Language and customs vary from country to country, but so can behaviors. Behaviors are the way things are done and while in some cultures it may be the norm, to others it may be rude, improper, or hard to understand. Let’s take a look at some of the important cultural differences between Americans and some other countries. This can allow you to get another perspective and be sensitive when confronted with people of these backgrounds.
“Chinese people will avoid confrontation wherever possible with a view to saving face. Shouting at someone causes both parties to lose face and if face is lost in business, a relationship can be permanently damaged. As such, Chinese executives will often avoid giving a straight answer in order to save the other person’s face. Americans, who tend to be very direct and literal, can find this confusing and frustrating. The worst thing you can do in negotiations with Chinese colleagues is to go out of your way to prove a point, regardless of the effect it has on others. But to Americans, the end result is more important than reputation or even the relationships.” Read more about these differences here.
“Gender Roles Are Strict: In 2012, Japan received an embarrassing rank in the Global Gender Gap Report, which measured women’s equality in various countries. America received the 22nd place and Japan received the 101st spot. There are very few female politicians and CEOs in Japan. When women join companies, they are often expected to quit when they get married to become housewives and stay-at-home mothers. The concept of masculinity can also be very strict, though among youth culture—typically university-aged people or younger—there is some gender androgyny celebrated in fashion, appearances, and theatrical roles.” Read more about these differences here.
“Greeting: This will be the first thing you notice. In Spain, people greet each other with ¨besitos (little kisses)¨. For first-timers, it can be awkward and strange, but you will get used to it. This is when you merely touch your right cheek, then left cheek with that of the other person. You don’t actually give the person a kiss, rather than simply touch cheeks while making the kissing sound. It sounds funny, but happens naturally. Women and men give besitos, women give women besitos, but men generally do not give other men besitos (only unless family or good friends). They normally shake hands and/or give a pat on the back (sometimes a half hug). Younger kids sometimes only give one besito…just go with the flow.” For more cultural differences, read here.
“Formality: Forms of address are much more formal in France than in the USA, face to face, in email correspondence and on the phone. In offices, superiors are referred to as Monsieur or Madame by low-ranking workers. In any new business relationship, the formal ‘vous’ form of address is used before moving on to the familiar ‘tu’ form, although younger people may launch straight into ‘tu’, especially in social situations. Americans are accustomed to starting a relationship on first name terms and may find this formality disconcerting. Dress in France is more formal, too, even in dress-down offices. You will be judged on your personal style and presentation, whereas Americans tend to be more accepting of diversity.” For more cultural differences, read here.
“Family and Criticism: Arabic communities are tight-knit groups made up of even tighter family groups. Family pride and honor is more important than individual honor. Shame (especially against family) is avoided at all costs, insults and criticism are taken very seriously. Admitting, “I don’t know” is distasteful to an Arab person. Constructive criticism can be taken as an insult.” To understand more about Arab cultures, read here.