Do all cultures think other cultures value style over substance?

I’ve been living in a couple different cultures, and sometimes things get to you. One thing that I’ve found has been consistent is that I tend to think the culture where I’m living values style over substance. They believe it is more important for things to have the correct appearance than to have actual correct substance. For example, in Cameroon my students would often spend hours neatly writing their tests. They would use straightedges to underline things and use different colored pens, special ways of writing their name, re-copy the whole thing in neater handwriting, etc. Even when they didn’t know a single answer and had to have known they were going to get a 0.

Then I realized I think this about parts of America, too. LA, for example.

I suspect that the problem is with me. And I suspect it is not just with me- I have a theory that every culture believes that any given other culture values form over substance.

Is this true? Any examples?


I remember when we started having large scale South East Asian immigration here in the 80s, my dad (an elderly white guy with his own prejudices) would comment, “These people! I go to the markets, and they never buy beautiful things like plants or pictures for their walls! They just buy food!”

His prejudice was that these “New Australians” were crass and basic, and didn’t value “the finer things”. I’m sure he wasn’t alone in that. His beef was that they seemed to him to value substance over style.

So, I’d hazard a “No” answer. I reckon it could go either way.

… I’ve never believed such a thing about other cultures, but maybe it’s me. Although I can’t recall any of my relatives (three cultures right there) claiming that, ever.

I do remember some US Documentary on TV talking about how some Asian culture or other cares a lot about “face” and the eyerolling Spanish audience saying “and that’s strange how?” So maybe my culture happens to be more about appearances than others…
PS: One of my biggest peeves against “IT QA” is that it seems to be mostly about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, rather than about whether the t’s and i’s are correct. So that is one case where I find that a certain (corporate) culture is all about looks and no substance!

Given how in the UK places like Germany and Scandinavia are viewed as all utilitarian and slightly puritanical I’d say no.

So, wait, do you think your students were doing such tidy homework because they thought YOU would grade them better if it was neat because you were from another culture and therefore would grade style over substance?

I’m confused.

Judging by my students’ work in Bulgaria, I’d go with a big no. Although based on their unbelievably obvious cheating, it’s possible they think Americans are really dumb…

I taught for most of a year at an Orthodox Jewish private school, and I’d have to say that they were aaaallllll about substance over style.

Everyone was expected to dress well, but not in a flashy manner. There was almost no competition over fads or fashion.

That’s not to say that the students were automatically good. It’s also not to say that there was nothing petty about the culture. There were a few things, but it wasn’t the all-day, every-day cacophony of the culture I’m used to.

Something I hear frequently in Japan is that non-Japanese have no appreciation for style, and tend to do things in a very rushed, utilitarian fashion.

I would say that is your personal perception rather then a general U.K. population perception.

The people that I know tend to think of Scandinavia as being extremely liberal socially and sexually and rather futuristic in their outlook and that all of their women are gorgeous and blonde.

Germans are perceived as efficient,hard working,having less of a sense of humour then Brits and that their women dont shave under the arms.

But utilitarian and puritanical?
Thats a new one on me.

Just make my declarations,have visited Scandinavia fairly often and Germany at one time was almost a second home to me.

You’ve clearly never spoken to anyone who shops at Ikea if you don’t think Scandinavians are viewed as utilitarian! :wink:

I don’t think I phrased my point very well originally, and I’d agree with your summation of UK views of Scandinavia and Germany, but would add that those characterisations don’t include within them a sense that those cultures are shallow or particularly glamourous (certainly not Germany).