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A clear, brief, practical introduction
on January 8, 2005
Sarah A. Lanier, Foreign to Familiar (Hagerstown, MD: McDougal Publishing,
In her book Foreign to Familiar, Sarah Lanier seeks to aid the reader in
cross-cultural communication and relationships by highlighting the differences
between hot- and cold-climate cultures. While these concepts are unfamiliar to
most readers, Lanier quickly introduces and defines the categories before
discussing them in detail. Having lived in the Middle East, South America, Africa,
Europe, and New Zealand, Lanier (who is American) is certainly qualified to
address the issue. The reader gets the impression while reading that this book is
the fruit of her own experiences and frequent lectures on the subject in
According to Lanier, "the population of the entire world can roughly be
divided into two parts. The two groups represented are 'hot-climate'
(relationship-based) cultures and 'cold-climate' (task-oriented) cultures" (15-16). Lanier
recognizes there may some overlap in the two categories, and cites one unnamed
person who suggested that she use the terms "hot/tribal" and "cold/urban"
(127). She also recognizes that personalities differ within each culture (128).
The primary distinction between the two cultures is that of relational focus as
opposed to task focus. Those in the warm-climates tend to emphasize the
relationships involved between individuals while those in cold-climates focus on the
efficient performance of tasks.
After defining the groups and explaining the primary relationship/task
distinction, Lanier spends the next six chapters explaining further manifestations
of the cultural differences. In Chapter Three, the focus is on direct versus
indirect communication. Chapter Four emphasizes the individualism of the
cold-climates over against the group-identity of the hot-climates. Privacy, highly
valued in the cold, is contrasted with inclusion as the norm in the cold-climate
in Chapter Five.
Chapters Six and Eight discuss two elements of society in which the
differences between hot- and cold-climates are very evident: hospitality and time.
Those with international travel experience will find themselves laughing with
familiarity as they read of Lanier's experiences. Of course, the hot-climates
demonstrate much more warm hospitality, while the cold-climates are extremely
conscious of time and planning.
In Chapter Seven, Lanier introduces a different distinction between cultures
which sometimes clouds the distinction between hot- and cold-climate cultures.
This distinction is between high- and low-context cultures. Drawing from
Edward T. Hall's Beyond Culture, Lanier defines the high-context culture as the
one which has a long history wherein traditions have become very formalized.
Low-context cultures are those whose history is briefer, whose population is more
diverse, and in which very few traditions have developed.
Some of the strongest points of Lanier's book are its brevity, clarity, and
engaging tone of Lanier's style. The reader is aware that Lanier is not writing
an academic treatise. Her aim is pragmatic. She delivers fully in Chapter
Nine, entitled "Practical Next Steps". Here simple steps are outlined to aid the
international traveler or other person who finds himself or herself developing
cross-cultural relationships. Perhaps the most beneficial element of the book
(whether Lanier or her publisher deserves this praise, the reviewer is not
sure) is the summary found at the end of each chapter. It is not as if the
chapters are so lengthy that this is a necessity, but the brief outline form of the
summaries makes relocating information very easy.
Unfortunately, Lanier does not point the reader to further information with
the exception of the brief mention of two sources. This is partly
understandable, in that the bulk of the book's content is based on lessons learned through
Lanier's experiences. Certainly since the time that she developed her ideas on
this subject, she has found other sources to which she could point those with
a hunger for further study. An annotated bibliography would be extremely
helpful in future editions.
This shortcoming notwithstanding, the book has made a positive contribution
to the field of cross-cultural communication. In Foreign to Familiar, Sarah
Lanier has provided a clear, brief, practical introduction to several key issues.
The book is written on the popular level, making it accessible to a wide
audience. This reviewer enjoyed the book and recommends it as a primer for anyone
involved in cross-cultural communication.