In the bookThe Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Buy and Live the Way that They Do, cultural anthropologist, Dr. Clotaire Rapaille describes is process for decoding the most powerful symbols within a culture to better understand why we do the things we do. He believes that this “code” represents a silent system of archetypes that we unconsciously acquire as we grow up within our culture. According to Rapaille, these codes vary around the world and invisibly shape how we behave in our personal lives; as consumers, and as nations.
The first time that I became aware of Dr. Rapaille and his work was while watching him on a PBS FRONTLINE special, where he discussed how he became involved in this work and his discovery that there is a different imprint for different cultures and that that the code for each culture was different. Accordingly, Rapaille asserts that this imprinting has to take place in early in childhood in order to create the mental connections.
For example, he described how the smell of “coffee” can evoke visualizations and memories of “coffee" upon waking in the morning. As an example of cultural imprinting, Rapialle cites a story from about 30 years ago, when the US tried launched a campaign to get the Japanese to switch from drinking tea to coffee. Rapaille stated that “when you know that there's a very strong imprint of tea in Japan -- it's almost a religious dimension there -- you cannot really have a strategy to get them switch from tea to coffee.”
My immediate thought was, “It make sense to me,” because the mere mention of coffee during this program almost instantaneously led to childhood memories of waking up to robust aroma of drip roast coffee and chicory in my home. Especially memorable is the scent of coffee at the home of my maternal grandmother, as well as remembering wonderful little demitasse cups of café au lait that both of my great grandmothers “dotingly” allowed me to drink when visiting them at their houses.
To this day, I still love the being awakened by the scent of coffee. Even more so, I love discovering wonderful coffee blends from around the world. I have been known to brew a fresh pot of coffee as a comfort food and pull the covers over my head to cocoon on a rainy day or after a particularly stressful week. For my kids, who spent their formative years in Asia, I might be their reaction to the smell of rice being cooked in our home.
After years of living in Asia and Turkey, I have grown very fond of drinking tea, but I do not recall any strong messages or memories being evoked at the mere smell of tea being brewed.
This started me wondering about TCKs, cultures codes and their cultural imprinting given their trans-cultural upbringing, especially for those whom have lived in several countries during their formative years. After all, Rapaille asserts that the imprinting of the culture code has to take place in our childhoods while the reptilian brain is still forming.
I posed this question to Ruth Van Reken, and she responded with “That's a good question. There must be something there because why is it we feel so at home at during our ‘reunion of strangers’… what is the connection? I've talked about it in terms of what we share in the [TCK lived] experience that then makes us connect because of what it does for us a persons in the emotional part of us… but maybe through this discussion, you can put a better name on it?"
Is there a dominant “culture code” or reference system that influences the ways in which TCKs do things in their personal and professional lives? Or, perhaps, is it a confluence of culture codes and imprinting? Are there culture codes that are specific to the TCK/ATCK experiences? Is a key culture code for TCKs airplanes? Moving Boxes? Smells? Sounds? Can a set of culture codes for TCKs be named, and if so, can they be used to help others better understand TCKs and the unique complexities that are part fo the everyday fabric of their lives?
So I ask: Can you identify any specific culture codes that might be universal to the TCK experience, and if so, what can they reveal about this shared experience that seems to so inexplicably connect TCKs from all backgrounds and walks of life?