Monthly Archives: May 2011

The New York Times takes the opportunity to examine French identity and culture amidst the Dominique Strauss-Kahn controversy by talking with French residents of New York and other France experts.

The episode has forced many native French people to tease out what part of them has evolved into an American and what part has never left France, which coined the word ‘chauvinism’ in the patriotic sense. (Nicolas Chauvin was a soldier fanatically loyal to Napoleon.)

The media has largely recognized the French and American opinions on Strauss-Kahn’s behavior and have drawn a distinction between the two approaches, which have made many French-Americans question their identity.

…French-Americans believe the case has ‘tarnished our image,’ said Marie-Monique Steckel, president of the French Institute Alliance Française, which promotes French culture and language. When she heard news of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, she said, she found herself ‘extremely emotional,’ adding, ‘My Frenchness came to the fore with more force than I would have thought.’

And although some French-Americans may think Americans react too prudishly to the sex scandals of their leaders, Ms. Steckel said, ‘There is a difference between a womanizer and rape.’

From a cross-cultural perspective, this also brings to mind the importance of appreciating the difference in definition of sexual harassment between US and European workplaces. It also points out how important it is for businesspeople working globally to have an understanding of what constitutes appropriate workplace behavior.

The “perp walk” Strauss-Kahn took was another salient issue the French community raised because it’s illegal in France and considered an unnecessary form of humiliation. What is your view? The notion that you are innocent until proven guilty, concerned about individual rights, but we don’t think it’s bad to do the perp walk.

Various issues of French-American identity add to the conversation regarding the French penchant for conspiracy theories:

French people who have lived in New York for a long time, she said, have moved beyond seeing the world in such a conspiratorial fashion. ‘The French adore the idea of plots,’ [Steckel] said. ‘They see plots everywhere. French-Americans become more factual.’

To our French and French-American readers, do these comments resonate with your cultural values? What is your take on bi-cultural identity?

To the rest of our readers, how does the question of (dual) cultural identity inform your opinions on the way justice systems prosecute and/or defend highly visible officials such as Strauss-Kahn?

We look forward to your comments.

Sean

RW3 CultureWizard

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+ Known as the “Rainbow Nation,” South Africa’s government officially recognizes 11 languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Shangaan, Sotho, Tsona, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. English is widely used for business purposes.
+ The concept of “African time” intimates flexibility and a relaxed approach to getting things done.
+ Two phrases frequently used in South Africa are “I will do it now now” and “I will do it just now.” Although they sound very similar, they are quite different. “I will do it now now” indicates that the task has a high priority, while “I will do it just now” means that the task has a lower priority and will be postponed.
+ South Africa is a high-context communication culture, which means people use non-verbal body language to enhance their spoken words. Be aware of this when understanding the messages your colleagues send you.
+ Greetings: shake hands with everyone upon arriving and upon leaving. Maintain eye contact while shaking hands and wait for a woman to extend her hand.
+ Because the country was closed to outside influences for many years, older Afrikaners who speak Afrikaans remain suspicious of anyone who might dilute their culture, including foreigners.
+ South Africa has a medium tolerance for change and risk. Changes are made, albeit slowly, and require considerable amount of thought, planning and evaluation. Be sure to factor this into your work and prepare thoughts to address any possible resistance.
+ In conversation, avoid making comparisons between South African cities. Most people are proud of their hometowns and may find your observations as a foreigner inappropriate.
+ Do not raise controversial subjects such as race relations or local politics. Also, Capetonians have a strong sense of proper decorum and view off-color humor as distasteful. Discretion is advised.

- from RW3′s CultureWizard® Country Profiles

RW3 CultureWizard

Here’s a great website to waste 15 minutes on!

Don’t ask me how anyone ever managed to compile enough data and research to organize such a thing, but the mad geniuses at Zoho have come up with a chart that interrelates 84 emotions/concepts with 13 colors and 10 cultures, ascribing a culture specific color for each of the 84 emotion/concepts.

I know, that sounds a bit confusing, and the spinning wheel chart does take a moment to comprehend, but once you get it, it makes for a very interesting culture comparision.

Take a look and see if you find the concept-color order to be in synch with your ideas of culture around the world.

Adam

RW3 CultureWizard

So I came across this blog post (I know, a blog post about a blog post. Very confusing.) by a company in Canada called Thought Farmer that makes Intranet systems. Now, in case you’re like me and didn’t know what an “intranet” system was until I read the original blog post, it’s something like Facebook, a social media tool, but it’s created for a closed market. Meaning, it’s a social network designed for use only within one company or organization. It provides a means for a company to communicate problems, issues, ideas and solutions among their entire workforce. A very good idea!

However, and here’s the interesting part of the blog post from a cross-cultural standpoint, when Thought Farmer began to work beyond North America, they found they were running into problems well beyond language and obvious cultural aspects.

They discovered that design, social network graphic design even, has a hidden set of cultural norms and expectations. Much to Thought Farmer’s surprise, their original attempts to create an Intranet system for a Korean company, working from a template that had worked for a dozen North American companies, was found to be ethnocentric by the Korean firm and its workers.

Perhaps ethnocentric is too strong a word, but upon feedback and research, Thought Farmer realized their templates and designs did indeed have a very “North American feel.” Certain assumptions they had about social network designs, like posting pictures of yourself and friends (evidently not a popular idea in Asia), and using strong primary colors (Asians tend to prefer pastels and muted colors), proved entirely inappropriate for their Korean client.

However, as a sharp company, Thought Farmer, realized and learned from their mistakes and ended up creating a much more Korean-appropriate design.

A comparison of the top social network in Japan, Mixi, and Facebook. ThoughtFarmer found several related differences in color, text and image type when they designed web content for a Korean audience.

Where and when has some aspect of cross-cultural oblivion suddenly blossomed before you? Do you ever think about how a preference for certain websites over others is rooted in culture?

Adam

RW3 CultureWizard

Kai Falkenberg, Editorial Counsel and blogger at Forbes, writes about how she completed RW3′s WorkingWith China course on CultureWizard to prepare for her first trip to China where she’ll be attending the 2011 Stellar International Women’s Leadership conference.

Falkenberg points out how helpful the WorkingWith China course was and how cultural understanding will play an important role in the success of the conference itself.

Read her article on the strategies for success she learned from the e-Learning course.

Falkenberg writes:

I learned that I should expect more inference, indirectness and subtleties in conversations. The flow of information may not be linear so active listening is more critical. And to preserve “face”, its important to avoid openly criticizing or correcting others. When confrontation is necessary, I learned, using an trusted intermediary is preferred.

WorkingWith China provides practical advice for professionals in any field on being effective with colleagues, customers and virtually anyone you may interact with in China.

For more information on the WorkingWith series of country-specific e-Learning courses, and the other countries available in addition to China, please write us at info@rw-3.com.

RW3 CultureWizard

As expatriates, how easy is it to learn the languages of our host countries? How willing to help are the locals? Do we rely on language learning software and MP3s?

A study by Expatica found that most expats pick up the language using a combination of methods. Enlisting help from locals is one of them:

Across the board, when it comes to locals helping expats learn their language, patience and interaction can vary. Although over half of expats polled hovered around locals being somewhat easy or somewhat difficult to practice conversing with, only 18 percent agree it’s easy to do.

Patience and persistence are key – whether we’re refusing the obliging ‘switch to English’ of an expert English-speaking Dutchman or trying to be understood by a Spaniard:

Locals in Spain tend to stick to their native tongue when conversing simply because there is no other option. ‘They don’t speak English, but are very friendly. When I speak in broken Spanish they don’t switch over to English, because they can’t.’

We learn with virtual language classes, online study materials, multimedia guides and in social settings. Some expats organize play dates with local children, watch local TV and have daily conversations with shop-keepers.

One expat insists:

Finding a friend who will commit to speak with you in the language you’re trying to learn for at least an hour every other day will make all the difference.

What have you found that works for you?

Mark

RW3 CultureWizard

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