Module 4 – Part 2 – Exercise

Kleinman and Benson (2006) get to the heart of how complex and personal culture is:

„…culture is not a single variable but rather comprises multiple variables, affecting all aspects of experience. Culture is inseparable from economic, political, religious, psychological, and biological conditions. Culture is a process through which ordinary activities and conditions take on an emotional tone and a moral meaning for participants.“ (Kleinman and Benson 2006)

Think about your own background, your own culture by reflecting on the following questions:


  • Who were your ancestors? Did you come from a city or a village? How do you celebrate, cook, or live your daily life because of that background?
  • Did you experience being a stranger yourself (holidays, volunteer work abroad…)? How did that feel? What were your experiences and emotions?
  • Have you ever been to a health care facilities abroad? Did you feel uncomfortable because of the different ways you have learnt to practice medicine? What were your emotions?
  • Think about behaviour you automatically expect of others that is not necessarily customary to everyone (for example: shaking or folding hands to welcome someone, wearing certain cloths like short skirts or blouses, respecting female colleagues by opening the door to them, not chewing gum in the church, festive attire on in the Opera…)


Case example (Kutalek 2011, 28):

During interviews for a qualitative study two Muslim women talked about shaking hands in a similar manner that well illustrates how different the perceptions on this mundane gesture can be:

“In the morning, my doctor visited me and immediately gave me his hand. I stopped walking and was thunderstruck. He had touched my hand and shook it. Then he asked me how I was (…). But he was nice and treated me well.” 

“The main issue is shaking hands for salutation that is not allowed for us due to religious reasons. I tried to tell doctors about these backgrounds in German. All mostly sympathize (…). The problem is that many doctors do not know a lot about cultural and religious backgrounds.”