Cultural diversity in intimacy and relationships

In this toolkit you will find method sheets to lead activities that explore how cultural differences affect the way we think and feel about relationships and intimacy.  The activities are based on Margalit Cohen Emerique’s intercultural approach that takes as central concept “culture shock”. Before going further it is worth to explore what culture shocks are exactly.


What is a culture shock?

The concept of “culture shock” has been used in a variety of definitions and perspectives, so let’s start clearing up how we understand it – what it is, and what it is not.

  • First of all “culture shock” is not a characteristic of a migrant, or a culturally different other. It is always relational, emerging in the connection of two or more people who have different ways of thinking about, being in the world.
  • Though we call it “shock” it is not necessarily something big and dramatic. It can be quite subtle. In fact, we prefer it to be not so dramatic. For instance, episodes of severe manifest violence for us are beyond culture shock, and are probably better dealt with through other tools than a cultural analysis.

Let’s bring in the definition of Margalit Cohen-Emerique, whose approach we propose to work with.  She defines culture shock as…

… an interaction with a person or object from a different culture, set in a specific space and time, which provokes negative or positive cognitive and affective reactions, a sensation of loss of reference points, a negative representation of oneself and feeling of lack of approval that can give rise to uneasiness and anger (Cohen-Emerique 2011)

How to work with culture shocks ?

Experiencing culture shocks can reinforce stereotypes and prejudice, but all such incident also has the potential to become a powerful source of learning if we don’t obey our need to close and quickly forget the situation but ponder on what may be behind it…

But for the culture shock to become a source of learning, we have to open it up, carefully exploring what’s behind it, what is it that really caused it and what are the reasons for the emotional reaction it triggered.  The method we propose is based on the idea that “it takes two to tango”, that if there is a shock it is because of differences between hey ways the protagonists experience or think about the world.  And the subjective emotional reaction of the person who experiences the shock is always indicator of what is important for her or him, it sheds light on norms, values, representations that are important.  You can follow an example of analysis in this

All in all, in culture shock we learn about the other, but also about our own culture.

What’s more, exploring what are the most frequent themes of culture shock  – or critical incident helps us to unveil the sensitive zones, which are cultural domains of particular importance, susceptible to become a source of tension in intercultural contact.


We propose three different ways of learning through and with culture shocks:

  1. Read our collection of analysed culture shocks or critical incidents.Creating workshops to teach young people the use of this method of analysis, equipping them with the skills to open up both sides of the incidents.
  2. Creating workshops to teach young people the use of this method of analysis, equipping them with the skills to open up both sides of the incidents. Videao LaXixa / élan + method sheets
  3. Using the method to analyse together incidents that young people experience. Videao LaXixa / élan + method sheets


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