Culture as an Iceberg

Most people identify the culture of a place based on certain general categories, such as food, art or literature of that specific region. However, there are many more aspects that define a society which often go unnoticed, for example, tempo of work, relationship to animals or concept of cleanliness. In order to help people understand this, AFS first created, in 1984, a powerful visual that uses the metaphor of culture as an iceberg, where a small portion is visible above the surface; but majority extends unseen, deep below the waterline. The Iceberg Graphic has been reprinted in countless outside publications and is used around the world today for educational purposes.

A helpful metaphor to explain the effects of culture, beliefs and values on human behaviour is the iceberg. Typically, icebergs are something like seven-eighths below the surface. That's how it is with human behaviour. When you watch two people having a conversation, what you see and hear- their gestures, their posture and stance, the triggers for laughter and for frowns in the conversation: and the way they greet and say goodbye (kisses? handshakes?) is the surface manifestation of a whole lot of shaping influences you can’t see.