I really enjoyed reading Chapter 13, written by Christine L. Ogan, PhD, of the University of North Carolina. Ogan explains the different interpretations that businesses, organizations, or nations as a whole, apply to the word “culture”. I believe that she effectively points out the complexities behind culture as a concept, and explains how varying forms or interpretations of culture can easily clash with each other.
Ogan says that “the strategies for preserving important elements of the cultures of the societies around the world have received much less attention” (93). While I completely agree with this idea, I got to thinking, and decided to take Ogan’s statement a step further. To me, it isn’t that these “elements of culture” are receiving less attention, rather, the value of a cultural element is determined by those with the most access to marketing resources. Ironically enough, the elements deemed to be worth marketing are far less prominent for the natives who actually know what their particular culture tends to identify with. Here’s an example: Two years ago, my husband and I traveled to Costa Rica. For months prior, we scoured the Internet for resources that could aid us in assuring a successful trip. We emailed back and forth with Costa Rican and American travel agents, and even made a few phone calls to hotels, attractions, etc. listed on a credible tourism website just to make sure that they were who they said they were, and that they provided what they claimed to provide. Online brochures, advertisements, and blogs highlighted Costa Rica’s primary tourist attractions, which predominantly included adventures like zip-lining over the rainforest canopy, interracting with spider monkeys and lemurs, and chartering fishing trips for full or half days. Consequently, my husband and I made plans to zip-line over the rainforest canopy, to (hopefully) befriend a pocket-sized primate, and to charter a half-day fishing trip.
To our surprise, the culture of Costa Rica was defined not by spider monkeys, fishing boats, or rainforest adventures. Elaborate Catholic churches and cathedrals adorned nearly every street corner of every single town or city that we visited, yet we recalled no allusion to this rich, cultural icon when we were planning our vacation. If Catholic churches are as plentiful in Costa Rica as fried food is in the South, why didn’t any tourism service, agent, or site indicate so? I suspect that even though Catholicism plays a huge role in the lives of Costa Ricans, Sunday mass is not nearly as enticing as zip-lining and small primates are. Thus, the elements of the Costa Rican culture that are most lucrative to the country’s tourism industy are the ones that get the most hype.
In short, I believe that culture is everything (and probably more) that Ogan describes, and I do not think that there is one particular way in which culture should be interpreted. That being said, the culture of a country, business, college town, or lifestyle, should be able to define itself. Otherwise, we end up with unfair stereotypes and invalid fallacies like, “New Yorkers are all jerks”, “Southeners are all dumb”, and “Atheists worship the devil”. Of course, these are rather extreme instances, but they represent my main point in principle.