Have you ever wondered why most people who live in a certain country think and behave in similar ways, and why people from one country or culture are so different from people of another culture? The difference has to do with cultural norms. The term ‘culture’ refers to attitudes and patterns of behavior in a given group. ‘Norm’ refers to attitudes and behaviors that are considered normal, typical or average within that group.
All societies have cultural norms. Even though norms influence every facet of our lives, including what we value, our attitudes, and how we behave, we are often unaware that we are influenced at all.
Cultural norms can be defined as the rules that a specific group uses for stating what is seen as appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, values, beliefs, and attitudes, which give people a sense of order and control in their lives as well as a sense of safety and belonging.
And cultural norms may encompass communication style, whom to marry and how, child-rearing practices, or interaction between generations. Cultural norms can be explicit (e.g. legal codes) or implicit (i.e. folkways).
Implicit norms are rules for governing behavior that are implied, but not bound by law. These laws underlie values and social representations and are less easily observable than languages, customs or institutions. Implicit norms are generally unconscious and require no formal declaration; however, violation of these unstated rules may result negatively within society. For example, folkways are the implicit, general standards of behavior adhered to by a group. A violation of a cultural folkway is something to which society frowns upon, but does not lead to serious punishment. These are fairly weak types of norms. The norm for men to wear pants but not skirts, for example, is a cultural folkway.
Explicit norms are written and formally communicated rules enforced by authority, and specific sanctions are imposed for their violation. Explicit culture refers to aspects such as observed communication styles and language, cultural scripts, time and space orientation, work habits and practices, all forms of interpersonal and social relationships, types of food and eating habits, dress and appearance, fashions, art, public buildings, houses, monuments, agriculture, shrines, and markets. Recycling is an example of an explicit norm. Oftentimes, the sheer idea of achieving a clean and sustainable planet is insufficient motivation, and many individuals in today’s society require incentives or consistent reminders to recycle and conserve. For example, a law is a legal, documented norm that exists to explicitly control behavior.
The culture of a nation is transmitted through its existing systems. Three systems play a key role in the transmission of cultural norms – government, education and family. Typically, government sets forth an ideology or set of beliefs. These beliefs, and the behaviors that support them, are then taught by schools and by families.
There are some cultural norms in my community.
Firstly, in the western countries where young people are encouraged to think for themselves and make their own decisions, but in China, boys and girls will study only what their parents want them to study and if there are two children in the family and not enough money for both to go to school or university, it will be the boy who studies, not his sister. They are also not permitted (by law) to marry until they are 22 and 20 years old respectively .
Secondly, if you refuse to drink alcohol, even if you are a non-drinker, you dishonor the people who force you to drink, and force you they will. They are after all, ‘honoring you’ and displaying their love and appreciation for you. Heaven forbid that you not be a smoker, or worse, that you are, because they will make you chain smoke more than at any other time in your life. Smoking at the dinner table during dinner is usual, and if in a restaurant, the moment the last person takes their last mouthful of food, everyone jumps up and leaves. There is no hanging around for coffee and a chat.
Finally, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) cannot get married in China. Nowadays in China, even though people’s social moral ideas have changed, they adapt an open and inclusive approach to LGBT; LGBT still cannot marry in laws.
Cultural norms are what keep people moving in a similar direction. Norms are different according to each culture. In this process, members of a culture must conform to its norms for the culture to exist and function. Hence, members must want to conform and obey rules. They first must internalize the social norms that dictate what is “normal” for the culture; then they must socialize, or teach norms to their children. If internalization and socialization fail to produce conformity, some form of “social control” is eventually needed. Social control may take the form of ostracism, fines, punishments, and even imprisonment.