The Silent Language

Culture is everywhere and Edward T. Hall shows that quite well in this book. The copy I have is from 1970, according to the date hand-written inside the cover, so I know this book is atleast 40 years old. I know I could dig around for a real publishing date, but that text is always so small!

This book takes an amusing and not-as-dated-as-we-all-might-wish approach in addressing the fact that most Americans treat foreigners like they are merely under-developed Americans and don’t actually take the time to try to see things from a new or different point of view. He tries to address this by calling out the fact that everyone, including America, has culture and that our understanding of things is merely one way of looking at them and not necessarily the right way. He provides many examples of situations seen from two different cultures and how the assumptions build in their respective cultures lead the participants to behave a certain way. He also really breaks down the topic of culture into a more technical concept that makes it a little less intangible and more approachable.

In doing so he borrows a lot from other sciences, most notably linguistics. This does make the new technicality of it initially easier to grasp but I found that as he tried to break this from being merely an analogy to a stand alone method of analysis the concepts started to get a bit abstract. I think a re-read should clear things up, though, and really solidify a lot of the points he was making. These points, such as the fact that time speaks differently to different cultures, all had interesting examples to highlight them. This was nice, because as some of the technical stuff started to go over my head, the examples made things much more tangible

For being 40+ years old, the book didn’t seem as dated as might be expected. A few examples and references were lost on me, but overall I related to them rather well. The most glaring evidence of its age, was just how he kept referring to people’s lack of knowledge of culture and their disbelief of its existence. I recognize this is my opinion, but I think most people these days, by virtue of the internet and tv, and of course magazines, have witnessed other cultures and had them been explained as such and not just as crazy natives or heathens. This explanation allows us to atleast recognize that there are other ways of doing things. Now whether we agree with them or even accept them is another point entirely!