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Although Danish sovereignty was established in the 1600s, in 1924 Norway made an ambitious claim for it based on the Icelandic colonists of the second century. The claim was lost and in 1953 the international court ratified Denmark’s sovereignty over Greenland. This state of affairs lasted for another 20 years before Greenland agitated for, and received, more autonomy. In 1979 the Danish parliament granted Greenland home rule, and in 1998 the right to full, uncontested independence, if they want it.

Greenlandic history is an amalgam of legendary sagas, anecdotal evidence, scientific fact and supposition. Best guesses are that, 5000 years ago, there were two distinct tribes that either melted into each other or sequentially died out, although not much is known about either of them. They were followed by the Saqqaq tribe, who kindly left behind a plethora of artifacts that were subsequently dug up and fussed over by the archaeologists. Scientific data and hypotheses have failed to explain why they also died out.

Time passed…and then a bit more time passed…and then in the 10th century Greenlandic history lumbered to its feet again when the Thule culture arrived on the scene and rapidly spread eastward. This is when, culturally and historically speaking, things really got going. The Thule were relatively sophisticated, responsible for introducing those two Greenland icons, the qajaq (kayak) and the dogsled, and it was probably these two inventions that saved them from going the same way as the hapless tribes before them. The Thule are direct ancestors of the modern-day Greenlandic Inuit.

Greenland did not have sustained contact with Europeans until Eric the Red, the legendary Viking, used it as a home-away-from-home during his years of exile. It was Eric the Red who called the country Greenland but the naming proved to be more lyrical than factual; most of the time Greenland was anything but. This did not deter the boatload of Icelanders who promptly set about colonizing the land and for a couple of centuries the colonists herded, farmed and hunted while the country slipped back into its usual comatose state. Norway got around to annexing the country in 1261, but it was a futile attempt at control; 130 years later a big chill set in and by the time the country thawed out and the outside world made contact again, the colonists had gone, either fully acculturated into, or killed by, the Thule.

Greenland slipped out of mind for another three hundred years until a combination of interest in a passage between Europe and the Far East, the lure of money to be made in whaling and missionary zeal put it back on the map. The conversion rate for the missionaries was fairly high: to the Inuit any religion that punished wrongdoers with heat had a lot going for it.

Norway had lost its claim on Greenland in 1605, when Denmark sent an expedition to claim the country in the king’s name. Shortly after this it became the focal point for mad dogs, Englishman and Americans, as every explorer worth his salt raced toward the farthest point north. The history books record American overachiever Robert Peary as the first person to reach the North Pole, although his claim remains largely unsubstantiated, and there is enough doubt about the veracity of the trip to suggest that Frederick Cook may have beaten him to it. The Inuit reserve their admiration for a Greenland-born expeditionist by the name of Knud Ramussen. Not only was he a skilled explorer possessed of enormous stamina and survival skills, he was genuinely attached to the Inuit and their culture.

Although Danish sovereignty was established in the 1600s, in 1924 Norway made an ambitious claim for Greenland based on the Icelandic colonists of the second century. The claim was lost and in 1953 the international court ratified Denmark’s sovereignty over Greenland. This state of affairs lasted for another 20 years before Greenland agitated for, and received, more autonomy.

While the territory’s status was unraveling as fast as an avalanche tobogganing down a mountainside, Greenland unwittingly became a pawn in the Cold War. US bases established in WWII became permanent within the framework of Denmark’s membership of NATO, and when the Danes joined the EU, so too did the Greenlanders, even though they’d voted against doing so.

In 1979 the Danish parliament granted Greenland home rule, and in 1985 they voted to pull out of the EU, although this was a largely symbolic act which made little practical difference. Internationally, most of Greenland’s energies have been focused on preserving its whaling industry.

In the meantime, there are plans afoot to tap the island’s most obvious resource by developing an ice industry – Greenland is said to hold about a fifth of the world’s drinkable water – and to curb smoking rates, as Greenlanders hold the world record for lung cancer incidence.

More immediately, US plans to employ the base at Thule as part of the missile defense system, however, this has raised objection. Indeed, the coalition government that formed in December 2002 is vigorously pro-independence, although fractious relations between the coalition partners may impede progress in that direction.




Although modern life has well and truly caught up with the Inuit in the form of warm-climate foods, computers, luxury cars and outboard motors, as little as 40 years ago Greenlanders were still practicing a traditional way of life that revolved around the hunt. They believed that humans were shades – more of the dead than of the living – and it was only the techniques and rituals of the hunt that kept them within the realm of the human. Any error in judgment would mean falling back into the earlier animal world. Harmony with the land, respect for the dead and due homage to the animals that sacrificed themselves for the good of humanity were the hallmarks of a good hunter and kept the world from falling off its axis. Inuit folklore also told of a time when men could speak to animals; the words were shamanistic in character and delivery and held a tengeq or intrinsic power. If the words were uttered heedlessly they immediately lost their power. This belief may account for the Inuit’s almost legendary reluctance to indulge in idle chitchat. Their brevity makes most non-Inuits look bold and brash.

Tupilak, once carved out of bone, skin and chunks of peat, are small grotesque-looking figures that wouldn’t look out of place in an Evil Dead film. They originally worked as catalysts for misfortune and death, although the carver had to be careful that the victim’s juju was weaker than his own to avoid a fatal backlash. These days tupilak are sold as souvenirs and are carved from caribou antler, soapstone, driftwood, narwhal tusk, walrus ivory and bone, and the only thing they conjure up is the tourist dollar.

It has been said that Greenlandic language looks like the efforts of a two year old let loose on a typewriter; long strings of mega-syllabic words held together by repeating vowels and quite a few more ‘q’s than a Westerner is used to. If it looks formidable to learn that’s because it is. Conversational matters aren’t helped by the Greenlandic habit of spontaneously abbreviating the monster words to a more respectable length, but in ways that are far too enigmatic for the average foreigner with a phrasebook.

Traditional Greenlandic food is of the bloody and freshly killed kind: walrus, seal and whale. The tastiest parts of the kill (the eyes, kidney and heart) were traditionally set aside for the head hunter and the other sections distributed according to a very strict hierarchy. Every part of the animal was used. One traditional delicacy described by Jean Malaurie in The Last Kings of Thule combined partridge droppings and seal fat; another consisted of narwhal fat and water, mixed with walrus brain and digested grass from the first stomach of a reindeer. Despite the culinary trend toward mix’n’match global cuisine, you’d have to think twice before trying to rehabilitate traditional Greenland fare. It’s difficult to imagine either of these dishes, or any variation of them, ever appearing in Vogue Cuisine. These days’ supermarket aisles have largely taken over the hunt. Even tropical fruits are put on the shopping list, but prepackaged whale steaks and seal meat are still available in the frozen goods section.



Greenland is so far north that its residents are the first to see Old Nick fly across the rooftops each year. It’s shaped like a witch’s shoe laying on its side, with the back of the heel flush against the arctic polar cap, the tongue sloping down the Denmark Strait and the turned-up toes pointing into the Atlantic Ocean. Over three quarters of the country is unremittingly ice: that adds up to the size of Texas.  The sheer weight of all this ice has caused the middle of the country to sag, forming a concave basin which reaches a depth of 360m (1180ft) below sea level. Above the ground towering crystal columns of ice dot the landscape, glaciers calve monstrous icebergs into the sea, and fjords knit the shoreline. If the cosmic defrost button ever got pushed, the ice slush would be enough to turn coastal cities around the world into large urban swimming pools.

The peculiar geography of Greenland and its proximity to the North Pole results in a number of spectacular natural phenomena, but none more awesome than the aurora borealis and Fata Morgana effect. The aurora borealis’ wafting curtains of colored lights, most often a faint green or light rose color, are caused by charged particles from the sun colliding with the earth’s atmosphere. Reflections of water, ice and snow, combined with temperature inversions, causes the illusion of solid, well defined features where there are none. Hence those early apocryphal tales of ships sailing on the ice, large cities in the middle of nowhere and green forests appearing on the horizon.

Most of the vegetation in Greenland is stunted but in late summer the lowland areas of the south are carpeted with wild flowers – chamomile, dandelion, harebell, and Arctic poppies – and wild berries. The harsh climate puts off all but the hardiest of animals but what the country lacks in numbers it makes up for in exotica. Above the ground you can see caribou, musk oxen, polar bears, lemmings, and (much-prized for their pelts) the Arctic white fox and blue-grey fox. In the water any number of whale species is likely to give you the fluke, from the Disney-cute orca, or killer whale, to the beautiful white beluga whale. The icy seas are also home to the narwhal with its unicorn tusk, and of course a whole passel of seals and walrus.

Greenland and Greenpeace are a surprisingly volatile mix. Green peace’s anti-sealing and anti-whaling stance effectively destroyed Greenland’s economic base, particularly in north Greenland where subsistence hunting represents 80% of the income. Since then, Greenpeace have recognized that Greenland is a different kettle of fish and (except in the case of endangered species) subsistence hunting is now accepted, but many Greenlanders still feel bitter about the organization’s intrusion into their traditional way of life.

Summer is a relative term in Greenland but basically it’s that time between May and July when the thermometer busts a gut to climb over 20°C (68°F). This is minus the wind factor so it still means a warm jacket or pullover. This is midnight sun time when every day is, well, a day and a night; when citizens take long strolls and spontaneous boat trips at odd moments of the night, and normal calendar time takes a hike. Of course the obverse side of the coin is that when winter comes, it comes with a vengeance. When brass monkey-weather sets in, temperatures in the far north can reach as low -40°C (-40°F) and routinely sink to -20°C (-9°F)in the south. While places in the south might be gratified with a few hours of weak pale sunlight during the winter, the far north experiences true polar nights with weeks of no sun at all.

In Vicki Marie’s essay, we witness the process by which an outsider attempts to understand and adjust to living within another culture. With enthusiasm and respect, Vicki moved to Samoa, only to discover that her preferences about a variety of common social experiences (greeting others, resolving conflicts, desiring privacy, displaying courtesy and respect) have different meanings among her


colleagues and neighbors. Vicki’s essay also introduces some of the ethical issues that inevitably occur when crossing cultures: how and when should one conform to behaviors that are inconsistent with one’s own beliefs, values, and experiences?

Living in Paradise:
An Inside Look at the Samoan Culture
Vicki Marie

In 1988 I was an adjunct instructor at several nearby colleges and universities. One day, while commuting between campuses, it occurred to me that while I was waiting for a full-time position, I could be teaching abroad. I researched overseas teaching opportunities and sent out a dozen resumes. I received three job offers. The assistant professorship of language arts at the College of Samoa was the most appealing. I accepted an 18-month contract, left California a few months later, and arrived in Samoa in January 1989.

Except for holiday travel, I had lived in California my entire life and knew little about Samoa. I read eagerly about Samoan history, geography, and culture, and talked with people who had lived in Samoa and taught at the college. Yet I arrived believing that my Samoan students would be motivated by the same values and would aspire to the same goals that I considered worthwhile. I was surprised to discover that my worldview was uniquely

European American

and my attitude ethnocentric. Samoa became the classroom and textbook that taught me about cultural relativity and intercultural communication. I discovered I had much to learn about Samoa and even more about myself.


The U.S. and Samoan governments have been intertwined since the end of World War II, yet many Americans are unaware of the vast northern ocean area of Oceania. Samoa is one of many tiny islands that comprises a string of more than 2,100 islands and atolls lying in four major archipelagos: the Mariana, the Caroline, the Marshall, and the Kiribati islands. These islands are scattered across an area as large as the continental United States, yet they are so small that their combined land mass amounts to approximately 1,000 square miles, about the size of Rhode Island. The inhabited islands are home to more than 375,000 people, who make up five constitutional governments. While these political divisions also represent linguistic, ethnic, and cultural differences, the people native to the islands are all classified as Micronesians.

Despite 175 years of contact with foreigners, Samoans have maintained their traditional politics, languages, and family organizations. Changes, though, are inevitable. As a result, I found island life to be an amalgam of traditional and Western influences. Samoans wear Western-style clothing, drive imported cars, eat in Japanese restaurants, and socialize in American-style bars. Yet these same people are equally comfortable wearing traditional island lava lavas, reciting ancient folklore in native languages, and masterfully pounding sakau, the local kava drink.

Cultural Patterns

Although Samoans can move easily between ancient traditions and modern ideas, they have distinct value systems unlike those in the West. I found that it wasn’t always easy to consider-much less appreciate-our contrasting worldviews. And what huge differences in worldviews we had! The following list summarizes some of the significant differences in cultural assumptions that I encountered while living among Samoans:

Samoan European American

Nature will provide for us in time.

We must change our world, control nature, and make it work for humankind.

What will be, will be. Human life is controlled by destiny.

We create our own future by what we do.

There’s no use rushing away from what I’m doing now. There’s always plenty of time.

I have to hurry and meet somebody now. See you later.

Worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.

Save for the future.

Work a little, rest a little. Whatever you do, try to keep other people happy.

If I work hard enough, someday I’ll make it to the top.

What I have is yours. What you have is mine

What’s mine belong to me.

The wise person is one who knows his place in the world, respects authority, and does what he is supposed to do.

Sensible people strike out on their own, learn to do things for themselves, and make their own decisions.

The feelings of others are more important than an honest answer.

Always tell the truth, no matter how much it hurts.

My life belongs to the family and God.

I am a god.

As you can tell from this list, the potential for intercultural misunderstandings is great. I found these cultural differences to be interesting, irritating, amusing, or stressful, depending on the situation.

As time passed, I moved through predictable and trying phases of adjustment and assimilation. The first few months I was euphoric just to be in Samoa, and everything seemed perfect and beautiful. I walked around with a big smile on my face and wrote letters to my family that recounted every blissful event. My euphoria plummeted the morning I discovered two flat tires on my Jeep. As a prank, the boys in the village had let the air out of the tires. I took it very personally and cried. A few days later, someone stole my sandals off the porch. I wasn’t sure what to expect next in my new surroundings. I coped with the uncertainty by writing letters to everyone I knew “back home,” socializing primarily with American and European expatriates and occasionally retreating to the solitude of my bungalow. Eventually I settled into a routine in which uncertainty became entertaining more than threatening. I reached out to people with varied cultural backgrounds and broadened my social circle.

I enjoyed new cultural experiences. I drank sakau and ate eel at feasts, visited with neighbors, hiked in the rainforest, learned to scuba dive, and enjoyed the challenge of teaching English to Samoan students. With each experience I gained valuable insights into the culture and into myself. As I learned about Samoan ways, I came to better understand my own cultural conditioning.

My American assumptions were often laughable in the Samoan context. I felt anxious about wasting time and reprimanded students who were late to class. I was impatient when meeting times were disregarded. I took pride in accomplishing a list of goals each day. Then one day a Samoan dean questioned why another American professor always walked so fast. “What’s his hurry all the time?” the dean wondered aloud. Knowing that I easily outpaced my American colleague, I realized the question was indirectly aimed at my own task-oriented style. I felt embarrassed about looking foolish to the dean, but it seemed right to use my time wisely.

My notions of being direct and straightforward also were challenged. One day my friend Maggie stood me up at the hospital. I had agreed to assist her by talking with a physician on her behalf. She had health problems that she didn’t fully understand and agreed to meet me at the hospital for an 11 A.M. appointment. I took a taxi and arrived at the hospital 10 minutes early. After reading a book for 20 minutes I roamed around the hospital, looking for Maggie. I was concerned and wondered if a problem was keeping her from being on time. After I’d been there 45 minutes, Maggie’s brother found me, staring toward the main door, and told me that Maggie was sorry but she couldn’t make it that day. I was disappointed and frustrated. Unlike the earlier interaction with the dean, the cultural implications were not obvious. Months later, after observing similar incidents between others, I realized that Maggie never intended to meet me that day. Apparently she felt that saying “no” would have insulted me.

Political Structure

Shortly after moving to Samoa, I discovered that an important key to understanding Samoan culture lies in the pervasive traditional political structure, which is a hierarchical social system with strongly embedded political and relational values and social norms. Even when Samoan communities are affected by the maneuvering of government politicians, the traditional system factors strongly into negotiations and outcomes of most political transactions. For example, the negotiations required for paving the road that encircled the city were lengthy and complicated. Government officials proposed a plan that had to be approved by each of the five districts’ leaders. The negotiations for land rights took months of meetings, discussions, gifts, and other traditional courtesies. Eventually, after each traditional chief felt satisfied that his community had been sufficiently compensated, the road construction began.

Typically, each district on an island operates within a status hierarchy: hereditary nobility, landed gentry, and commoners. Each island district is ruled by a nanmwarki, or “high chief.” Below the nanmwarki is a group of high-titled nobles. A second set of nobles is headed by the nahnken, or “talking chief.” Each male title has a female equivalent. The male leaders, however, are the decision makers and the most highly revered in traditional culture. They are bestowed with much respect; others must address them in a “high language,” which is an honorific language with special vocabulary reserved for nobility and authority.

Commoners and outsiders like me are expected to stand when talking to nobility, to respond to rather than initiate communication, and to cast our eyes downward to convey humility and respect. One evening I was introduced to a nahnken who had entered the restaurant where I was dining with a colleague. As the nahnken approached us, my friend quickly coached me: “Stand up, shake his hand, and cast your eyes down.” I reluctantly followed his direction, feeling very awkward. In that instance I was abiding by the local custom but violating behaviors that I considered to be courteous and comfortable. I prefer to use direct eye contact and a sincere smile and believe such gestures conveyed confidence, honesty, and mutual respect. At that moment, I struggled to avoid eye contact and felt resentment and tightness in my stomach as I tried to abide by social norms that collided with my own standards of equality and status.

Gender Roles

Unlike in U.S. society, where equality is the desired value, the roles of men and women in traditional Samoan cultures are quite well defined. Many gender roles were apparent. In the morning, women hung their laundry, prepared meals, and swept their living areas. Men returned from early-morning fishing outings to repair homes or head for their jobs in town. During the day, men built houses, repaired canoes, sailed, fished, and gathered breadfruit and coconuts. Women prepared meals, cared for the children, cleaned, and tended the taro patches. In the early evenings, men met at the “men’s house” for socializing or all-male community decision-making. After their homemaking chores, women played cards or walked through the village, visiting with friends along the way.

In business and government centers on the more developed islands, many women have moved into the workplace, operating businesses or working in government offices. As women’s roles have changed, so have gender communication norms. Traditional hierarchies still dictate the intrinsic status of women, but the subtleties are not obvious to an outsider. I learned about social status by talking to Samoan men and women.

Traditionally, social expectations in Samoa dictate where and to whom women may speak, but norms have shifted as women have taken responsible positions in community affairs. In more traditional settings, however, predictable gender communication norms remain intact. Women, for instance, are not supposed to speak during village or community meetings. Above all, women should not challenge or confront men. As a European American woman, I found that notion foreign. I learned the hard way about hierarchical gender communication in Samoa.

My bungalow was situated between the only sakau bar and beer bar in the village. Over the winter holiday season, both bars had ongoing parties. Because sakau is a soporific, the more the patrons drank, the quieter they became. The beer had the opposite effect on the patrons in the second bar. As the evening progressed, people and music became louder, and the noise continued until dawn. After two sleepless nights, I approached the bar owner with a direct but courteous plea to end the party at a reasonable hour. He reluctantly agreed to turn the music off by 10 P.M. and close the bar at midnight. I felt relieved, but that evening the music continued past midnight. I walked over to the bar, asked to speak to the owner, and pleaded with him to turn off the music. I made, I thought, a reasonable and polite request, but the music continued into the early morning.

On my way to campus that morning I was confronted by the owner’s daughter, who accused me of casting shame on her father. Although the owner and I had had a private conversation, my directness was perceived as aggressive and disrespectful. I tried to explain my position to the daughter, but she wouldn’t listen. As an outsider and a woman, I had overstepped my boundaries and never had a chance of persuading the owner to comply with my request. Interestingly, my landlord, a well-respected businessman, eventually intervened. From that night on, the owner conformed to a 10 P.M. curfew, and I finally got some sleep.

Even in family settings, women must temper their comments. A Pohnpeian colleague once explained that if she was bitterly angry with her brother’s wife, she would not dare say anything to her brother about her feelings. To do so would be disrespectful to her brother and would cast shame on herself. She said she limits her conversations with her brother to “asking for his help or advice.”

I learned that women who initiate conversations with men are considered forward or flirtatious. The college maintenance man went out of his way to help me set up my office and bungalow. I thought he was very nice-until he made a pass at me. I was informed that my outgoing personality and friendly small talk had been interpreted as romantic interest. I thought it was silly, so I just ignored the misunderstanding. To avoid an unnecessary conflict, however, I was courteously warned by my Samoan friends about the man’s jealous Chuukese wife and told to avoid him.

A similar situation occurred after I stopped one day to look at a hotel construction site near the lagoon. One of the owners, who was married to the college secretary, was on the premises. I was pleased to meet him and chatted about his new hotel. A few days later, his wife told me that he thought I was flirting with him. Thankfully, she didn’t take him seriously. My Samoan friends trusted me and guided me when necessary to avoid misperceptions. I was grateful for the support as I maneuvered my way through a new culture.

I learned, for instance, that despite the cultural constraint of gender, Samoan women hold a position of power and community esteem in island life. When a dispute occurs, the first-born woman, who is the female head of her clan, is sent to settle the conflict and reconcile the two sides. Her judgments are almost always obeyed, because if they are not there is the risk that the conflict could reemerge to plague the community.

True to their collectivist nature, the Samoan people consider social harmony an important cultural value that is critical to community welfare. Women are called on to ensure that such harmony prevails. Harmony must prevail in this culture!

Family and Children

Like most European Americans, I tend to belong to several unrelated groups. Samoans, however, belong to one relatively unchanging group: their family. Having grown up in a small family I found it intriguing that Samoan families include all relatives in their clan. The extended family is composed of generations of matrilineal relationships. Several members of the extended family commonly share a single household. The larger clan is composed of descendants of a common female ancestor. As a Westerner, I was confused by the matrilineal nature of Samoan families. Descendants always come through the woman and are considered members of the mother’s clan. Children refer to their mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and other significant women as “mom.” Their siblings and cousins are considered “brothers and sisters.” When the girl next door told me that she had 19 brothers and sisters, I laughed because I thought she was joking. When I asked Millie, the daughter of my friend Maggie, how many brothers and sisters she has, she began counting on her fingers but finally threw up her and hands and exclaimed, ” I don’t know a lot!”

Rank in the clan comes from birth order, not age. The children of the oldest daughter will have higher rank than the children of a younger daughter, regardless of their ages. For example, if the older daughter’s son is 25 years old, and the youngest daughter’s son is 35 years old, the older daughter’s son would have the higher rank. He would be regarded as a big brother by the older but lower-ranking man. Rank for females follows the same pattern. Grandparents, by virtue of their position in the family, are highly honored and treated with great respect, love, and care by their children and grandchildren.

Respect is the most important value to Samoans. It is expressed in the guiding rule to “be humble; don’t put yourself up.” This social rule, which extends to all relationships, discouraged our college freshmen from initiating conversation with sophomores. In some circumstances, though, such as in a classroom, students switched to an egalitarian style for practical reasons. But they did so with discomfort.

I asked my college students to explain status norms. One responded, “The rule about talking to higher-rank people is to be polite. We honor the higher title person.” Another said, “We use high language for leaders and important people like the elders. If you don’t use appropriate language you are considered impolite and disrespectful. Following the rules in our culture is very important, which is why I don’t like to communicate at feasts with traditional leaders.”

In general, only a few expectations constrain children’s behavior. Parents allow their children to do whatever they please as long as they display respect for others. One afternoon I sat visiting with my friend while her three young children played nearby. During our four-hour conversation, her children would stop to listen to us talk but did not once interrupt. Occasionally my friend or I would speak to her kids. They responded immediately to their mother but were more hesitant toward me.

Respect is the value embedded in the strict rules that prohibit children from initiating conversations with elders. An elder is loosely defined as anyone older than the child. When responding to an elder, children are expected to use “high language.” They use honorific language to answer their parents, grandparents, or older siblings, especially the first-born son. Samoan children will rarely vie for attention or interrupt adults. So, although children are included in all community events, they are typically “seen but not heard.”

If a child does something displeasing, the parent will usually attempt to modify the behavior by making the child feel ashamed. For instance, if a girl uses her mother’s money to buy something without permission, the parent may talk about the child within her hearing range to make the child feel ashamed for spending the family’s money. Disputes among family members are strongly discouraged. Children are taught this value at a very early age and are made to feel great shame if a dispute occurs. Courtesy, respect, and politeness are constant themes found in each household and in the community. Intentional rudeness or malevolent behaviors are looked down on. A person exhibiting such behaviors is considered
amalgam tekia, a Chuukese phrase meaning “haughty.”

Samoan parents do not praise their children for good deeds. Children might hear indirectly from a third party how pleased their parents are with their behavior, but Samoans find it awkward to express and receive compliments directly. I would tell children how beautiful or talented they were and would be surprised to hear in reply “I’m not.” My Samoan friends were more likely to express their appreciation through caring, gifts, or favors. In fact, providing enough food is the primary way in which a parent shows affection for a child. Being hungry would imply to others that the child is not taken care of properly and is, therefore, unloved.

Family members who are hungry are expected to help themselves to food. But a hungry person may be too embarrassed to ask for food, for fear of implying that the family is neglectful. To avoid embarrassing family members, Samoan people assume that any person coming into the house, including a visitor, is hungry and is thus greeted with an offer of food. Family members generally serve themselves from the communal bowl. Eating together goes beyond the mere intake of food to satisfy hunger. The spirit of sharing is a way of showing oneness and, more significantly, mutual trust and love.

Displays of affection among family members, as practiced by many groups in the United States, do not exist in Samoan families. Children display affection for their parents through loyalty and by performing certain duties or responsibilities for the family, such as sweeping the floor without being asked. Although Samoans seldom hug or kiss children, a mother will lovingly nuzzle her child’s nose.

I attended a church wedding and was surprised that the Western tradition of the husband kissing the bride was eliminated from the ceremony. I was told later that public displays of affection are considered inappropriate. Holding hands with others outside the family circle is more common, especially among those of the same gender. The only time one is likely to observe hugging and kissing in a family is when an adult is playing with a baby. In fact, children are not allowed to observe kissing. Millie told me that it made her shake (nervous) when she saw Americans kissing, because it was bad. I had seen her cover her eyes during a kissing scene in a film. She told me that her mother said she should never see kissing. I heard stories of teenage girls being punished for inadvertently witnessing Westerners kissing at the airport. The taboo is apparently a strategy for discouraging promiscuity, although I am not sure how well it works.


Many language differences exist in Samoa, although each language derives from a common Malayo-Polynesian source. Several major tribal languages, with dialect variations, are spoken in Samoa. The islanders I encountered knew their native language and at least one other language. On the islands that were heavily influenced by Japan, inhabitants know some conversational Japanese. Because of the diversity of native languages, English has emerged as the lingua franca used in government, education, and other intercultural contexts. For most Samoans, English is a second language; for others, it is their fourth or fifth and, thus, the language with which they feel the least secure.

At the College of Samoa students appeared confident when switching between tribal languages but seemed reluctant when communicating in English to me. I spoke with students who had varying degrees of English proficiency. Some disclosed that they were afraid of appearing “stupid” to native English speakers.

I taught an evening class for two weeks before I realized that the majority of students didn’t understand me. They pretended to understand by simply nodding and smiling. When I spoke to them individually after class, I realized that in fact they understood very little English. Samoans who live and work in city centers and who have frequent contact with native English speakers are able to express themselves as clearly in English as they do in their native languages. When they speak fluent English, it is easy to forget that our cultural perceptions may actually block clear communication.

I sometimes wondered about the illusion of shared meaning that existed during my intercultural conversations. There were times I’d expect a particular outcome but it wouldn’t occur. I learned, over time, not to take the language for granted. I tried to be empathetic toward students who spoke in a foreign language, especially when I heard them struggling to express themselves clearly. Actually, I admired their ability to speak multiple languages.

Communication Norms

Samoans seem to be simultaneously extroverted and introverted. As a group Samoans find it easy to talk with others, and they perceive themselves to be friendly, dramatic, and animated. They also appear interested in others, demonstrating goodwill when they communicate.

Because it is difficult to accept compliments, Samoans generally do not openly give compliments. They admire people silently or indirectly. Generally, if a person wants to compliment another, he or she will pass the compliment through a relative rather than acknowledge the person directly.

When I praised our student clerk for a job well done she giggled, blushed, and turned away from me. I observed the same reaction when I openly praised students for well-written essays or other course work. One day in front of my office, I encouraged a young man to present his exceptionally good speech at our upcoming speech festival. He turned his body away from me as he flipped his hand chest-high in a gesture that meant to communicate “stop” or “go away,” because it was difficult for him to accept the compliment. Each time I encountered these common nonverbal responses, they were coupled with self-effacing statements that were said with a smile, but it was quite clear that the student was extremely uncomfortable. One student explained: “People are uncomfortable with praise because they do not want to be perceived as thinking they are `big’ or better than anybody else.” Modesty is an important characteristic of the Samoan personality. Samoans believe that it is generally virtuous to be quiet. Even in childbirth, a woman is expected to keep silent and show as little pain as possible.

Samoans find very few situations in which they can show pride in their accomplishments or possessions without fear of criticism. This attitude was evident at the conclusion of our college speech festival, when all the student speakers disappeared immediately after the awards ceremony. The young man who won first place for his persuasive speech left to avoid criticism for pretentiousness or “acting big.” Runners-up left because they felt ashamed. In a collectivist community where such public competition is rare, the fear of ridicule or gossip seems sufficiently strong to enforce an apparent pattern of exaggerated modesty, humility, and shame.

Samoan communication style uses less verbal exchange and looks for implicit meaning in the situation. In contrast, my European American communication style is one in which talkativeness is valued and the message is conveyed explicitly. In everyday encounters I commonly misinterpreted silence as introversion, shyness, or disinterest. Over time, I better understood notions of context as I heard conversations similar to one between our department secretary and a European American professor. As the professor walked away from the exchange, the secretary grimaced. When I asked, “What’s wrong?” she answered, “He talks too much.” She explained that talkative people are less respected in society. People who are reserved or quiet are admired. This greatly influences the way in which Samoans conduct themselves in public. “Generally,” she explained, “people rarely initiate conversations, particularly if they are meeting someone new. During childhood we are told not to speak to adults, and if we did speak we were to be careful of the language to be used.” Talkativeness casts shame on oneself and one’s family. Such perceived threats contribute greatly to Samoans’ willingness to communicate with others.

Nonverbal Communication

Differences in nonverbal communication, or body language, are often subtle and can be the source of intercultural misunderstanding. During my first few days at the College of Samoa, the division secretary was on sick leave. When she returned I introduced myself and asked, “Are you feeling better?”

She answered “Yes” nonverbally by raising and lowering her eyebrows. I interpreted her response to mean “What did you say?” So I repeated the question a little more slowly, and again she raised her brows. I asked the question a third time, receiving the same nonverbal response. Out of frustration, I finally said, “I hope you are feeling better soon.” About a week later, when I learned that raised eyebrows mean “yes,” I realized that the secretary must have thought me dense for repeatedly asking the same question.

Samoans use the same shake of the head as Americans as a way to say “no.” A frown accompanied by a wave of the hand at chest level is an emphatic “no!” or “stop it!” Samoans throw their heads slightly back and to the side to indicate “over there.” Depending on the context of the question, the response could mean a few blocks away or the next island over. The apparent ambiguity of that particular response was sometimes confusing. Similarly, if I, as an outsider, were to summon a Samoan by repeatedly curling my index finger upward, the gesture would imply that the receiver had the status of an animal. More than a few times, I had to control my impulse to use that common American gesture.

Much more difficult was remembering that the proper nonverbal gesture for summoning someone in Samoa is to make a downward movement of the hand from the level of the head to the shoulder. The first time a Samoan beckoned me in this manner, I thought he was telling me to “go away.” I stood in utter confusion until he finally asked me to “come here.” The verbal message was need.


I often learned through my mistakes. I once reached out to ruffle a little boy’s hair only to have my hand quickly pulled away by a colleague who saved me from cultural transgression. From my American perspective, I was expressing affection toward the child. I was surprised to learn that I was conveying the exact opposite meaning by violating a Samoan perception of height, an important concept in Samoan cultures. Generally speaking, the higher something or someone is, the more sacred it is. The head is the highest part of the human body; to touch another person’s head is considered disrespectful, and such behavior is strictly prohibited.

Height also acts as a type of checks-and-balances system. When passing others who are sitting, Chuukese people say ”
Tirow” (excuse me) or ”
Tirow wom” (high language used to excuse oneself) to elders and others higher in rank. ”
Tirow wom” is usually accompanied by a bow from the waist, which demonstrates respect by lowering one’s height in relation to the people who are sitting.

In the Chuukese culture, a woman is forbidden to be physically higher than a man at any time. I heard Westerners mistakenly categorize this behavior as sexist. From the Chuukese perspective, however, the behavior is practical: A woman should never stand when a man is sitting because she runs the risk of drawing attention to her thighs. A woman’s thighs are considered sexually stimulating by Samoan men. Therefore, her behavior would appear sexually suggestive.

If a woman’s brother is sitting, she would either walk past him at a distance while bowing at the waist, walk past him on her knees, crawl, or simply sit down and wait for him to stand up. She would not, under any circumstances, directly ask him to stand up, because that would imply that he didn’t respect her. She could, however, ask another person to point out her presence to him or wait until he noticed her. As an outsider, I was generally exempt from these strict cultural rules and was excused when I inadvertently violated social expectations. Still, I tried my best to be sensitive to cultural norms.

Before I left California, I read about the Samoan perception of female thighs. I was prepared to teach while wearing long skirts and to play while wearing modest, knee length walking shorts. I found most outsiders to be equally sensitive toward this cultural norm. Peace Corps volunteers and other expatriate women adopted the Samoan style of swimming in skirts. It was easier to swim or dive out on the reef, away from the island, because we could swim in bathing suits and cover up with lava-lauas (wrapped skirts) as soon as we got within sight of the island. One afternoon, while returning to the lagoon in our boat, some friends and I were engrossed in conversation and didn’t remember to cover our legs. We snapped back to reality as we passed the docks and were jeered with whistles and wolf-calls. Interestingly, my friends and I felt very exposed and embarrassed and quickly learned to abide by cultural tradition.


As members of a “doing” culture, European Americans are very concerned with time, compartmentalizing it carefully to avoid wasting it. Samoa is a “being” culture. Samoans are more likely to listen to their natural impulses-to eat when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired-than to the hands of a clock. Cooking, fishing, and other tasks are determined by mood, weather, or ocean tides. In the remote villages and outer islands, much time is spent relaxing and socializing. The men meet to discuss community affairs or play games. The women weave or socialize over a card game. I had difficulty relating to people in the village who appeared to spend a great part of the day just sitting around doing nothing. I would have been bored but, interestingly, the word “bored” does not exist in Samoan tribal languages.

In city centers, where people are expected to abide by work hours and class times, Samoans find the transition to schedules unnatural and confining. It is not considered unusual or rude for Samoans to come later than their appointed time. It would, however, be unusual to meet a Samoan who was in a hurry or anxious over a deadline. Because European Americans typically view time as a commodity, the time issue causes many misunderstandings. It took most of the first semester for me to understand that student tardiness was not a sign of disrespect or apathy.

During the fall semester I was asked to present a communication workshop to local radio announcers. I had very little time to design the workshop, so I gave the support staff the course materials to duplicate and assemble. Two days before the workshop was scheduled I discovered the duplicating hadn’t been completed. I expressed my concern about having the materials on time but was assured that they would be ready. I heard indirectly that if I was in such a great hurry I should do the job myself. Surprisingly, the materials were delivered one hour before I left for the radio station.

I arrived at the station ten minutes early and found only one person there. The general manager and three announcers trickled in over the next 20 minutes. As I was about to begin, the electricity shut down, leaving us without air conditioning or lights. The general manager suggested we move the workshop to the college campus. By the time we drove to the campus and settled into a classroom, 15 minutes were left of the scheduled time. I had time only for a brief introduction and an ice-breaker activity. I was disappointed that we lost virtually an entire session and that my preparation had been in vain, yet none of the participants seemed inconvenienced.

The Samoan lifestyle is communal. Traditionally, many Samoans live in shared areas where everything is used collectively. This idea is emphasized in the Chuukese proverb: ”
Meta aai epwe oomw, mea oomw epwe aai,” or “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.” This notion remains an ideal cultural value but is mostly theoretical. In reality, Samoans have personal property and regard it as such. Personal property may be loaned to others, but it is considered proper to ask the rightful owner for permission. Most of the time the owner will grant permission. In fact, about the only time the owner would withhold permission is when he or somebody else was using the object in question.

While the concept of private property does exist, Samoans tend to be less attached to their belongings than are European Americans. Acquaintances who were Peace Corps volunteers said this was a frustrating cultural difference that they found difficult to accept. They explained that if they wanted to keep personal possessions such as hair clips, books, or cassette players for themselves, they would have to put them away in a private place. Their Samoan family’s attitude toward such items was one of detachment, which is generally true for most Samoans. For instance, if something is borrowed and subsequently lost or damaged, the owner will not express anger, because people are much more important than possessions. In contrast, European Americans tend to react to losing a possession with varying degrees of anger and, depending on the object, may perceive a loss almost as a loss of part of oneself. In the collectivist Samoan societies, in contrast, the personality of each person is well known, but people express their individuality by their behaviors rather than their possessions.

The issue of privacy was a challenge for me in Samoa. As a typical European American, I highly value my privacy, but the concept of privacy is strange in Samoan cultures because togetherness is the norm. Although most Samoans have been exposed to American cultural patterns and accept them, they still do not fully comprehend the need for “quiet time” or privacy. Being alone is generally associated with strong emotions-for instance, avoiding an individual or group to keep from expressing strong anger toward others or hiding because of feelings of sadness or great shame. Samoans may also think that someone desiring solitude is
mas or “physically sick and wants to be alone.”

The day I moved into my two-bedroom bungalow, the landlord sent his son over to make some repairs on the house. His three sisters followed him over, walked into my living room, tied up the curtains to let the breeze in, and sat down for a chat among themselves. They were as relaxed and natural as if they were in their own home. I, on the other hand, didn’t quite know what to do. Should I offer them something to drink? Make small talk? Try to entertain them in some way? The young women were fully engaged in their conversation in tribal dialect, so I retreated uncomfortably to my back room to work until everyone was ready to leave. On other occasions, the children in the neighborhood would pile onto my back porch to watch the video playing on my TV. They seemed as interested in what I was doing as in the plot of the film. After some time, I noticed my boundaries relaxing, but I was never fully comfortable with the territorial differences. The most disturbing violations of my privacy were when the young men in the neighborhood looked into my windows at night. The nocturnal habits of a single
menwai (outsider) woman were apparently entertaining.


The Chuukese term for night-crawling is
teefan. This is the behavior in which a young man sneaks to a young woman’s house at night to meet her. Strictly speaking, the man could go night-crawling only when the couple had made an arrangement. It is expected that the woman will help the man in their attempts to get together. In days gone by, the process was much easier. Houses were thatched, and all the man had to do was poke his carved wooden “love stick” through the thatched wall and await an answer. The woman could either invite him in or ask him to wait outside by a simple push or pull of the stick. It was obviously necessary that the woman know the love-stick design of her intended lover.

Today the ritual is complicated by cinder-block or wooden walls that make the love-stick ineffective. Night-crawling continues but with an arrangement made between the lovers. Frequently I discovered evidence of such trysts near my bungalow. Large banana leaves had been used to pad the ground where young couples met. Crawling around without such prearrangement constitutes
inkikich or peeping. The boys in my village occasionally whistled into my windows and on one occasion actually invited my visiting mother to join them in the night air. She just laughed. But night-crawling can be risky, and a man who night-crawls should expect to meet challenges. It is perfectly acceptable for the man to be beaten up by the woman’s relatives if he is caught.

I moved back to California in 1990, when I accepted a teaching position at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. The first day on campus I met a visiting professor that had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Samoa. He encouraged me to teach intercultural communication because, he said, “It’s an important course, great fun, and a forum for Samoan tales.”

I am glad I took his advice; because each time I share a story with students I am transported to Samoa. I remember the riches I gained by living among Samoans: I was able to move beyond my ethnocentrism and better understand and value variations of human behavior. I became aware of the culturally programmed beliefs, values, and norms that determine my behaviors. Most importantly, I developed lasting intercultural relationships.

Recently, my husband and I invited Millie, now eleven years old, to live with us. She arrived from Samoa eighteen months ago and is attending the elementary school near our home. These months together have been joyous for us all but particularly meaningful to me. Millie is Maggie’s daughter Maggie, my dear friend and former student in Samoa. I consider Samoa my second home and Maggie and her children my Samoan family.

Now that Millie is with us, I have a renewed sense of connection with my Samoan home and family. Each day with her brings discoveries about our life experiences and cultural assumptions. As I help her learn about American culture, I develop a deeper dimension of love for Samoa and a greater appreciation for cultural diversity and relativity.

Environment section for all countries


Belize is a country located on the Caribbean coast of the Central American isthmus. It shares borders with Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west. The country consists predominantly of tropical lowland and swampy plains, though the Maya Mountains in the west rise to almost 1000m (3280ft). Thirty kilometers (19mi) offshore is the world’s second largest barrier reef, home to a broad range of marine life.

Half of the country is covered by dense (but rapidly disappearing) jungle; the rest is farmland, scrub and swamp. The tropical forests provide habitats for a wide range of animals, including jaguar, puma, ocelot, armadillo, tapir and crocodile. The country also harbors keel-billed toucan, an abundance of macaws and parrots, and heron and snowy egret.

Belize is hot and humid year round, but respite from the weather can be found in the cooler mountains or from the tropical breezes which waft over the cayes. Rainfall is a whopping 4m (13ft) a year, most of it falling between June and November.


Canada has an incredible mix of native flora and fauna. It comprises eight vegetation zones, most of which are dominated by forest. Some of the common tree species include white and black spruce, balsam and Douglas fir, western red cedar, white pine and the sugar maple which bears one of Canada’s best-known symbols – the maple leaf which appears on the country’s flag. Endemic animals include the grizzly, black, brown and polar bears, beaver, buffalo, wolf, coyote, lynx, cougar, deer, caribou, elk and moose. There are also 500 species of birds, such as the great blue heron, Canada geese and many varieties of duck. Moves are afoot to ensure protection for endangered species like the beluga whale, burrowing owl whooping crane and eastern wolf. Canada has 39 national parks, 145 parks-administered national historic sites and 13 areas of such natural significance that they are on the UN World Heritage list.

Situated north of the USA, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Canada is the world’s second largest country (Russia is the first). It extends some 7700km (4775mi) east to west and 4600km (2850mi) north to south. Nearly 90% of Canadians huddle along the 6379km (3955mi) southern border with the USA. Though much of the land is lake and river-filled forest, there are mountains, plains and even a small desert. The Great Plains, or prairies, cover Manitoba, Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta. These former grasslands are now responsible for Canada’s abundant wheat crop. Western Canada is known for its Rocky Mountains, while the east has the country’s major cities and also its most visited geographic feature, Niagara Falls. The Canadian Shield, an ancient, rocky and glacially sanded region formed more than 2.5 billion years ago, covers most of the north of the country. The Arctic region, in the far north, is where you’ll find frozen tundra merging into islands that are ice-bound for most of the year.

Costa Rica is bordered to the north by Nicaragua and to the southeast by Panama. It has both a Caribbean and a Pacific coast. A series of volcanic mountain chains runs from the Nicaraguan border to the Panamanian border, splitting the country in two. In the centre of these ranges is a high-altitude plain, with coastal lowlands on either side. Over half the population lives on this plain, this has fertile volcanic soils. The Caribbean coast is 212km (131mi) long and is characterized by mangroves, swamps and sandy beaches. The Pacific coast is much more rugged and rocky, and, thanks to a number of gulfs and peninsulas, is a tortuous 1016km (630mi) long.
The country’s biodiversity attracts nature lovers from all over the world; its tropical forests contain 1500 tree species. National parks cover almost 12% of the country, and forest reserves and indigenous reservations boost the protected land area to 27%.
Costa Rica’s jungles provide a variety of habitats for the country’s fauna including four types of monkey, sloth’s, armadillos, jaguars and tapirs.  The primary attraction for many visitors is the 850 recorded bird species, which include the resplendent quetzal, indigo-capped hummingbirds, macaws and toucans. There are also a number of dazzling butterflies.
El Salvador is a tiny country, located on the Pacific coast of Central America. It’s bordered by Guatemala to the west, Honduras to the north and east, and the Pacific Ocean to the south.
For the most part, El Salvador is lush, green and surrounded by cloud-misted hills. More than 25 extinct volcanoes dot the country, the largest being San Salvador, San Vicente, Santa Ana and San Miguel. Less than 6% of the country remains forested since the land is intensively cultivated; coffee predominates in the highlands, sugar in the lowlands and cotton on the coastal plains. However, with the highest level of environmental damage in the Americas, El Salvador runs the risk of losing its beauty, especially since it’s the only country in Latin America without environmental protection laws. Many of the country’s river systems suffer from pollution, and some fear that at the current rate of destruction the country will run out of drinking water in less than 15 years.
Although industrial development and hotel construction are major threats to the environment, the most visible problem is trash. A circle of soaring vultures usually indicates where a new load has been dumped by the side of the road. Other fauna that has survived this onslaught includes quetzals, toucans, monkeys, white-tailed deer and zillions of butterflies. There are, however, 90 endangered species in El Salvador, including marine turtles and armadillos.
A wet and a dry season dominate El Salvador’s climate. During the wet season (May to October), there’s generally a downpour every evening. Between November and April the country is dry and dusty. Daytime temperatures vary little, reaching around 30°C (86°F) in November and 34°C (93°F) in March and April. The coastal lowlands are much hotter than the rest of the country. San Salvador is 680m (2230ft) above sea level, so it has a moderate climate compared to other parts of the country, but it’s still pretty sweaty.
Greenland is so far north that its residents are the first to see Old Nick fly across the rooftops each year. It’s shaped like a witch’s shoe laying on its side, with the back of the heel flush against the arctic polar cap, the tongue sloping down the Denmark Strait and the turned-up toes pointing into the Atlantic Ocean. Over three quarters of the country is unremittingly ice: that adds up to the size of Texas.  The sheer weight of all this ice has caused the middle of the country to sag, forming a concave basin which reaches a depth of 360m (1180ft) below sea level. Above the ground towering crystal columns of ice dot the landscape, glaciers calve monstrous icebergs into the sea, and fjords knit the shoreline. If the cosmic defrost button ever got pushed, the ice slush would be enough to turn coastal cities around the world into large urban swimming pools.
The peculiar geography of Greenland and its proximity to the North Pole results in a number of spectacular natural phenomena, but none more awesome than the aurora borealis and Fata Morgana effect. The aurora borealis’ wafting curtains of colored lights, most often a faint green or light rose color, are caused by charged particles from the sun colliding with the earth’s atmosphere. Reflections of water, ice and snow, combined with temperature inversions, causes the illusion of solid, well defined features where there are none. Hence those early apocryphal tales of ships sailing on the ice, large cities in the middle of nowhere and green forests appearing on the horizon.
Most of the vegetation in Greenland is stunted but in late summer the lowland areas of the south are carpeted with wild flowers – chamomile, dandelion, harebell, and Arctic poppies – and wild berries. The harsh climate puts off all but the hardiest of animals but what the country lacks in numbers it makes up for in exotica. Above the ground you can see caribou, musk oxen, polar bears, lemmings, and (much-prized for their pelts) the Arctic white fox and blue-grey fox. In the water any number of whale species is likely to give you the fluke, from the Disney-cute orca, or killer whale, to the beautiful white beluga whale. The icy seas are also home to the narwhal with its unicorn tusk, and of course a whole passel of seals and walrus.
Greenland and Greenpeace are a surprisingly volatile mix. Green peace’s anti-sealing and anti-whaling stance effectively destroyed Greenland’s economic base, particularly in north Greenland where subsistence hunting represents 80% of the income. Since then, Greenpeace have recognized that Greenland is a different kettle of fish and (except in the case of endangered species) subsistence hunting is now accepted, but many Greenlanders still feel bitter about the organization’s intrusion into their traditional way of life.
Summer is a relative term in Greenland but basically it’s that time between May and July when the thermometer busts a gut to climb over 20°C (68°F). This is minus the wind factor so it still means a warm jacket or pullover. This is midnight sun time when every day is, well, a day and a night; when citizens take long strolls and spontaneous boat trips at odd moments of the night, and normal calendar time takes a hike. Of course the obverse side of the coin is that when winter comes, it comes with a vengeance. When brass monkey-weather sets in, temperatures in the far north can reach as low -40°C (-40°F) and routinely sink to -20°C (-9°F)in the south. While places in the south might be gratified with a few hours of weak pale sunlight during the winter, the far north experiences true polar nights with weeks of no sun at all.
Guatemala is Central America’s westernmost country, bordering Mexico to the north and west, Belize to the northeast and Honduras and El Salvador to the east. Guatemala’s volatile topography is a mountainous and forested jumble of volcanoes and jungle. The western highlands are home to over 30 volcanoes, which reach heights of up to 3800m (12,464ft) and cast a red glow at night. The area experiences frequent earthquake activity. The intensively cultivated Pacific coastline is a vast expanse of mostly black-sand beaches, and the tiny Caribbean coastline also lacks beaches but is culturally rich. The vast jungle lowland of El Petén fills the interior, characterized by a mix of banana plantations and soils rich in dinosaur bones.
Guatemala’s national bird is the quetzal – a gorgeous creature which is almost extinct, due to deforestation and poachers. Puma, jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi and margay – and their assorted diet of deer, peccary and tapir – survive, though are seldom seen.
The Pacific coast is tropically sweltering, with temperatures often hovering around 38°C (100°F). The seemingly constant high humidity diminishes a little in the dry season. The highlands are freezing at night, damp and chilly during the rainy season and warm and pleasant during their dry season (October to May), which is somewhat different from the rest of the country’s December-to-April parched period. El Petén’s climate varies only from hot and humid to hot and dry.
Honduras is the knee of Central America, bordered to the south by Nicaragua and El Salvador and to the west by Guatemala. It has a 644km (399mi) long Caribbean coast and a 124km (77mi) pipsqueak of a Pacific coast. The Caribbean Bay Islands and, further northeast, the distant Swan Islands are both part of Honduran territory.
Three-quarters of the country is composed of rugged hills and mountains, ranging from 300m to nearly 2850m (984ft to 9348ft) in height. Lowlands are found only along the coasts and in major river valleys. Deforestation is occurring at a rate of 3000 sq km (1170 sq mi) a year, which, if continued, will turn the country into a treeless desert within the next 20 years. However, there are still largely untouched areas, especially in the Mosquitia region. Fauna includes jaguars, armadillos, wild pigs, monkeys and alligators and abundant bird life such as toucans, herons and kingfishers.
The climate in Honduras varies between the mountainous interior and the coastal lowlands and between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. The interior is much cooler than the humid coast, and temperate Tegucigalpa has maximum temperatures varying between 25 and 30°C (77 and 86°F). The rainy season technically begins in May and lasts until October. This means that the interior and Pacific coasts are relatively dry between November and April, but on the Caribbean coast it rains all year. The wettest months on the Caribbean coast are from September/October to January/February. The tourist season on the Caribbean coast is between February and April, during the US winter. This is a good time to visit, but prices will be lower and there will be fewer tourists if you avoid this season.

Covering almost two million sq km (800,000 sq mi), Mexico follows a northwest to southeast curve, narrowing to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec then continuing to the Yucatán Peninsula. On the west and south the country is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, with the Gulf of California lying between the Baja California peninsula and the mainland. Mexico’s east coast is washed by the Gulf of Mexico, while the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula meets the Caribbean Sea. Mexico shares borders with the USA (to the north), and Guatemala and Belize (to the southeast).
Bridging temperate and tropical regions, and lying in the latitudes that contain most of the world’s deserts, Mexico has an enormous range of natural environments and vegetation zones. Its rugged, mountainous topography adds to the variety by creating countless microclimates. Despite the potential for great ecological diversity, human impact has been enormous. Before the Spanish conquest, about two-thirds of the country was forested. Today, only one-fifth of the country remains verdant, mainly in the south and east.
Mexico is a mountainous country with two north-south ranges framing a group of broad central plateaus known as the Altiplano Central. In the south, the Sierra Madre del Sur stretches across the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. From the isthmus, a narrow stretch of lowlands runs along the Pacific coast south to Guatemala. These lowlands are backed by the Chiapas highlands, which merge into a steamy tropical rainforest area stretching into northern Guatemala. The flat, low Yucatán Peninsula is tropical savanna to its tip, where there’s an arid, desert-like region.
Mexico has suffered more than its fair share of climatic and environmental disasters, though it escaped Hurricane Mitch, which devastated several Central American countries in late 1998. Hurricane Pauline caused 300 deaths and great damage in the Pacific coastal states of Guerrero and Oaxaca in October 1997. Lower than usual rainfall in the winter of 1997-98 (blamed on that year’s strong El Niño current across the Pacific Ocean) brought a drought and thousands of forest fires around Mexico in the first half of 1998. Tropical storms and torrential rain along most of the Pacific coast and parts of central Mexico in September 1998 had their worst effects in Chiapas, where many people perished and the road system was badly damaged. This was Mexico’s worst natural disaster since the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.
Domesticated grazing animals have pushed the larger animals, such as puma, deer and coyote, into isolated pockets. However, armadillos, rabbits and snakes are common, and the tropical forests of the south and east still harbor (in places) howler and spider monkeys, jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, anteaters, peccaries (a type of wild pig), deer, macaws, toucans, parrots and some tropical reptiles, such as the boa constrictor, though these habitats too are being eroded.

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. It’s bordered to the north by Honduras, to the south by Costa Rica, to the east by the Caribbean Sea and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. The country has three distinct geographic regions: the Pacific lowlands, the north-central mountains and the Caribbean lowlands, also called the Mosquito Coast or Mosquitía. The fertile Pacific lowlands are interrupted by about 40 volcanoes, and dominated by Lago de Nicaragua, which is the largest lake in Central America. The Mosquito Coast is a sparsely populated rainforest area and the outlet for many of the large rivers originating in the central mountains. To date, 17% of the country has been given national-park status.
Lago de Nicaragua supports unusual fish, including the world’s only freshwater sharks, as well as a huge variety of bird life. The cloud- and rainforests in the northwest contain abundant wildlife including ocelots, warthogs, pumas, jaguars, sloths and spider monkeys. Avian life in the forests is particularly rich: the cinnamon hummingbird, ruddy woodpecker, stripe-breasted wren, elegant trogon, shining hawk and even the quetzal, the holy bird of the Maya, can all be seen. The jungles on the Caribbean coast contain trees that grow up to almost 200ft (60m) high and are home to boas, anacondas, jaguars, deer and howler monkeys.
Nicaragua was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in November 1998, when more than a year’s worth of rain fell in in just seven days. A series of violent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in the fall of 1999 didn’t help the situation much.

The isthmus of Panama is the umbilical cord joining South and Central America. It borders Costa Rica to the west and Colombia to the east. Panama’s arched shape reflects both its role as a bridge between continents and as a passageway between oceans. At its narrowest point, it is only 50km (30mi) wide, but it has a 1160km (720mi) Caribbean coastline on its northern shore and a 1690km (1048mi) Pacific coast to the south. The famous canal is 80km (50mi) long and effectively divides the country into eastern and western regions.
There are hundreds of islands near the Panamanian coasts. The two major archipelagos are the San Blás and Bocas Del Toro chains in the Caribbean Sea, though the best snorkeling, diving and deep-sea fishing are to be found in the Pacific near Coiba Island and the Pearl Islands. Panama has flat coastal lowlands and two mountain chains running along its spine. The highest peak is Volcán Barú at 3475m (11,400ft).
Rainforests dominate the Canal Zone, the northwestern portion of the country and much of the eastern half. Although Costa Rica is widely known for its fantastic wildlife, Panama has, in fact, a greater number of flora and fauna species, more land set aside for preservation and far fewer people wandering through the jungle looking for wildlife and inadvertently scaring it away. There’s much truth in the Panamanian saying that in Costa Rica 20 tourists try to see one resplendent quetzal, but in Panama one person tries to see 20 of these exquisite birds.
Panama has two seasons. The dry season lasts from January to mid-April and the rainy season from mid-April to December. Rainfall is heavier on the Caribbean side of the highlands, though most people live on or near the Pacific coast. Temperatures are typically hot in the lowlands (between 21°C and 32°C/70°F and 90°F) and cool in the mountains (between 10 and 18°C/50 and 64°F). These vary little throughout the year.
The continental US stretch across North America ‘from sea to shining sea’. There are three major mountain ranges: the Appalachians in the east, the titanic Rocky Mountains in the west and the Sierra Nevada along the border of Nevada and California. The country has abundant natural resources and vast swathes of fertile soil.
The Atlantic Coast is the most heavily populated area and retains strong traces of its European heritage. This is where the oldest American cities such as Boston, New York, Washington and Philadelphia are located, and where most of the major events in early American history took place. The central northeast is marked by the humongous Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario), which occupy an area larger than most European countries. The rivers and canals linking the lakes to the Atlantic Ocean made virtual seaports out of Midwestern cities like Chicago and Detroit.
The central area drained by the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio Rivers is the grain basket of the country. Farther west, on the Great Plains, are the country’s chief grazing areas. This is cowboy country, though today the trusty steeds tend to be battered pickup trucks rather than hi-ho Silvers. Desert predominates in the southwest, where the climate and degraded soils keep population density to a minimum, and where you really don’t need much of a wind to see tumbleweed bouncing across the highway. Cross the Sierra Nevada and you’re on the West Coast, which was settled by Americans only 150 years ago but has been on a headlong rush into the future ever since.
The USA borders Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. Alaska juts out from northwestern Canada; Hawaii lies 2500 miles (4000km) off the country’s western coast, in the middle of the Pacific.
With such varied topography, the US has extremely diverse ecosystems. The most impressive flora are the huge sequoias of the West Coast, some of which are believed to be the oldest living things on earth. The eastern states are home to leafy hardwood forests of maple, oak and elm, which burst into color in autumn.
The largest land mammals, such as black and grizzly bears, elk and deer, roam the northwestern states. The southern states are home to some of the most interesting fauna, including the marsupial opossum and the alligator. Beasties to avoid include rattlesnakes, bears, wild boar, alligators and Hank, a gas station attendant from Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
The USA is a federal system, and powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution are retained by the states. Nevertheless, the powers of the central government have increased over the years relative to those of state governments. Each state has its own constitution and a government that generally mirrors that of the federal government. The governor is the state’s chief executive, and a state senate and a house delegation enact state laws (Nebraska alone has a unicameral state government), and a state police and court system enforce them. Among other things, states are responsible for education, criminal justice, prisons, hospitals, administration of elections, regulation of commerce and maintenance of highways. Many of these things are now done in cooperation with federal government, especially for funding purposes.
The states are further divided into counties, boroughs, parishes, cities, towns, school districts and/or special districts that provide services like police, sanitation, schools and so on. Local government units often combine to administer a large urban area as a single unit, as in the five boroughs of New York City.

Question 1:

· How has the environment of these two countries helped shape the different communication styles?

· Summarize what the text says about the Environment impacting/influencing culture and draw upon anything from the 
previous chapters to support your answer.

· Summarize the environment section of the Globe for EACH country.

Question 2

A White House report on Culture and Diplomacy states: “There is a deep need to educate Americans on the importance of understanding other cultures and of the important role culture plays on the national agenda& (In the words of) Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, “A Senegalese poet said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. And we will understand only what we are taught.’ We must learn about other cultures in order to understand, in order to love and in order to conserve our common world heritage.

· Would you agree or disagree with this and why?

· Relate this to what the text says about The Peace Imperative for Understanding Intercultural Competence.

· Summarize The Peace Imperative for Understanding Intercultural Competence.

Question 3

BASIC (The Behavioral Assessment Sale of Intercultural Competence) consists of eight categories of communication behavior which contributes to intercultural competence.

· Select ONE of the eight and relate it to the essay.

· Give a SPECIFIC example from the essay that is representative of the category you selected.

Question 4

You just viewed a scene from the film “Iron Silk”. This is the story of an American teacher who travels to China to teach English to Chinese Professors.
In this scene, the American teacher is being visited (in his dorm at the university where he teaches) by his Chinese liaison that helps him “fit” into Chinese society.

· Why is the American not competent in this situation?

· Relate what the text says about Competence and Intercultural Communication to this scene.

· Summarize what the text says about Competence and Intercultural Communication.


FIU | Video 13- Iron Silk_CC.mp4

Question 5:

detail, summarize at length the video “The Danger of a Single Story” and relate it to 
ANY aspect of the course you wish.

FIU | COM3461 – The Danger of a Single Story (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

Question 6:

detail, summarize at length the video series titled “Cultivating Cultural Competence and Inclusion” and relate it to 
ANY aspect of the course you wish. You are required to watch 
all videos in this series.

Understanding cultural competence (linkedin.com)

(just click the video on the side)

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