Culture and the ways it affects us

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Spaghetti with seaweed, ume plum sauce and sesame seasoning Japanese style

My 10 year old nephew was recently in Japan, and to distract him from fighting with his sister, I asked him what the difference was, between Seoul and Tokyo.  His first response was that they don’t use spoons in Japan. How true. Even when drinking soup. They suck with loud air. The louder the sound, the more delicious. Don’t try this at home.

Even among Asian countries, we have cultural differences.

What is culture?  Culture comprises both national culture and organsational culture.

We can say that culture is the shared knowledge, beliefs and values, as well as common styles of behaviour and ways of thinking. Factors affecting national culture can include: language, traditions, religion, the legal and political systems, education, values, social organisation, tastes in food and entertainment, etc. It has becoming increasingly important to understand different cultures. Developments in international communication have given us all more exposure to the differences in attitudes and behaviours of other cultures. Due to the development of the global market there is an increase in international trade and workers are much more likely to work in different countries.

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No eating while walking

National culture can affect: the organisation of the business, types of products, ways of promoting products, ways of doing business, the business mission, motivations to work and management style.  It can also affect what is known as etiquette, ethics and even organisational culture and values.

(i) Organisation of business – different countries traditionally organise their businesses in different ways, for example in some countries, small family operations may be more common e.g. Germany, in others, business growth to corporate level may be the accepted goal e.g. US

(ii) Types of products – traditions, religion and legal systems may restrict or encourage production of certain types of products, e.g. production of alcohol is rare where a dominant religion (Muslim) prohibits drinking it. In India, cow is considered holy and eating beef is taboo. McDonalds succeeded in adapting their menu to local tastes, introducing even vegetarian burgers and non-beef items into their menu.

(iii) Ways of promoting products – marketing managers need to consider what is appealing and what is not, to avoid causing offence.   A story goes about Chinese selling poker cards, which in Chinese pinyin is spelt “pu-ke”.  But when written in English and sold in Mexico, it read as puke.

(iv) Ways of doing business – different traditions for making deals or for communicating with each other, which could involve following certain protocols or rituals like using lawyers to come up with contracts vs spending time to build trust, making small talk or giving gifts which may be considered unethical in other cultures.

(v) Business Mission – culture may influence what a business is expected to do, particularly in relations to its social responsibilities. Some cultures e.g. individualist may expect businesses to focus on making profits, whereas others may expect businesses to provide employment for family members (e.g.India) or to improve the community (Germany and France) for the good of all.

(vi) Motivation to work – some cultures value loyalty and commitment to the employers (e.g. collectivist such as Japan) whereas others could approach work as just a means to enjoy other areas of life but not to gain status.

(vii) Management Style – style of management can be influenced by the motivation of employees and expectations placed on the business and cultural traditions regarding systems of authority. E.g. cultures with high uncertainty avoidance would result in a bureaucratic style of leadership. A dictatorial style of leadership would work in cultures with high power distance whereas one with low power distance would prefer participatory or democratic style of leadership.

So what are some ways which culture influence the way you think about success, life and work?

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