Cultural Protocols in Everyday Life

Overview and Background


Students will learn that there are protocols or preferred behaviors that we all use in our lives. These protocols can apply to everyone we come in contact with in our daily life (for instance, most Americans customarily say "hello," "good morning," "thank-you" or "you're welcome"). They can also apply to customary practices of a smaller subset of the population (such as members of particular religions, who may wish each other a "Happy Easter" or "L'Shana Tovah", or those individuals who have been instructed since childhood to take their shoes off when they enter a home).  The more we recognize that there are protocols in everyday life, and learn about each others' cultural protocols, the more we can learn to work together respectfully.

Class time needed

This learning center can take one or two class periods, or can extend throughout an entire term, depending on the teacher's preference.

Example 1: Museum programs

Cultural Protocols may take many different forms. In this photo, we see Tobias Vanderhoop of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah performing a chant in the Peabody Essex Museum's exhibition "Intersections: Native American Art in a New Light." This protocol was conducted as part of the opening activities for the exhibition, which acknowledged both the traditions of the Native American people and those of the Peabody Essex Museum. Here we can see the audience listening respectfully while Mr. Vanderhoop honors the Native people of the region and welcomes the guests to the event. Prior to the opening of the exhibition that evening, Mr. Vanderhoop, along with other Native Americans and Peabody Essex Museum staff, participated in a modified smudge ceremony to purify the exhibiton space and cleanse it of negative energies, spirits or influences.This was another Native American cultural protocol.



Student objectives and activities

  • Students should be prepared to conduct research at home, in the classroom among their fellow students, and/or on the internet.
  • At the end of the first class, students should be able to recognize at least one protocol that seems universal in their experience, and two or three protocols from other cultures, as a result of their research.
  • At the end of the first class, students should be able to write or say their own definition of "cultural protocol".

Example 2: Museum collections

Cultural objects in museum collections, although they often represent an earlier time period, may continue to have significance for the people whose culture created them.  That is the case with the object pictured to the right.  When Native Hawaiian people come to the Peabody Essex Museum, they honor this temple image of Kuka'ilimoku with gifts from their homeland.  The museum works with the Native Hawaiian people to allow certain protocols to take place within the exhibition and storage areas whenever possible.