cross cultural conflict

Using a Woman’s Touch in War

Posted on March 6, 2010. Filed under: arab culture, cross cultural communication, cross cultural conflict, Uncategorized, women | Tags: , , , , , , , |

The US military is using female marines in a culturally appropriate role in Afghanistan, giving war a woman’s touch.  As part of a military cultural experiment, female marine engagement teams will meet with Afghani women to build relationships and gather intelligence.  For many Afghani women it is prohibited or at least culturally inappropriate to speak with an man who is not your kin. Female marines offer a way around that.

Because they are women, these soldiers will have access to the local social network of information that is common among rural women. Male marines would never have access to this network.

Just as women in business have gone from using male models for communication and leadership to valuing and incorporating female models, ie. relationship-based, women in the military are now being valued for the unique skills and access their gender provides.

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the power of subculture affiliation

Posted on May 19, 2009. Filed under: cross cultural conflict, cuisine, culture, subcultures | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

One of my best friends is dating a man who, culturally, is very different from her.  Just from looking at them, you wouldn’t think they are so different. They are both American, white, middle class, middle aged, educated, divorced with kids, and from the Northeast.

They do have some fundamental differences that make my friend think that maybe he’s not “the one.”  She’s Jewish. He’s Christian. She’s a democrat. He’s republican. Still, these were areas she could compromise on. They weren’t necessarily deal breakers. She used these differences to teach her children about tolerance and the importance of looking at the individual, not group affiliation.

But last night, she called me up to tell me she knew this relationship could never really work.  It seems that they were out with his kids, and he gave them Capri Sun juice drinks and white bread. She knew it wouldn’t last between them.

And you know what? I totally understood. We are both part of the culture of healthy, natural living. We don’t eat processed foods and we certainly would never give our children juice “drinks” (which are mostly high fructose corn syrup and water)  or white bread. My children have never–not once–eaten fast food.  And they don’t miss it because they know what homemade, delicious, healthy food tastes like. 

After talking with my friend, I realized that lifestyles can be defined as culture, or subculture if you prefer, in that they include a set of beliefs, knowledge, values and behavioral norms shared by its members and  transmitted to future generations.

For my friend and me, a healthy lifestyle is core to the values and beliefs  that we want to pass on to our children.  And as core values and beliefs,  are more important when looking for a partner than what may normally be viewed as cultural differences, such as religious affiliation, race, or ethnicity.

 

What subcultures do you identify yourself with? How does it affect your daily behavior and relationships?

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Pets: love them, pamper them or eat them for dinner?

Posted on May 7, 2009. Filed under: American culture, Asian culture, chinese culture, cross cultural conflict, cuisine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

The other night I was watching The Dog Whisperer (I have no idea why), which is a TV show about a man who has some preternatural ability to understand and communicate with dogs. He helps families whose pets are having emotional or behavioral problems. In this episode, Cesar, the Dog Whisperer, was explaining to a woman “your dog is jealous of your husband.” She nodded knowingly.

I have never understood people who are crazy for their pets, and think of them as their children. Americans spend about 10 billion dollars a year on their pets. There are pet therapists, pet cemeteries, and pet spas.  A friend of mine cancelled her vacation, losing her non-refundable plane tickets, because she couldn’t find her cat pre-departure.

Years ago, when I was a new ESL teacher, I did an exercise with students where they had to match a list of items with the store in which they belong —the hammer goes in the hardware store, the lettuce goes in the green grocer, the rolling papers go in the bodega, etc. When we reviewed the answers together as a class, I was amused to find that all the Chinese students had put the pets in the butcher shop.

Fish, rabbits and reptiles are often pets, but no one really complains about eating them. It is often seen as a personal preference.  Even horses, beloved in the US,  are eaten in some European countries.

The biggest battle lines seem to be drawn for dogs and cats.  It also seems to be an East/West divide.  It is not uncommon for these animals to be on the menu in China, Korea or parts of South East Asia.  Westerners, on the other hand, not only refuse to eat them, but find it horrifying that others do.

Why, of all the animals that are kept as pets–fish, birds, cats, dogs, horses, reptiles, etc–are there such strong emotions in this cultural divide? What is it about cats and dogs that sets them apart?

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When my time isn’t your time

Posted on April 13, 2009. Filed under: business, cross cultural conflict, cross cultural miscommunication, hispanic culture, time | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Time changes everything. Or how you view time changes everything.  Differences in cultural concepts of time are ALWAYS brought up by a frustrated manager or employee during cross cultural training sessions. I am amazed at how little attention is paid to understanding the concept of time in the workplace, given its profound impact on productivity, employee and customer relations, and worker satisfaction.

Ideas about time range widely:

  • Time is a scare resource.  Manage it carefully!
  • Time is abundant.  Relax!
  • Time is best spent concentrating on one activity, conversation, project, etc., at a time
  • Time is best spent concentrate simultaneously on multiple activities, conversations, projects, etc., at a time.
  • Use time to learn from the past.  The present is essentially a continuation or a repetition of past occurrences.
  • Use time to focus on “here and now” and short-term benefits.
  • Use time to plan for long-term benefits.  Promote a far-reaching vision.

These differences can wreak havoc on the workplace.

I worked with one American company that was having problems with time management of their plant in Mexico, which supplied the raw materials for their factory in the US. “They always miss deadlines, and never at least give us the heads up that they may be late!” “They work so slowly!” “It’s impossible to coordinate with them, because they just don’t stick to our schedule!”

When I asked how they were presently dealing with the situation, the manager said they had sent a team down to Mexico to train the employees on what was expected and managing their time better.

The company did not leave anyone American onsite to oversee production schedules. The problem returned as soon as we left, was their response. Well of course everything went back to Mexican style! Why wouldn’t it? Could you imagine a person from a different culture coming into your workplace and telling you to behave in a manner completely different from your culture? How long would you keep that up, especially if no one from the target culture was on site? Wouldn’t you and your coworkers slip back into your natural way of acting and communicating?

Helping employees understand cultural differences requires constant communication. There is no instant solution. Working successfully across cultures takes time.

Read here about ways to get employees on the same page about time expectations.

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AIG & Universalism –cultural views on contractual obligations

Posted on March 18, 2009. Filed under: American culture, business, cross cultural, cross cultural conflict, cross cultural miscommunication, universalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Although I personally think AIG is beyond reprehensible, greedy, corrupt and incompetent, I am intrigued by the cultural influences of the situation we now find ourselves in.  I considered, specifically, the differences in cultural views on contractual obligations between Universalist and Particularist cultures, and use the US and China as examples.

The idea that  AIG has a contractual obligation to pay out bonuses to the very executives who brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy  is firmly grounded in American culture. America is a Universalist culture–they have rules and laws and contracts that are applicable to everyone equally (supposedly). They believe contracts are legal and binding, regardless of obvious changes in situation.  AIG executives moan that these bonuses were promised to them by contract and contracts, in a Universalist culture, are untouchable. A deal is a deal. Even a raw one.

Chinese culture, on the other hand, is Particularist. Particularists look at each situation, and understand that things may change unexpectedly. For the Particularist, contracts may be amended or adjusted if the situation or context changes. Particularists also spend more time building relationships,  and value personal obligation and “face” more than Universalists.  For Particularists,  a trustworthy person is known to honor the changing circumstances.  The idea is to build a long term relationship and have a win-win situation over time for both parties.

For the Universalist, it is the complete opposite. A trustworthy person keeps his word, abides by the contract, and pays up. Even when it’s ethically, morally, and  poltically wrong.

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Where do you draw the line?

Posted on January 30, 2009. Filed under: Asian culture, cross cultural conflict, education, family, Japanese culture | Tags: , , , , , |

We all know about “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”.  Culturally sensitive people will try to fit in and not offend members of the culture they are visiting. For me, this included wearing long sleeves and long pants in Malaysia, even when it was hot, hot, hot. I’d rather be too hot than insulting. I wasn’t comfortable, but it was something I would put up with.

But where do you draw the line? When do you say, no, I can’t abide by that part of your culture. It goes against my deepest beliefs, and I just won’t do it.

I was delivering a workshop on Communication Strategies for Asians Doing Busines in the US, and we were discussing the importance of selling yourself in American culture. You need to be comfortable, I pointed out, discussing your strengths without self-deprecation. What’s great about you? Speak up. In US business culture, it’s not bragging if it is an honest assessment of yourself presented in the proper context. (for example, a job interview or request for a raise)  You need to know your strengths and be able to talk about them openly and with conviction.

This trait is so valued, I said, that school children are taught about it in the context of developing self esteem. I then showed them a worksheet my daughter had in school.  It was a fill in the blanks worksheet:

The best thing about me is _________

I’m really good at ___________

I’m proud that I can ____________.

and so on.

One Japanese gentleman in the workshop, who had been sent by his company for a 3-year rotation in the US, said that his daughter had brought home a similar worksheet from her school. He and his wife were so upset, that  soon after they pulled her from the school and put her in a Japanese school instead. His explanation was this: He didn’t want his daughter (who was 6) to develop these types of American values. At first, he thought it would be a great opportunity for her to attend an American school, perfect her English skills and learn about a new culture. But he worried that when they returned to Japan when she was 9 that she would bring these values back with her. She would face all sorts of problems. These were not the values he wanted for his daughter.  Talking about how great you were is where he drew the line.

Learn more about navigating the American school system here.

Have you ever been in an intercultural situation where you said, no, I can’t support that.  This goes too much against my beliefs. What happened to make you draw the line?

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