Foreign to Familiar

Foreign to Familiar: A Quick Guide to Hot and Cold Cultures

A book review by Trevin Wax, published on The Gospel Coalition blog on May 23, 2012. 

Sarah Lanier’s Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot – And Cold – Climate Cultures (McDougal Publishing, 2000) is a helpful little book for anyone involved in cross-cultural ministry. A seasoned missionary, Lanier recounts many stories that help provide insight into the reasons why people react in distinct ways in different cultures. The book describes some of the differences between what Lanier calls “hot-climate” and “cold-climate” cultures.

Here is an example: cold-climate cultures are task driven while warm-climate cultures are relationship driven. We in the West tend to think about getting something done and getting it done on time. Those in warm climate cultures consider the entire event.

  • In some places it is offensive to arrive to dinner on time (because it makes it seem like you are only arriving for the task and not the relationship).
  • In other places it is offensive to arrive to dinner late (because it makes you seem like you are not respecting the other person’s time.)

Lanier also shows how the type of communication differs from culture to culture. After all, in a hot-climate culture, communication takes place indirectly. It seeks to maintain the atmosphere of friendship, whatever the cost.

The only weakness of Foreign to Familiar is also its strength. The strength of the book is its brevity and immediate accessibility. But in the interest of brevity, Laner makes major generalizations, and therein lies its only weakness.

Still, as an introduction to understanding the differences between different kinds of culture, Foreign to Familiar is terrific. Pick it up and start learning how to navigate the murky waters of contextualization!

- first published in October 2008