Culture Assimilator


CONTENT: Maria's test in her geography class took longer than the hour which was scheduled for the class so she arrived at her history class about five minutes late and discovered that the door to the classroom was closed. Maria knocked lightly on the door and waited for Professor Samuels, the teacher, to open it. When he did, she explained very softly that she was sorry that she was late and told Professor Samuels that her geography test had lasted longer than she had expected. While she was explaining, Professor Samuels started closing the door again causing Maria to have to step quickly forward in order to be inside the classroom before the door shut. Professor Samuels hardly seemed to be listening to what she was saying and actually started talking to the class again before Maria was completely finished. She noticed that he hardly looked at her as she took her seat. She felt that he was annoyed with her. A few minutes later when the classroom became warm, Professor Samuels opened the classroom door. About three minutes afterwards, Tom, an American student came into the classroom and quietly took his seat. Maria noticed that Professor Samuels smiled and nodded at Tom within a few minutes of the time that Tom came in.

What did Professor Samuel's behavior mean?

  1. Professor Samuels was annoyed at Maria because she was late and had not told him beforehand that she would be late. Americans expect explanations for lateness before the lateness occurs. Tom had given his explanation to Professor Samuels beforehand so it was not a problem when he came in late.

  2. Professor Samuels was annoyed at Maria because she tried to enter the classroom when the door was shut. For Americancs, shut doors signal a desire for privacy which should not be interrupted. Because Professor Samuels had opened the door before Tom arrived, there was no problem with Tom's coming into the class even though he was later than Maria.

  3. Professor Samuels was~annoyed at Maria because she interrupted his lecture by knocking and trying to talk to him while the rest of the class was waiting. Once class has started, Americans expect that no one will interrupt except for reasons of emergency and/or for conditions which will affect everyone in the class. Tom did not interrupt when he entered late because he slipped quietly into his seat so that he did not annoy anyone.

  4. Professor Samuels was annoyed with Maria simply because she was a foreign student. He felt that the foreign students at the university were talking opportunities from the American students and that the taxes which supported the school should be used for the American students. He was not bothered by Tom's entering late because Tom was an American.


  1. Although it is true that Americans are very time-conscious and dislike lack of punctuality, they also realize that lateness will occur for unexpected reasons and that is is impossible to always know beforehand when you will be late. If you had had lots of other evidence that Americans expected explanations of actions before they occurred, this would have been a good guess simply because Americans are so time conscious.

  2. Some closed doors in the U. S. are signals of a desire for privacy. However, those closed doors are usually doors to "private" rooms--offices, bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. When doors into public rooms-- classrooms, auditoriums, meeting halls, etc.--are closed, it is not necessarily a sign of a desire for privacy. It is more likely to be a sign that too much noise was coming in from the outside. You should have realized that this was not a good guess because it was a public room, but also because Professor Samuels opened the door when it became warm with no apparent change at the time in the need for privacy in the classroom.

  3. This is the best answer. Teachers in the classrooms in the U. S. expect as little interruption as possible when they are conducting their classes. If an interruption does occur, Americans would expect that there was something very urgent about the interruption or that it would have relevance to everyone in the class. Maria's action would be considered a private matter with relevance only for her (and possibly the teacher) so it was not appropriate. The proper way to handle a situation of being late for class is to slip into class as quietly as possible not interrupting the teacher or other students. Maria violated this principle both by knocking on the door and by trying to talk to the teacher during his lecture. Tom did not annoy the professor because he handled the situation in the appropriate manner.

  4. There are Americans who have prejudices against foreign students for one reason or another. However, such a prejudice is not a good thing to assume particularly at the start especially when there;is no more proof than one incident. Before you assume that any American has a prejudice against you or foreigners in general, you would need to accumulate much, much more evidence than the~e was present in this assimilator. You should remember that all cross-cultural interactions are open to misunderstanding and you should allow much more time and much more evidence before making assumptions. Look for ways to solve differences through increased understanding.

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1998 © Dr. Lynn E. Henrichsen
Department of Linguistics
Brigham Young University
Last Updated: Saturday, January 24, 1998