Onion & Iceberg models of the Culture

The Onion Model

The image of an onion is often used to describe the different layers of culture. Culture can be broken down into layers: The outer layers are composed of the artefacts and products as well as patterns of behaviour. The next layer encompasses the beliefs, norms and attitudes of that culture. The middle of the onion represents the underlying cultural assumptions and values. As the most hidden layer, these aspects of culture are much harder to recognise and understand, but all of the other layers are built upon the centre of the culture onion. Therefore, careful analysis and a better understanding of the different layers as well as how they interact and influence each other is necessary. Intercultural training can help to understand the different layers of culture and their significance.

The Iceberg Model

The so-called iceberg model of culture is often used by scholars, trainers and managers in order to elucidate the concept of culture. The image of the iceberg with its small visible part on the surface of the water and the much bigger invisible part below the surface illuminates the different layers of culture. Elements of culture which we can easily notice such as clothing, language, gestures, food, music or rituals are represented by the upper portion of the iceberg. The portion below the surface stands for those elements which are not as obvious such as values, beliefs and attitudes. It is difficult to make sense of the ‘visible’ aspects of a culture without understanding the ‘invisible’, underlying elements from which they originate. The behaviour of different cultures may appear less foreign and possibly less threatening with an understanding of their particular worldviews, motivations, religious beliefs, attitudes to rules, and other cultural orientations.