Foreign to Familiar

Relationship vs. Task Orientation


Relationship based

Communication must create a “feel-good” atmosphere, a friendly environment

Though the individuals may be otherwise, the society is feeling oriented

Efficiency and time do not take a priority over the person

It is inappropriate to “talk business” upon first arrival


Task oriented

Communication must provide accurate information

Though individuals may be otherwise, the society is logic oriented

Efficiency and time are high priorities, and taking them seriously is a statement of respect for the other person

Direct vs. Indirect Communication


It’s all about being friendly

Every question must be phrased in such a way as to not offend by its directness

Avoid yes or no questions

Avoid embarrassing people


Short, direct questions show respect for the person’s time, as well as professionalism

There are few hidden meanings

You can say what you think “nicely” and it will most likely not be taken personally

Individualism vs. Group Orientation


I belong, therefore I am.

My identity is tied to the group (church, family, city, political tribe)

The group protects and provides for me

I do not expect to have to stand alone

My behavior reflects on the whole group

Team members expect direction from the leader (or boss, pastor, teacher)


I am a self-sustaining person, with my own identity

Every individual should have an opinion and can speak for him or herself

Taking initiative is very much expected

One must know how to make one’s own decisions.

My behavior reflects on me, not on the group

Inclusion vs. Privacy


Group and family oriented (it is rare to go places alone)

Individuals know they are automatically included in conversation, meals, and other activities of the group (family, church, etc.)

Possessions are to be used freely by ALL: food, tools, cars, clothes…There is a saying in Nicaragua: “Things do not belong to their owner, they belong to the person that needs them the most.”

It is not desirable to be left to oneself

It is rude to hold a private conversation or make plans that exclude others present


People enjoy having time and space to themselves

People are expected to ask permission to borrow something or to interrupt a conversation

Each person is considered to be a steward of his or her things and has the responsibility to maintain them

In a community setting, it might be common to label one’s food or tools to set them apart

It is acceptable to hold private plans and conversations and not be inclusive

Concepts of Hospitality


Hospitality is spontaneous, often without an advance invitation

It is the context for relationship

It takes place in the home

The host (now matter how poor) takes care of the needs of the guest. The guest pays for nothing.

A gift is usually expected

Food and or drink are involved

Travelers are taken in


Hospitality is taken seriously and is planned for in advance

It is usually not spontaneous

Guests are usually expected to pay for their restaurant bills, transportation, etc

It is a special, not every day occasion, taking the FULL attention of the host

High Context vs. Low Context

Nicaraguans: Everything matters.

Who you are related to matters.

How you know matters.

It is better to OVERDRESS than to underdress.

****Because everything matters, so does how you dress. Even in poor areas, the people dress their very best when going to church or out in public. For Americans, wearing sensible shoes, khaki shorts, and a nice t-shirt seems adequate. That can be an insult in Nicaragua as it is a matter of dress that says, “I don’t respect you or your protocol, and I express how casually I take it by not bothering to dress appropriately.”

Watch to see how others respond in a situation and apply appropriate behavior

Remember to honor the people you are dealing with; too casual is insulting

Use manners

Respect RULES.

Greetings are VERY important…greet each person as you enter a room

Americans: Nothing matters, anything goes- within reason.

Who you are matters more than who you know

Dress and atmosphere is casual

Lack of protocol does not mean rejecting, nor is it dishonoring

Rules are for your own house and each family is free to make their own “code of conduct” for their children

Dress and manners and very casual and there is flexibility to express individuality and taste preferences

Different Concepts of Time and Planning


Are not oriented towards the clock

Are event oriented: church is over when it’s over

Are spontaneous and flexible in their approach to life

Respond to what life brings as it occurs in real-life time

Consider that saving time is not as important as experiencing the moment

Have informal visiting as part of the event


Are time oriented

Are structured in their approach to life

Enjoy using time efficiently

Try to plan their day

Expecting the event (dinner, the arrival of the guest, a meeting) to begin at the time announced. Visiting or informally chatting happens before or after the event.

******Final words: Go about your day listening and observing. Don’t pass judgment until you have discovered the reason for someone’s “strange habits.” Ask questions. For example, Nicaraguans tend to be more delicate with their clothing, trying hard to keep clean and keep their children from getting dirty. This may seem fastidious and impossible in the climate but when you realize that clothes are expensive here and almost all clothes are washed by hand, naturally, the Nicaraguans take much better care to keep them from being stained. Assume the highest about Nicaraguans. Assume they know what they are doing and their behavior is founded in experience and their belief systems. The important thing to ask is “What are my own cultural habits? And are they suitable for Nicaragua?” We are all a bit ethnocentric (including the Nicaraguans!), thinking our way is a bit superior to someone else’s. If we can get beyond that, we’ll find we can begin to learn, respect, and enjoy the differences. Soon, what seems foreign will become familiar.

All from the book: “Foreign to Familiar” by Sarah Laner