Task 2.3 Metaphors

Aim: To use metaphors to explore the meaning of culture

Time: 90 minutes

Culture is often described and explained in terms of metaphors. Here are some of the most common:

  1. Culture is like an iceberg or an onion
  2. Culture is like the software of the mind
  3. Culture is like the water that fish swim in or is the lens through which you see life (see cartoon at the top of this page or video below)


You have been assigned to  one of three groups (see below) for each of the metaphors.

1. Consult the resources for your metaphor from the resources section. Search and add your own if desired.

2. Arrange how you will communicate with your group (email, forum, live meeting etc?)

3. Brainstorm 3-6 ideas in your group about how your group’s metaphor could show itself in your class. One example could be timekeeping. In the iceberg metaphor timekeeping is a cultural behaviour which is hidden below the waterline. In the software metaphor it could be that the idea of what “on time” means, needs to be re-programmed in some of your students. And in the lens metaphor, it could be that a meeting time is seen as a suggestion with wide margins for error, whereas somebody looking at punctuality through another lens would see, time as a commodity that can be wasted so that arriving late is an insult to the other party (in this case, most likely the teacher).

4. Present the result of your brainstorm as ….

5. Leave a comment on the other two group’s brainstorms noting differences, similarities and anything else that strikes you.

Group 1: Iceberg




Group 2: Software




Group 3: Lens







Try this exercise to test your understanding of this metaphor.

Software of the mind

Listen to Show 199 of Absolutely Intercultural


Hofstede, G Culture and Organisations: Software of the Mind 2010

Book review

Fish in water/cultural lens

Watch this 12-minute video.

Week 1

Task 2.1 What is culture?
Task 2.2 Metaphors
Task 2.3 Tool: Dialogue
Task 2. 4 An intercultural incident
Task 2.5 Cultural models in class
Task 2.6 Chat
Task 2.7 Reflective journal