Shared activities, greetings, gestures, common occupations, ways of spending time and working together… these are all examples of the second layer of culture. This includes the easily noticeable behaviors, as well as the ‘Institutions,’ which are subsets of people in that society that connect for a common purpose like schools (for education) and hospitals (for health care).


Maybe you are a person who smiles to indicate that something is good. And maybe you nod your head up and down to say ‘yes’. When you hear a raised voice – you assume that it indicates that someone is angry or emotional.

Smiling, nodding your head, raising your voice are examples of cultural Behaviors. Here is the thing. They don’t always mean what you think. In Japan, a smile can indicate embarrassment. In Bulgaria and other regions when people nod their heads up and down, they mean ‘no’. And a raised voice in the Arab world can mean that someone is fully engaged in the topic. As it is with Signs and Symbols, Behaviors don’t always mean what one might think!


Families, schools, governments, religious associations, sporting clubs, knitting groups, etc, develop in every culture. They enable people to do things together that reflect their shared values. We call them ‘institutions.’ They do not look the same from one culture to another but are essential to maintain the way of life as people expect it.

The following questions help us understand Behaviors:

  • What do people do for leisure and recreation?
  • What occupations are common?
  • How do people greet each other? Do greetings differ according to setting, relationship, gender, etc?
  • What are major celebrations and holidays? How do people commemorate them?

The following questions will highlight the Institutions:

  • Describe the educational system. Who goes to school and what do they learn?
  • What are the major religions?
  • Describe the government.
  • What is the economy based on?
  • How are families structured? What gender roles exist? Who prepares meals, trains the kids, provides financially, etc.

The Behaviors and Institutions of a culture are influenced by its Values (see Cultural Values – Layer three).