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Worldly Wise

World Has Certain Notions About Anglo Cultures

By Janelle Barlow, Ph.D.

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You may not think of Anglo culture as distinct from American culture, but in fact Anglo cultures are a cluster that cover the United States, Canada, Australia, the U.K., New Zealand, Ireland, and a number of smaller nations where English is the first language.

This cluster of cultures is rapidly changing. While once mostly Caucasian, it is now remarkably diverse. Experts estimate that by 2044, whites will no longer be the racial majority in the United States; this is already the case in America’s most populous state, California. By 2050, the U.K. will be 20% racially diverse, though if you only visit London it will feel as if Great Britain is the most diverse place in the world. Canada is in the same ballpark as the U.K., while Australia has a less than 10% non-white population.

This group of nations is separated by geography but linked by language, culture, and shared values. Common law (a legal system that is based on customs, judicial pronouncements, and precedence) is strong in the Anglosphere, as is commitment to the market economy and economic liberty. These six countries also have supported each other over long periods of time. While they may fight each other in ways similar to a feuding family, they seem to come together if someone attacks them. Interestingly, they all have oceans on both sides of their borders. They all tolerate free speech. They also are mostly open to immigrants, at times more so than at others.

The one characteristic that unifies this group of nations is the use of English that followed the British Empire. To be sure, there are other former British colonies where English has remained the dominant second or unifying language, such as India, Singapore, and Malaysia. But culturally, those nations have long histories, and Indians, Chinese, and Malaysians are from different ethnic backgrounds.

The reach of the Anglo cultures throughout the entire world is strong. Their commercial enterprises drive the world’s economy. Their cultures, especially their pop cultures, drive the world’s music, fashion, and entertainment industries. Part of this is due to the wide reach of English, often referred to as the lingua franca of the modern world. English is the language most taught throughout the world as a foreign language. So, people who only speak English and no other language can generally get along almost everywhere in the world. If the person you are speaking with does not speak English, chances are there is someone close by who does. In business, it is not unusual to be in a meeting where English is used for the convenience of the one person who only speaks English (see image on these two pages).

If you are a member of one of the Anglo countries, how does the rest of the world perceive you, and what do you need to be cautious about? Here are a few ideas to consider.

First, they may not always understand just because you tend to be precise in what you say, that you meant just what you said. The United States is the most “low-context” communication country in the world, with Australia and Canada following close behind. (This means that our language is precise, clear, simple, and direct.) The other Anglosphere countries are also at the low end of the “low-context vs. high-context” scale. People from high-context cultures, such as China, Japan, and Korea, imply messages rather than state them directly. Their communication styles are more layered and indirect. If you are from the Anglo cultural sphere, chances are someone from a high-context culture may look for hidden messages in what you say. Expect this. They may ask you to repeat yourself, even though you were perfectly clear. On the other side, you may see the more nuanced language used by someone from a high-context culture as not as trustworthy. “Why don’t they get to the point?” you may think.

Second, other cultural groups probably see you as wound up tight (except if you are from Australia) and not getting as much enjoyment out of life as you could. They may both admire this quality and at the same time disparage it.

Third, the distance and formality that Anglos prefer may look like a lack of friendliness or engagement to others. To fit in with the rest of the world, you might work at getting physically closer to others.

Fourth, people from other cultural groups may ask you questions that you find invasive, such as, “How much do you make?” or “How much did you pay for that?” Chalk it up to differences in cultures and not rudeness.

Fifth, they may not understand why you are so impolite as to not bring a small gift with you when meeting them. Do it. And graciously accept the small token they give you.

The reality of the Anglosphere is that the people who are part of that group are likely to be viewed through the lenses of power, individualism, and self-assurance—and not always in the most positive way in which Anglos understand these words. So, if you are part of the Anglosphere, remember you are part of the world’s dominant culture. Ask yourself how you can moderate your position of cultural power so that you don’t come across as controlling or dominant.