Derek Sivers

The Culture Code - by Clotaire Rapaille

The Culture Code - by Clotaire Rapaille

ISBN: 0767920570
Date read: 2008-11-01
How strongly I recommend it: 6/10
(See my list of 320+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Weird look at how different cultures (mostly Europe versus U.S. in this book) see things differently. Example: British luxury is about detachment whereas U.S. luxury is about rank.

my notes

The stronger the emotion, the more clearly an experience is learned.
The only effective way to understand what people truly mean is to ignore what they say.

People give answers they believe the questioner wants to hear.
They believe they are telling the truth.

The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss studied kinship, saying that he was not interested in people but in the relationships between them, the "space between the people."
An uncle does not exist if there is no niece, a wife if there is no husband, a mother if there is no child.
Kinship is the structure.

Few Japanese children are exposed to Irish culture. Therefore, the extremely strong imprints placed in their subconscious at this early age are determined by the culture in which they are raised. An American child's most active period of learning happens in an American context. Mental structures formed in an American environment fill his subconscious. The child therefore grows up an American.

This is why people from different cultures have such different reactions to the same things. Let's take for example peanut butter. Americans receive a strong emotional imprint from peanut butter. Since I was born in France, I learned about peanut butter after the closing of the window in time when I could form a strong emotional association with it.

Cultural Unconscious

Every culture has it's own mind-set, and that mind-set teaches us about who we are in profound ways.

American Culture: We are, in fact, in the full throes of adolescence – and this metaphor extends beyond our relative age as a culture into the way we act and react.
We never killed our king because we never actually had one. We rebelled against the only king who ever tried to rule us. Our rebellious period never ended.

Looking at our culture through this set of glasses explains why we are so successful around the world selling the trappings of adolescence: Coca-Cola, Nike shoes, fast food, blue jeans, and loud, violent movies.

What these figures have in common (people we love, celebrities) and what fascinates us so much is their resistance to growing up. They are forever young at heart, crazy, up and down, one day invincible, one day totally rejected, and they always come back. They are the "eternal adolescents" all Americans would love to be.
At the same time they are a victory for nonconformity. In America, you can be weird and successful.

The American culture exhibits many of the traits consistent with adolescence: intense focus on the "now," dramatic mood swings, a constant need for exploration and challenge to authority, a fascination with extremes, openness to change and reinvention, and a strong belief that mistakes warrant second chances.

The American Culture Code for love is FALSE EXPECTATION.

If you realize that your unconscious expects you to fail, you can begin to look at love with more sensible goals. While understanding and respecting the tug to find Mr. Right or Ms. Perfect, you can look for someone who can be a partner, a friend, and a caring lover, though she or he can't possibly fulfill all of your needs.

When Americans think of seduction, they think of being forced to do things they don't want to do or that they believe they shouldn't do.

The American Culture Code for seduction is MANIPULAITON.

One of the primary tensions in the American culture is the one between freedom and prohibition.

One can look at culture as a survival kit passed down from one generation to the next. The American culture evolved as it did because the pioneers, and later the waves of immigrants who came to our shores, needed to evolve that way if they were to survive the conditions of this vast country. Traits such as Puritanism, a strong work ethic, the belief that people deserve a second chance, and putting a premium on success all helped us to survive in this new world. Swiss culture evolved the way it did, forging multiple cultures into one very strong one, in response to regular threats to Switzerland's survival as a sovereign state.

In the words of that great American philosopher Nike, one can boil the American agenda down to three simple words: "Just do it." Our champions are athletes, entrepreneurs, police officers, firefighters, and soldiers – all people who take action. We may respect thinkers, but we don't celebrate them nearly as much as we do our action figures.

We look at Europe as the old world and America as the new. Yet in many ways, America is one of the oldest of the world's nations. The French Revolution began in 1789, more than a decade after our own revolution. Modern Italy became a nation-state in 1861, The German empire was founded in 1871. Our culture isn't nearly as old as the French, Italian and German cultures (all of which existed long before the current nations of France, Italy, and Germany), but we have existed in our present form longer. We have the oldest written constitution in effect on the entire planet.

Hindu Indians believe there are four distinct stages to one's life. Youth is the first and least interesting, something to pass through quickly as you gain the tools necessary to live in the world. The next stage, maturity, is when you have children, make money, and achieve success. The third stage is detachment. Here you step back from the world and the "rat race," choosing instead to read and explore philosophy. In the fourth stage, you become equivalent of a hermit.

A key tension in England is the one between detachment and eccentricity.

Home is a place where you can do things repeatedly and have a good sense of the outcome - unlike the outside world, where everything can be so unpredictable.
Home is a place where doing things again gives them added meaning.

The kitchen is the heart of the American home because an essential ritual takes place there: the preparation of the evening meal. This is a ritual filled with repetition and reconnection that leads to replenishment. Making dinner is on Code for home in America.

Food is secondary.

In China, dinner is all about the food. Food is cooked in multiple locations (the kitchen, the fireplace, outside, even the bathroom) and it has a hugely prominent place in any Chinese home. Food is hanging, drying, and curing everywhere. While the Chinese are eating dinner, they rarely speak with one another. Instead they focus entirely on the food. This is true even at business dinners. One may be in the midst of a spirited conversation about an important deal; when the food comes, all conversation ceases and everyone feasts.

When our forefathers came to America and discovered a huge undeveloped land, their first thought wasn't "Let's have some tea." It was "Let's get to work."
There was a New World to create, and it wasn't going to create itself.

Americans celebrate work and turn successful businesspeople into celebrities. Donald Trump and Bill Gates are pop stars. Stephen T. Covey, Jack Welch, and Lee Iacocca are mega-selling authors. Instead of Bonjour Paresse, our best-sellers include The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Good to Great.

Work put you in a position to get to know people, excite children, keep family going, or plan your future. Work could make you feel that you were on the map, that you had arrived, or that it was all you did.

The American Culture Code for work is WHO YOU ARE.

We seek so much meaning in our jobs. If our job feels meaningless, then "who we are" is meaningless as well. If we feel inspired, if we believe that our jobs have genuine value to the company we work for (even if that "company" is ourselves) and that we are doing something worthwhile in our work, that belief bolsters our sense of identity. This is perhaps the most fundamental reason why it is so important for employers to keep their employees content and motivated. A company operated by people with a negative sense of identity can't possibly run well.

Our work ethic is so strong because at the unconscious level, we equate work with who we are and we believe that if we work hard and improve our professional standing, we become better people.
Those who fail to act, who accept the limitations of their work with barely a grumble, are likely to feel miserable about their lives. The hopelessness of their jobs has done critical damage to their identities.

We love the story of Bill Gates labouring away in his garage, coming up with a great idea, and becoming the richest person in the world. Why? Because it reinforces the notion that "who we are" has endless room for growth. The self-made millionaire (or, in Gates's case, "fifty-billionaire") is an inspirational symbol for us because it proves that all of us can work hard, find the thing that we do superbly, and forge and extraordinary identity.

You never have to be stuck in what you do. Self-reinvention is definitely on Code. If your work no longer provides you with the sense of who you are that you desire, it is not only acceptable but also preferable to seek something new. Americans champion entrepreneurs because they are our most aggressive identity-seekers. They don't wait for someone to tell them what to be, but rather take significant risks to become what they believe they should be.

We all want to believe that we are headed somewhere in our work, that we aren't going to stay in the same place for the rest of our lives. Most of us have an ideal job in mind, and it usually involves movement.
None of us want to feel that we are "done".
They feel the need to keep working in order to feel that they still exist.

Involving staff in the direction of the company gives them an elevated sense of identity, the feeling that they are integral to the company's success.
Similarly, helping employees understand their career paths is on the Code.

The team should be regarded as a support group that allows individuals to become champions.

Sending an entire team to the Bahamas for a job well done actually blunts an employee's efforts to do his best work. He only needs to perform well enough to help achieve the team objective. If, on the other hand, the employee knew that individual rewards were possible, he would be more likely to strive to outperform expectations.

People around the world perceive us as being concerned only with money. This huge misconception is one of the reasons so many of them fail to see what really does motivate us. At the same time, though, Americans themselves perceive this preoccupation with money and think it suggests that we are greedy at heart or that we prize material goods over enhancement of the spirit. This, too is a misconception, one that gives us much less credit than we deserve.

The notion that we "come from nothing" pervades America. In a sense, we have the poorest rich people in the world, because even those who accumulate huge sums of money think like poor people. They continue to work hard, they continue to focus on cash flow and expenses, and they continue to struggle to earn more.

Clearly, money signifies more to Americans than the means to buy things. It shows us how we're doing, tells us how far we've come from impoverished poor roots. Money reminds you that your "business is a good one," that you've worked hard to get something, that you can carry your burdens, that you are appreciated, and that you are moving up to the next level. Not having money makes you feel as if you are "in a hole"; you may feel that "it's gonna kill me."

The American culture has no titles of nobility to show us who the big winners are. Without them, we need something that performs a similar function. Participants tell us through their third-hour stories that that thing is money.

The American Culture Code for money is PROOF.

Money isn't a goal in and of itself for most Americans. We rely on it to show us that we are good, that we have true value in the world.

We can prove what we've accomplished only by making as much money as possible.
Money is our barometer for success. Most Americans find it impossible to feel successful if they feel they are underpaid. Money is a scorecard. If someone is doing a job similar to yours and making more money, you unconsciously believe that he or she is doing a better job. Being paid for a job imbues it with instant credibility.

A publishing contract changes one's attitude about their accomplishments instantly. Suddenly the previous two years of "unpaid work," gain validity. The money the publisher paid is proof.

Because we believe money is proof, we see a very strong connection between money and work. Money earned via hard work is admirable, proof that you are a good person.

Americans see interest income and capital gains as "bad money" because they didn't earn it themselves. Investors who took a very active role in managing their stock portfolio felt they "made" this money, while those who simply followed the advice of their bookers did not.

On-Code firms portray themselves as facilitators who provide their clients with tools for generating more money.

Many European cultures have a different view of money and it's functions. At a certain point, one simply settles back on the estate, leaving the world of commerce behind.

Money in France isn't a form of proof, but unpleasant fact.

We truly believe there is a link between goodness and monetary success and that those who cheat and lie their way to the top ultimately meet their comeuppance on both the spiritual and financial planes. Consistent with this mind-set is the American attitude towards charitable donations.

Americans are the most charitable people in the world.

Americans expect their most fortunate to share what they've earned, and we have an entire system of laws in place for giving one's money away.

It is off Code, for example, to preach profitability to one's employees. Money is the proof of goodness, not in itself the goal. Instead, a company's management must inspire employees to be the best they can possibly be. This is on Code for both work and money and, if done effectively, leads to profitability.

Money alone is the worst reward for an American employee.
The most on-Code approach is to use money as a global positioning system that shows the employee where he is on his career path.

At every promotion, the employee should be shown a visual representation of the income curve that he or she is on. The angle at which one's salary is climbing is a powerful symbol of growth. It is visual proof.

Work is an essential part of who we are we just want a chance to prove ourselves and receive tangible evidence that we have succeeded.

The Culture Code for quality in America is IT WORKS.

The Culture Code for perfection in America is DEATH.

We don't want people telling us what to do and holding us to their standards. We want to discover things and learn how to do things our own way.

We had to learn everything ourselves, and we did it the only way we could - through trial and error. Learning from our mistakes not only allowed us to survive, but also helped us to grow into a powerful and hugely successful country. We were rewarded for our ability to pick ourselves up off the ground and do things better the second and third times.

Trying, failing, learning from our mistakes, and coming back stronger than ever is an essential part of the American archetype.

The Japanese needed to make most of their land, efficiency is critical.
Mistakes are costlier. Quality is a necessity. Perfection is premium.

Americans find perfection boring.

None one of our products needs to perform brilliantly (our cars don't need to be masterpieces of engineering, our cell phones don't need to provide sonic perfection), but they absolutely need to perform.

The most important message is that Americans put a premium on functionality. We are not a bells-and-whistles culture. We would rather have a cell phone that always operates when we're in the middle of a call than one that takes pictures, plays music, and allows us to download television clips. A car that reliably gets us to work, the supermarket, or soccer practice is much more valuable to us than one that corners masterfully or has rain-sensing windshield wipers.

We expect our products to break down. However, because our Code for quality is IT WORKS, we expect problems to be resolved quickly and with a minimum of disruption.

Americans are far more responsive to good service than they are to perfection (which they don't believe in anyway). Crisis is a great opportunity to create loyalty. If a customer comes to you with a problem with a product or service and you solve that problem quickly and minimize the customer's inconvenience, you will likely earn that customer's dedication. You have proven yourself to the customer.

The bottom line is that great service is more important to Americans than great quality.
When one seeks to bring something new to a culture, one must adapt the idea to the culture. It doesn't work the other way.

You can trace many of the American traits to our humble beginnings. Though we are the richest country in the world, as we discussed earlier, at the reptilian level we consider ourselves poor. We start out with nothing and we labor to achieve wealth, and even though we may succeed, the hand-to-mouth attitude remains. The response of poor people to food is consistent throughout the world: they eat as much as they can when they can, because they don't know whether they will have the opportunity to eat the next day.

The average American spends six minutes eating dinner.

The American Culture Code for food is FUEL.

In Japan, food is a means to approach perfection.

Alibis give "rational" reasons for doing the things we do.

An effective marketing campaign needs to consider the alibis while addressing the Code.

While you can't believe what people say, it would be a mistake not to listen to it and incorporate it info your message.

The American Culture Code for shopping is RECONNECTING WITH LIFE.
Shopping is a social experience, a way for us to encounter a wide variety of people and learn what's new in the world.

The Code taps into the adolescent component of our culture. We all want to "go out and play." We aren't going to learn anything sitting alone at home. Only when we go out into the world do we discover anything new about life.

Buying is about carrying out a specific mission. It's a task. Shopping is a wondrous experience filled with discovery.

Consumers like the synergy between the buying they can do online and the shopping they can do at a retail outlet.

Buying signals the end of shopping, the point at which you sever your connection with the world and go back home.
Returns offer the consumer an alibi for returning to the store. Nordstrom has based part of its reputation on its willingness to take items back with no questions asked. They've turned shopping into an open-ended experience.

The French Culture Code for shopping is LEARNING YOUR CULTURE. They consider their shopping an educational experience.

From a business perspective, one is on Code whenever one underscores shopping as a joyful, life-affirming experience. Making shoppers feel that they can browse without pressure to make a buying decision is a very good thing, as is creating a space for them to linger (many bookstores have done this by adding cafés). Establishing a store as a place where people can gather and reconnect.

With the exception of convenience stores, emphasizing the efficiency with which the consumer can make purchases is off Code. While telling people they can get in and out of your store quickly seems to make sense at the cortical level. If flies directly in the face of the Code. Telling shoppers they can have a fast shopping experience in your store is a little bit like trying to sell a thirty-second massage or half a piece of chocolate.

Luxury in France represents the freedom to do nothing and to own useless things.
French expression: "What is useless is what I cannot live without."

The British use luxury to underscore their sense of detachment. They'll join exclusive clubs where they can show one another how unimpressed they are with their own status.

Since we believe that you are never finished growing, our rank should come in stages, reaching a higher level the more we accomplish.

The way we show our rank in American society is through our luxury items, and the American Culture Code for luxury is MILITARY STRIPES.

As we achieve higher rank in the civilian words, we expect privileges and services unavailable to the average American. Service is a luxury item.

When we achieve a certain level of success, we rarely say "I've arrived; I'm done." Most of us immediately think about achieving greater success.

A company that offers multiple levels of luxury has the opportunity to keep its customers as they ascend.

Our cultural unconsciousness will lead us to respond positively to luxury items that offer us " stripes," but our cortexes must be satisfied as well. We'll buy a $4,000 professional cooktop, but only if you convince us that it will make our kitchen more functional.
We'll spend an extra $200 a day for spa services in our four–star hotel, but only if you convince us that we'll emerge refreshed and ready to resume our mission.

Participants in France talked about the confusion that stemmed from their belief that they were supposed to illuminate the world with their ideas but that the Americans were actually doing it.

The Code for America in France is SPACE TRAVELERS.

Germans see themselves as superior in education.
The Code for America in Germany is JOHN WAYNE.

The English Code for America is UNASHAMEDLY ABUNDANT.

The English expect us to seek abundance in everything. They expect us to be extreme and to try to win at any cost.

The French Code for France is IDEA.

Raised on stories of great French philosophers and thinkers, French children imprint the value of ideas as paramount and refinement of the mind as the higher goal.

The French Code for England is CLASS.

Culture Code for Germany is ORDER.

When a person sees something in a foreign culture that feels more consistent with his own worldview, moving to that culture can make a great deal of sense.

French living in America are optimistic, helpful, generous, and enthusiastic about new opportunities. In other words, there are Americans.

As with corporations, the key to successful immigration (here or elsewhere) is connecting with the Code of the local culture. An intellectual from any culture would find France stimulating. A control freak would resonate strongly with the German culture.

Like all adolescents, we have little patience for father figures. However, we are happy to follow a rebel as he leads the charge.

Our leader is the person who leads the rebellion. This is essential in a culture where health means movement. We are always changing, always moving forward, always reinventing, and we want a president who can direct this process. The president needs to understand what is broken, have a strong idea about how to fix it, and then " rebel" against the problem.

We don't want our presidents to think too much.

We don't want a father figure. We want a biblical figure.
The Culture Code for the American presidency is MOSES.
Strip away the religious components of the story of Moses, you'll see that he represents the Code for the American presidency aptly: a rebellious leader of his people with a strong vision and the will to get them out of trouble.

The French, on the other hand, rally behind leaders who challenge the system with new ideas (remember, the French code for France is IDEA). Napoleon and de Gaulle are considered models of French leadership because they faced down the existing system and changed it to better serve the people.

American's don't want father figures who tell them what to do, but they do want men (and someday, maybe even soon, women) with a plan they can understand and follow.

So how do Americans see America? Certainly, we see ourselves as " new."
We also see ourselves as occupants of vast amounts of space.

Just as the Japanese are the masters of micro-culture because they must fit a huge number of people into a small space, Americans are the masters of macro–culture.

American Culture Code for America is DREAM.

Even our cultural adolescence is a dream: we want to believe we are forever young and that we never truly have to grow up.

It is entirely on Code for people to change careers, locales, or living situations as long as they genuinely believe that doing so gives them a chance to grow.

Cultures perceive globalization as a direct attack on their survival.
When brands extend themselves into the global market by championing their villages of origin, they accomplish two tasks at once: they perpetuate their own culture and they celebrate everyone's cultural identity.

When one associates a brand with the place that gave birth to that brand, the brand becomes an essential part of the landscape. And while landscapes evolve over time, time does not diminish them.