According to Thomas, cultural standards are the central characteristics of a culture. They function as an orientation system for perceiving, thinking and acting. They are behavioral expectations that are shared by the majority of the members of a culture. Cultural standards serve the people of a culture as an orientation for their own behavior, but also for the behavior of others. They act as benchmarks, yardsticks, reference systems and orientation features by which behavior can be measured and classified.
Once socialized, cultural standards are generally no longer consciously perceived by the members of a cultural group. They are routinized and only become apparent in overlapping situations with cultural standards of other cultural groups.
Different categories can be assumed for the classification. These categories can be described as normal, typical, still acceptable or to be rejected. A clear classification into the categories is possible because the cultural standards consist of a central norm and a tolerance range. The central norm indicates the ideal value of behavior that is shared by most members of the cultural group. The tolerance range, on the other hand, constitutes the deviation from the central norm that is still acceptable. The deviation arises from strongly heterogeneous views, which can also prevail within a cultural group. Cultural standards can include clear rules of behavior in addition to general values.
Depending on the cultural group, cultural standards are also perceived as having different degrees of binding force. This also means that standards cannot be seen as universally valid. At no point do they constitute a blueprint for appropriate behavior in a foreign cultural environment. Moreover, cultural standards are dynamic, i.e. they are subject to change. This is the phenomenon known as cultural change.
Nevertheless, cultural standards are used in practice primarily as preparation for a stay abroad. Differences within cultural standards are addressed. Especially the congruence of self-perception and perception by others are important with regard to the stay abroad and can help to find one’s way in the new cultural environment.
Cultural standards are determined in two steps. First, interviews are conducted with members of the respective cultural group. The members of the cultural group make statements about their own culture. In the second step, these statements are compared with statements about the culture of members of another cultural group. From the interviews, a picture emerges from statements made by people inside and outside the cultural group whose cultural standards are to be determined. Not only the own perception is included in the cultural standards, but also an external perception. Thus, an important dimension is added to the cultural standards.
The idea of cultural standards is viewed quite critically. Indeed, standardization presupposes boundaries. Critics argue that culture has no fixed boundaries. As a result, measurable, reliable results can only be achieved to a limited extent. From this point of view, cultural standards can only be seen as tendencies, but not as fixed values.
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„Intercultural Management Competence“. http://www.ifim.de/reports/kultur_kulturstandards.pdf [21.08.2018].
Thomas, Alexander (2009): Culture and cultural standards. In: Thomas, Alexander/ Kinast, Eva- Ulrike/ Schroll-Machl, Sylvia (Eds.): Handbuch Interkulturelle Kommunikation und Kooperation. Volume 1: Foundations and fields of practice. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 19-31.