emotions within us.

Another valuable idea coming from the world of Improv is the simple notion of “make the other one look good.” No matter what is tossed at us during an Improv session, the spirit is to take what is and build on it positively, with the intention of making the other look good. Again, Cultural Detective’s “positive intent” parallels the philosophy of Improv.

Imagine what strength we would gain if we would approach new situations with the idea that it is up to us to make the other shine! What impact could such a positive sense of purpose have on us? How could it help us to adapt more enthusiastically to a new situation?

Improvisation has the benefit of being experiential learning that can help us truly assimilate the knowledge of a culture or people. This fits nicely into intercultural coaching, as cultural differences are easier to perceive when actually experienced. By playing with scenarios in a relaxed atmosphere, we can work through the specific challenges our clients are dealing with to help them experience a shift in their understanding—a shift to help fade the fear of “What will they think of me?

Improv techniques and Cultural Detective integrate easily together, with CD providing a framework in which to use the skills acquired through Improv to better communicate across cultures. Learning to let go of the idea that our approach is the only approach is part of what can be derived from utilizing the CD process. Cultural Detective Value Lenses help us to recognize that our interpretation of events is but one of many potential interpretations. And, the “yes, and” approach may help each person value and build on the diversity found within the interaction. If you haven’t yet, be sure to subscribe today.

PatriciaComoletOur guest author, Patricia Comolet, has a background in surgical nursing, and has worked and lived in seven countries on four continents, including work in Africa and India, honing her ability to get real results in difficult conditions. Currently, she focuses on coaching global and virtual team dynamics, integrating her skills developed during challenging work experiences with her coaching training. Patricia helps global teams to clarify their team dynamics and establish concrete objectives by promoting clear communication, creative problem solving, collective intelligence, and strong team identity. More information about her work can be found on her website: camcomcoaching.com

The Pulitzer’s of Diversity

Edith Anisfield Wolf, Photo from the Cleveland Foundation

Edith Anisfield Wolf, photo from the Cleveland Foundation

Do you think you are well-read on world cultures? Do you occasionally wonder what one person can do to promote justice in this world of ours? Are you someone who thinks that it’s primarily people of color who recognize the vital importance of diversity on our planet? If so, think again and most definitely read on.

Edith Anisfield Wolf, born way back in 1889, was a poet, businesswoman and philanthropist from Cleveland who had a lifelong passion for social justice. The daughter of immigrants, Edith spoke four languages (English, French, German and Spanish) and used literature as a means to explore racial prejudice and celebrate human diversity.

In 1935 she created the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, to honor books that explore these very issues. That makes 2015 the Award’s 80th anniversary! Congratulations and thank you, Edith! Note how visionary that makes her—establishing this important Award 20 years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision! Edith died in 1963, but her legacy lives on.

“The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures…Today it remains the only American book prize focusing on works that address racism and diversity. Past winners have presented the extraordinary art and culture of peoples around the world, explored human-rights violations, exposed the effects of racism on children, reflected on growing up biracial, and illuminated the dignity of people as they search for justice.”
—Anisfield-Wolf website

Over the past 80 years the Award has highlighted nearly 200 significant books, most of which I have not read. So I need to get going! For those of us who may be intimidated by such a long list, they also have a smaller list of 24 “Lifetime Achievement” books, or you can sort winners by year or according to the categories of fiction, non-fiction or poetry.

Again from the Award’s website: “The Cleveland Foundation, the world’s first community foundation, has administered the Anisfield-Wolf prize since 1963. Before then, the Saturday Review sponsored the awards. From the early 1960s until 1996, internationally renowned anthropologist and author Ashley Montagu chaired the awards jury. That panel of globally prominent scholars and writers has since been overseen by Henry Louis Gates Jr., the acclaimed scholar, lecturer, social critic, writer, and editor.”

Have you heard of this Award? Despite its prestigious history and huge contribution, and the fact that the Anisfield-Wolf’s cash prizes equal the Pulitzer’s, many people haven’t heard of it. Perhaps that’s due to how ahead of its time the Award was, though Karen Long, the Award’s manager, has another theory:

“[The] Anisfield-Wolf remains a relatively unknown honor. Awards manager Karen Long suspects she knows why. ‘Things that address race are considered, sometimes in the larger culture, as homework or broccoli or good for you.'” —USA’s National Public Radio

Cultural Detectives, I am thrilled to be on the journey to developing intercultural competence, respect, understanding, collaboration and justice with you. And, I’m feeling like we need to work together to make sure more people know about this incredible resource! Let’s start by watching the Awards via live feed this Thursday, September 10, at 6:00 pm Cleveland time (GMT-4), and by circulating this post widely to your networks.

The Blame Game

BlameVAcccountabilityBlame is one of the most powerful tools in the repertoire of a Cultural Defective. Do you want to diminish trust in a relationship? Cause irritation? Ensure that others do not want to help you succeed? Ruin a perfect opportunity for cross-cultural collaboration? Then blame is a good strategy.

In contrast, Cultural Detective advises you to “refuse to take offense”—a much smarter operating norm for Cultural Effectives. Has someone failed to inform you in a timely manner? Rather than blaming them for rudeness or unprofessionalism, it is more constructive to learn the intentions behind their (lack of) communication, explain your preferences, and together create a shared way forward—a “third culture.”

“Blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability.”
—Brené Brown

When others have a different cultural norm, mindset, or “common sense,” it is most productive and sanity-preserving to acknowledge and understand these differing “cultural senses”! Actively taking accountability for co-creating shared norms provides a way to work together more effectively. It also facilitates trust, while embedding as “normal” the processes and a mindsets to help solve future problems.

We are fans of Brené Brown, as many of you may be, too. The video below captures this basic concept of blame vs. accountability in her inimitably humorous and insightful style, albeit not in a cross-cultural context.

Are you looking to build intercultural competence, and learn a reliable process to transform blame into accountability? A subscription to Cultural Detective Online for you, your family, or team will help you accomplish just that!

Enhance Your Training Design Skills!

thIn two complimentary webinars next week—at times convenient to different world time zones—Cultural Detective Senior Trainer of Facilitators, Tatyana Fertelmeyster, will share her wealth of expertise designing intercultural competence workshops.

This professional development opportunity is aimed at those committed to building understanding, respect and collaboration where they work and live. It requires a basic familiarity with Cultural Detective—you know how the famous Lego children’s toy generally works, and you want to learn how to build really cool projects out of it. Similar to Legos, Cultural Detective provides endless opportunities for creating meaningful and engaging learning in a variety of settings.

Participants will explore ways to build everything from a two-hour training session to a semester-long course, and from a culture-specific learning to a leadership development strategy. Bring your experiences, your curiosity, and your ideas, and let’s play with “Lego” together!

The webinars will take place on September 8th and 9th. The first is scheduled convenient to Asia, Oceania and the Americas. The second should be easy to attend for anyone in Africa, the Americas, Europe or the Middle East.

Sign up now to reserve your place, as seating is limited!

Please email your specific questions prior to the webinar to Tatyana Fertelmeyster at connecting.differences@gmail.com. We look forward to having you join us!


It’s in His Kiss… or is it?

kissingKissing customs vary by culture; we all know that—when greeting, do you kiss, bow, shake hands, hug, fist bump, or use some other gesture? If you do kiss to say hello, do you do kiss once, twice or thrice? Do you kiss the lips, cheek or air?

But when it comes to kissing a lover, to passionate or sexual kissing, well, suddenly we think that is surely universal.

But is it? Are statements such as those below ethnocentric?

Researchers have discovered kissing helps you choose the right mate and helps you live longer. They have found you use 146 muscles when you pucker up and swap 80 million new bacteria when you lock lips. And you will spend some 20,000 minutes — or two weeks — of your lifetime doing it.
The Washington Post

According to a recent study of 168 cultures worldwide, romantic-sexual kissing is actually far from universal. In fact, the study shows that only 41% of the world’s cultures engage in romantic kissing! Researchers on the project were anthropologists William Jakowiak and Shelly Volsche, of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and gender studies researcher Justin Garcia, from Indiana University Bloomington. The paper, entitled, “Is the Romantic-Sexual Kiss a Near Human Universal?”, was published in The American Anthropologist in July, 2015.

Volsche told news.com.au that, “There is a marked absence of kissing in equatorial and sub-Saharan hunter-gatherer societies such as the Hadza, the Turkana, the Maasai, and the Yanomamo.” The Mehinaku of Brazil told one ethnographer that they thought kissing was “gross,” asking why anyone would want to “share their dinner.” This research found that kissing evolves in complex, post-industrial societies in which there is time for and interest in erotic play. Erotic kissing is not common in agricultural, pastoral and hunter-gatherer societies.

Many societies that do not have romantic kissing use other physical expressions of endearment, often an exchange of breath or mutual sniffing of cheeks and necks. The Oceanic Kiss involves passing open mouths, with no contact. It is usually a greeting, and occasionally part of the sexual repertoire. Are you curious about other sexual customs and beliefs that may be culturally relative? If so, check out this article in Bustle.

Cultural Detective is a terrific tool for exploring the methods you use to build trust with and confidence in others, whether they be romantic partners, work colleagues, neighbors or clients. We invite you to join us in one of our complimentary webinars to learn how.