Dos & Donts

On fitting in ...

The commonest and most immediate way that we notice cultural differences is in issues of 'etiquette' - whatever that slightly archaic and vague term may mean ! What I intend by using the term 'etiquette' is to refer to the whole mass of social conventions which add up to the idea of 'correct' or 'polite' or 'normal' behaviour - and again, the distinctions between those three terms need some careful exploring. Social conventions may be trivial in themselves - does it really matter whether, on meeting someone, you kiss them once or twice or three times? - but behind the petty details, one can detect the major value judgements which form that culture. For instance, whether or not it is considered acceptable to interrupt someone in conversation surely indicates something about the basic attitude to personal relationships in that culture.

Many thanks to Eva Regensburger of Vienna International School, who came up with the basic idea in a workshop at VIS, suggesting the TripAdvisor link as a lively and amusing way to get students to think about their local culture.

The mininet

This page is the entry to a mini-network of pages, centred around the idea of the advice that is offered to travellers to help them get to grips with whichever country or culture they are visiting.

The linked pages are noted within the dotted line, and the elements outside the dotted line are the broad areas which can be explored through the range of texts.

The materials

Dos & Don'ts

This present page provides an introduction to the whole network of texts, and to the concepts and teaching points underlying them. The content of the texts is intended to stimulate discussion about the whole concept of intercultural interaction, and to encourage students to reflect on their own experience. The texts themselves have been chosen to provide models for different techniques of explanation, with their related linguistic processes.

** Clicking on the following headings will take you to the page :-

Lists & bullet-points

This page provides the introductory material, raising the topic of how to behave within the norms of another culture. It employs the language function of Advising & Recommending; and the main grammatical feature is the imperative, but politely modulated. The text type is the list of bullet points, typical of leaflets and pamphlets, and should give practice in the skill of identifying and expressing concisely the key points to be communicated. 


The two texts illustrate the ways in which short explanatory writing can be organised and expressed - emphasising the concepts of Subject Area, Angle, and Detail. Grasping these concepts will be helpful for all students when they write, but will also be particularly relevant to HL students in relation to writing the Personal Response. The content of the texts emphasises the ways in which people should interact tactfully and sensitively in unfamiliar cultures.


This page considers how language may be appropriate in one context but not in another; and how languages have varieties - consistent and coherent variations from 'standard' or correct' language, which form sub-languages of their own. The source text comes from a website of advice to travellers, suggesting how US or Australian words and phrases may give quite the wrong impression if used in the UK. It may be used to explore (i) the whole concept of 'appropriate' in relation to language; (ii) specific differences between US & UK English; and (iii) the socio-cultural root causes of language varieties, from a TOK point of view.


The handout is an illustration of how a single text can be used in many different ways, for many different purposes. In this case: as # Topic-raiser ... as # basis for working on the grammar of Imperatives ... # for a Scanning Exercise ... and more, ending up with # Doorway into TOK. Underlying the whole thing, of course, is the idea that different cultures have different body languages, with different meanings.

The 'Etiquette' commentaries

The point of this page was more to address ideas about how to comment on a text, but the basic text argues in favour of etiquette, and the two sample commentaries review the arguments for and against codes of social behaviour. The basic text is quite accessibly written, whereas the commentaries are a bit more challenging - but overall, good for providing the basis for class debate.

On Intercultural Understanding

An IB insider commented to me that "the Intercultural Dimension is at the heart of the new programme", citing the relevant section on page 22 of the new Language B Subject Guide. These texts are intended to lead to that heart.

I would argue that this Intercultural Dimension has a practical aspect and a conceptual aspect. The practical aspect consists of precisely what is dealt with in these texts - the skills and knowledge needed to interact with people with tact & diplomacy. The conceptual aspect consists of the ways in which empathy can be constructed - the information and understanding required to grasp an unfamiliar world view, and to see how that world-view affects real life.

Exploring the conceptual aspect will depend on asking provocative questions to stimulate the students to reflect on what lies behind what may seem to be trivial or annoying or even silly codes of behaviour. Questions such as :-

Are there codes of behaviour among people of your age-group?

If so - for example ...?

Are there codes of behaviour that seem to you to be stupid / useless / irritating ? If so, which?

Could human beings live without codes of behaviour?

What are the differences between laws and social codes ?

How do we judge people who conform to these codes, and those who don't?

Why are there different codes of behaviour in different cultures?

What influence do each of the following have on how codes of behaviour evolve :-

... history ?

... religion ?

... social class ?

... wealth ?

... education ?

Should there be different codes of behaviour in different cultures ?

Is there, in fact, a general human agreement on basic social codes of behaviour ?

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.