Author Archives: Mike

While France’s (new) President Hollande has lived with his partner Valerie Trierweiler since 2007, they aren’t married nor do they plan to do so from what the media has told us. This CBS News WorldWatch entry comments on the French, their disinclination to marry, and the broad-based comfort with the President not having an official First Lady. Much of this is culturally normal in the French context. According to the CBS article:

The French are among the least keen on marriage in Europe. They enter into marriage in smaller numbers than in the US. They also tie the knot later – the average French bride or groom is 30 years old at their (first) wedding.

…In France, private lives of politicians are rarely talked about in public. And strict privacy laws mean the press can’t reveal much of what is often well-known in political and media circles.

This strong division between the public and private spheres marks French culture, an important differentiation and departure from the transparency the US public often demands, especially when it comes to personal background.

Do you think an unmarried President could be elected in the US? What do you think drives the mindset in France?

RW3 CultureWizard


+ The US is a nation of immigrants, comprised of people from diverse backgrounds and ethnic groups. Americans pride themselves on their individuality, their entrepreneurial attitude and a positive, optimistic outlook on life.

+ There are many stereotypes about the way people from different regions behave:

Southerners are known for their “Southern Hospitality.” They are generally polite, warm and friendly. They are also thought to appreciate a slower pace of life and are more relationship-focused than people from other parts of the country.

Texans exude self-confidence and are proud of the fact that they were once an independent country. They tend to be “larger than life” and often equate bigger with better.

West Coasters, or people from the west coast, are thought to be casual, free-spirited and liberal.

East Coasters are considered to be fast-paced, efficient, formal and comparatively conservative.

+ Americans can be superficially friendly when first meeting others. They may frequently say “hi” or “how are you?” to a lot of people, which is a sign of politeness and an egalitarian outlook. Remember, “how are you doing?” is usually a greeting, not necessarily a question.

+ When leaving a group, Americans may give a group wave or say farewell to everyone at once rather than to each person individually. This is an efficient way of departing, and in business settings a sign of the transactional nature of Americans.

+ From childhood, Americans are raised to see themselves as separate individuals who are the masters of their destiny. As such, they expect to be held accountable for their decisions. This can make them appear self-centered to people from less individualistic cultures. They may presume that people from other cultures feel the same way and may be surprised when they realize that people from other cultures are group- or community-oriented.

- from RW3′s CultureWizard™ Country Profiles

We’re all aware of the role social media has played in the democracy revolutions sweeping the Middle East. Images of people in the streets using their cell phones to record events are everywhere, as are stories of how these events are being organized and scheduled using social media vehicles. What’s less obvious, but perhaps even more profound, is how social media is influencing the evolution of cultural values in these countries.

An Egyptian Protester (GETTY)

Take Twitter for example: the very brief essence of a tweet does not blend well with Arab cultures known for elaborate communication styles. Directness is the essence of text messaging via mobile phones, and these same cultures are anything but direct when it comes to sharing information. Facebook is characterized by its openness and these are cultures that never valued transparency and the absence of privacy. Taken together, social media is a very egalitarian form of communication and its users have come to value the individual freedom of expression it represents.

It’s not at all surprising that democracy is now more of an appreciated value in these changing societies. It’s also not surprising that young people are at the forefront of these movements because they are the ones who’ve most quickly embraced social media and adopted the cultural values it represents.

Below are articles from various sources providing further research into these observations:

“Facebook’s Growth in the Arab World Is Surging with Demands for Political Change” (Knowledge Wharton)

“The First Twitter Revolution?” (Foreign Policy)

“Why not call it a Facebook revolution?” (CNN)

“Social media revolution flourishes amid conflict” (FLOR-ALA)

What can you say about the ways social media is influencing cultural change in North Africa and the Middle East? We welcome your comments.


PS Click here for our more general round-up of news from the Middle East.

RW3 CultureWizard

Did you know the vuvuzela (a Zulu word) was originally crafted out of the horn of an antelope and used to alert far away people of a community gathering?

Amidst the uproar about the vuvuzela’s damaging effects to one’s hearing and the loss of concentration players have suffered (and the annoyance to viewers), there are also many people supporting its use for symbolic, cultural reasons. Below is a selection of quotations from various people involved in South African football/soccer and the World Cup.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, a member of the England Supporter’s Band said

the plastic instruments were part of the local culture and should not be banned from inside stadiums…I bet there is not a single South African player complaining about the vuvuzela. They see it as more than just a noise, it’s about the whole spirit of the thing.

A story in The Express Tribune, a Pakistani periodical, describes that

…some commentators have defended the vuvuzela as being an integral and unique part of South African football culture and say it adds to the atmosphere of the game. BBC sports commentator Farayi Mungazi said the sound of the horn was the ‘recognised sound of football in South Africa’ and is ‘absolutely essential for an authentic South African footballing experience’.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter commented,

I have always said that Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound. I don’t see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country? We should not try to Europeanise an African World Cup.

We’d love to hear other perspectives on the topic, so leave a comment below. And, click here to read 10 interesting facts about the vuvuzela from the BBC.


RW3 CultureWizard

I wonder how many of you who watched the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics were struck, as I was, by how it is simultaneously the most global of events and yet the most nationally chauvinistic. Unlike the world that most of us live in, where intercultural cooperation is the pursuit and the prize, the Olympics emphasize competition between cultures and nations. The great irony, of course, is that globalization has taken the edge away from many national advantages that competing countries used to have. There are now many athletes and coaches playing and working across national lines. For example, the seismic shift from Russia to North America in awards for ice dancing (Canada taking gold and US taking silver) was aided by a pair of Russian émigré coaches. Many of the biathlon medalists are from France, Germany and Russia, despite the event’s obscure origins in the Norwegian military. The US team also made it to the podium for the first time in 86 years by winning a silver medal in the Nordic combined event, thanks to a new mixture of experts devoted to the sport. All of this provides additional testimony to the power of globalization and its continuous impact. Let us know your thoughts.

-Mike Schell

Asia Business Media, a blog that focuses on B2B media and business information in Asia, posted on an interesting talk by James McGregor earlier this week at the US Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. As a media professional and an American expatriate in China, he offered his thoughts on changing attitudes that the Chinese have never been known for in the past.


According to the blog, “[McGregor] believes that the arrogance that was once a less-than-appealing feature of U.S. businesses abroad has been adopted by the Chinese at an alarming rate.” These attitudes represent a smaller, yet powerful portion of the country. Oftentimes, culture is influenced by entities of power, e.g. industry and media, so the implications of a more arrogant sphere of business may gradually prove to be an influential force in popular, mass Chinese culture.

Among other observations, McGregor added that Chinese officials are increasingly implementing policies to favor Chinese businesses over foreign businesses, and that the government is encouraging “indigenous innovation.” The competition for market share will be increasingly important for indigenous organizations in China, but are these observations a foreshadow of Chinese hegemony? How can cultural awareness help us understand Chinese attitudes towards the world, and towards globalization?

Click here to read more.


I’m frequently asked—professionally and socially—about our definition of culture—what it is, where it comes from and how culture affects interaction with colleagues. Here is the definition that we find works best: a deep-seated set of values and beliefs shared by a society that define a sense of right and wrong, good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

Delving into the meaning of cultural awareness, the “Golden Rule” of “do unto others what you would like to be done unto you” might best be modified to “do unto others as they would like you to do unto them.” Of course, this means you need to know a little about their cultural values and preferences. The important thing is to recognize that culture represents intrinsic beliefs and values, which impact behavior. Combined with personal style, being attuned to these factors allows us to be culturally astute and professionally successful in 2010 and beyond.

Mike Schell

An Economist article highlights the interesting cultural differences surrounding the ways people use mobile-phones around the world.

“Mobile phones do not share a single global moniker because the origins of their names are deeply cultural. ‘Cellular’ refers to how modern wireless networks are built, pointing to a technological worldview in America. ‘Mobile’ emphasises that the device is untethered, which fits the roaming, once-imperial British style. Handy highlights the importance of functionality, much appreciated in Germany. But are such differences more than cosmetic? And will they persist or give way to a global mobile culture?”

An American professor predicts “in the long run most national differences will disappear…But he expects some persistence of variations that go back to economics. In poorer countries subscribers will handle their mobile phones differently simply because they lack money. Nearly all airtime in Africa is pre-paid. Practices such as ‘beeping’ are likely to continue for quite a while: when callers lack credit, they hang up after just one ring, a signal that they want to be called back.” In Spain, many mobile-phone users call this a toque, literally “touch,” which could mean one of several things: I’m thinking of you, I’m here (when meeting people at a specific location) or I want you to call me. In any sense, it’s a free way to communicate.

Illustration by James Fryer

Illustration by James Fryer

“Just how people behave when talking on a mobile phone is a question of culture…Parisians and Madrileniens felt freer to talk in the street, even in the middle of the pavement. Londoners, by contrast, tended to gather in certain zones, for instance at the entrances of tube stations. In Paris people openly complained when bothered by others talking loudly about intimate matters, but complaints were rare in London. In both places, people tended to separate phone and face-to-face conversations, for instance by retreating to a quiet corner. But subscribers in Madrid often mixed them and even allowed others to take part in their phone conversations. The Spanish almost always take a call and most turn off voicemail.

“…Such variations reflect how people traditionally use urban space. In London…the streets are mainly for walking…Paris, however, is a place to stroll, the home of the flâneur. In Madrid people inhabit the streets to talk together. As for their aversion to voicemail, the Spanish consider it rude to leave a call unanswered, even if it is inconvenient. This may be the result of a strong sense of social obligation towards friends and family.”

How is your use of mobile-phones influenced by culture? How has privacy changed from landlines to mobile lines?

Click here to jump to the article.


RW3 CultureWizard

A compendium of current news and headlines with commentary providing unique cultural insight into global affairs, business and daily life around the world.

Check out the latest CultureWizard Digest here!

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* China’s Internet and the US President
* Linguistic Death
* UK and US Health Care
* Indian Solutions for PepsiCo

+ Where is hummus from?
+ Global Baseball: Matsui
+ News from Middle Eastern Periodicals

+ South Korea
+ Argentina