High Context and Low Context Cultures: Understanding to Enhance Viewing Experience

Hey Everyone! Hope yall are doing as well as you can be!

When I started watching Asian dramas, some scenarios were so absurd to me, and I just didn’t understand the source of the conflict sometimes. I would always ask myself questions like “Why can’t they just come out and say what they want?” “Why did the character get offended?” “Why is everything so indirect?” It was a frustrating experience sometimes.

I’m currently pursuing a master’s degree and am learning some interesting things that have helped me understand more of what I am watching in k-dramas too. Thought it would be good to share. Yall may have picked up on some of these things too!

Edit: The low context and high context scale only refers to methods of interpersonal communication. The word “context” refers to the context of a situation/conversation. Some places it is rude/ unbecoming/intimidating to be direct with the way you speak. Some places it is rude/ frustrating to be indirect. One is not better than another. It’s just different!

High Context Cultures

  • For communication, meaning is conveyed via non-verbal means like:
    • Eye contact, Tone, Silence, Scripted conversations
  • Burden of understanding falls on the listener, not the speaker
  • Cultures tend to be rigidly hierarchical and homogenous, which allows for shared norms governing communication
  • Developed in relatively isolated and homogenous societies with low levels of immigration

Low-Context Cultures

  • Most of the meaning is conveyed through explicit verbal conversation as opposed to being implied through context, non-verbal cues, and conversation
  • Burden of understanding falls on the speaker
  • High levels of immigration or cultures prone to imperialism


Of course, not every single individual can be generalized. Each person also has their own experiences, personality, and communication style, but this may be useful in understanding certain scenarios the writers of dramas put in place. What do you yall think?

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I’m not sure what was said in your class(es), but as it is written up there, one might understand that cultures (I’m assuming of various countries) can be divided into high- and low-context by some absolute measurement/standard. Did I understand this correctly?

If so, I would have to disagree. Learning a country’s culture by reading books and newspapers, watching movies/series/daily TV, listening to music may gradually convert a high-context culture to a low-context one. Although I don’t think we ever grasp fully another country’s culture, we are more likely to understand someone’s point of view if they belong to a neighbouring country. Same as languages aren’t firmly defined by borders, so aren’t the cultures. So the concept of high and low context can for me be only relative. relative to the individuals experiences, emotional intelligence and willingness to be open-minded.

The process of learning another’s culture can be quite frustrating, though. But at the same time exciting, interesting, thought-provoking…


Nooo its definitely not an absolute measurement.

I guess I didn’t communicate it well, but this is a spectrum that tries to explain the varying degrees of interpersonal communication in different cultures. It covers just that aspect. The word “context” refers to the context of a situation/conversation.

Of course, there is more to a culture than that, but this helped me further understand the nuanced exchanges and dialogue that takes place between characters.


I really feel frustrated with high-context cultures. Not only because I belong to such a culture but also within my culture I personally am on the extreme end of the spectrum, being a dedicated lover of clarity and precision.
Although I know, of course, that language is not always enough to convey our meaning, even when coupled with face and body language and hand language (yes, I’m Italian, we use our hands a lot), and still misunderstandings may happen, still I do my very best to make myself completely understood, and if I’m not, I think it’s mainly my own fault (I wasn’t clear enough), and not the listener’s. I apply this when I am teaching, too. I use all sorts of styles, visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, hoping that one of them or all of them together will finally reach the student and resonate with her.
I hate it when I meet people that are on the other side of the spectrum, who communicate so subtly that you have to be the Pythia to guess what they are really feeling. There are some in our culture as well. I used to be married to one of them. Ugh! (notice the “used to”?)
Therefore I don’t think I could ever go live permanently in the Far East. Even as a tourist, it’s not that interesting to me. People are so reserved. I suppose not when you get close to them, but getting close must surely take forever. At least that was my experience in Thailand - very polite but so cold! Brrr! Contrary to India, where it’s been much easier for me to make friends and form deep relationships that are still going strong three decades later.

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Yeah it can be frustrating on both sides. I am a very direct speaker without realizing it and it really takes people aback sometimes if they are not used to that communication style.

But Ive also been very moved by films and tv from high context countries. I enjoy the dramas from there because the writing is quite beautiful. It definitely expands my vocabulary. The subtle ways characters express “I love you” or “Im here for you” or even their anger is quite touching. Its really what draws me in. The humor is quite clever too.

In the K Entertainment industry, a good example I’ve seen of the communication culture shock is how people receive the artist Jessi on variety shows. She’s quite loving, soft, and kind but they perceive her as the opposite initially because they aren’t used to her interpersonal style.


hmmm I think my family background was high-context because I had to learn how to speak up in school and the working world. It was difficult for me. I thought it was so incredibly rude the way people just talk over and around you. And they are so LOUD! If I followed my upbringing at work and waited for a person to notice me and ask me to speak, I would never get any work done because I’d still be waiting to be noticed.

Actually, I don’t like the work personae I had to take on. But I dealt with it for 40 years.

I think of my gramma who was very soft spoken and also my family and compare that to my everyday noisy work office. I’M GOING DEAF! It makes me wonder if people are hearing impaired.

My hubby was soft-spoken and his culture is high context also. we got along fine and both of us are soft-spoken. Once we were with family eating at a restaurant and the waitress commented that we were so quiet. We all looked at her and replied, “Quiet? Really? We’re talking in our normal voices.” Then I looked around at some of the other tables and they were so loud! We had just filtered them out. :laughing:

I remember when I was a kid, some of the neighbors were so noisy while others were just regular volume. And at school, I’d get so frustrated during open house because my mom and mom # 3 would just stand there by the wall and wait to be noticed while another kid’s mom monopolized the whole open house talking about her kid. I’d ask my mom to please go talk to the teacher but she refused and told me to 'Just be quiet and wait here." Of course, the teacher never broke away from monopolizing mom to speak with the other parents.

Yea, culture crash is hard on the kids who have to walk two roads.

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Let’s not confuse the volume of the voice (which is just bad manners in a public space) and the monopolizing of attention (which is selfish and bad-mannered in any culture) with the open and direct expression of one’s thoughts and feelings. These are very different things. And by the way in the example of the mom, it was the teacher’s fault as well. Even if there was one rude mom, the teacher should have made sure to give equal attention to all parents.