I am taking a management course and we are currently discussing the differences of cultures and how to be more affluent to the diverse world we all live in, as you remember in my last blog, America is a very parochial country.
So, hopefully as you have experienced through your own life, there is a diverse range of cultures out in the world and it is important to understand peoples customs, traditions, and behaviors to ensure nobody is offended. Luckily, some bloke came up with five cultural dimensions that help differentiate different cultures. Geert Hofstede recognized that it is important for people to approach others with an understanding of some differences and how they came about. Knowing these differences should help you relate to others when you meet somebody from a different country or when you are travelling yourself.
- High Power Distance v Low Power Distance
- Individualism v Collectivism
- Achievement v Nurturing
- High Uncertainty Avoidance v Low Uncertainty Avoidance
- Long Term Orientation v Short Term Orientation
High Power Distance v Low Power Distance
This refers to calling your professor or teacher by Professor Smith, Mr. Smith, Doctor Smith instead of as Stephen. Alternatively, referring to your elders as “sir or madam/miss”, calling your boss Mr. Patel instead of Joseph; essentially, it is respecting those who have a higher ‘power’ than you in all aspects of life. You would call your neighbors and friends parents all by their last name instead of their first name.
In the US we have a very low power distance, where most people even with their doctorate or high levels of power don’t want to be called by their full title… though you will meet that person occasionally who says “I’m a doctor, I’ve earn the title” which is fine, but in America, sometimes that’s viewed as being pompous. In other countries, like India and most Asian countries the power distances is very high. You would never be caught calling somebody by their first name unless they were your peer or lower than you. Doing so would result in embarrassment and disrespect.
My professor who is from India, says that it is still uncomfortable for her to call her fellow faculty and professors by their first name, in India it would be expected to call them by their appropriate title.
Individualism v Collectivism
This is where an individualist will look after their own interests and that of their family, but a collectivist will expect a group (or family) to look after and protect them. That is, acting as an individual versus acting as a member of a group.
My friend is currently struggling with this problem, he was born in America, but his parents are from the Philippines, so they expected him to go to college and move home after graduation, even after he gets married he would live with his family and new wife until eventually he and his wife would move out. He does not want to do that because in America that is viewed as “weak” or abnormal to what you normally do after college; yet in the Philippines it is abnormal not to move home after you graduate and start getting settled. It is not unusual for three to four generations to live together, with aunts, uncles, and cousins as well; the Filipinos are a collectivist society where in America we are very individualistic. This is a struggle many children of immigrants struggle with; their family ties and traditions expect one thing, whilst their friends and peers are doing something else. They feel pulled to do both and are unsure of which one to do.
I will talk about the other three cultural dimensions next week, I feel as though this is a lot of information to absorb and hopefully you can start noticing different cultural dimensions amongst your friends and in school. Maybe talk to a friend of a different culture than you to see the differences and struggles you both have. I enjoy talking to the students and professors at my uni who are not from America.
I hope you are encouraged by reading my blogs on culture and please give me feedback on suggestions you would want to learn about.