With part III of this series, you will have a solid grasp of what creates culture, why cultures are unique, and what to expect as you traverse cultures.
You will still be bewildered, dazed, and generally confused, but you will at least know why. You will also have a fighting chance to make it through the Irritation stage (see Part I) and find marital bliss with your new country.
- The three stages of expat life
- The fallacy of comparing cultures
- The great divide in how cultures communicate
- The great divide in the perception of time
Part II three of Geert Hofstede 6 cultural dimensions:
- Power Distance Index (PDI)
- Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS)
- Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Orientation (LTO)
Part III the final three of Geert Hofstede, 6 cultural dimensions:
- Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV)
- Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)
- Indulgence versus Restraint (IVR)
If you have not already read Parts I and II do so then Part III will make more sense.
Individualism Versus Collectivism (IVD)
I imagine you’ve heard of these two broad types of cultures, Individualist and Collectivist. Generally, most people are familiar with the concepts but few understand them.
What IDV boils down to is the difference between:
- A deep genuine desire to act in ways that are best for you with minimal or no consideration of the community
- A deep genuine desire to act in ways that are best for the community with little or no thought for yourself.
For example, people from Individualistic countries generally prefer democracy because they feel the need to have their individual voices heard. They can vote for leaders and policies that best represent their personal needs even if it is not best for everyone.
People from Collectivist countries generally prefer more collectivist types of governments (what the West might call authoritarian) because they feel the government has a better idea of what is best for the community even if it is not best for them personally.
The Collectivist Culture
Collectivism can be difficult for Americans to grasp. In collectivist countries, people actually want to follow rules and regulations. For example, the Chinese people don’t conform to government policies out of fear of the government, they conform because they are collectivist. Similarly, the Chinese government is not oppressive it’s collectivist.
Individualist cultures are like going into a bar:
- Anyone can go in
- You associate with those you enjoy and avoid those you don’t
- New people filter in and out
- Everyone who comes in has the same choices and generally gets the same service
- The ‘regulars’ change over time
- You feel some loyalty to the bar but if a better one opens you go to it, you are not totally loyal.
Collectivist cultures are like becoming a member of an exclusive club:
- Not everyone is invited to join
- You have to participate in some activities or ceremony to get in
- It might take a long time to become a member
- Once you’re in you have access to all the benefits and privileges that nonmembers do not
- You are supported and give support to all members even if you don’t get along with some of them
- You are loyal to the club and the club is loyal to you
In Individualist cultures new people are quickly welcomed into the group, invited to participate immediately, and friendships develop rapidly. This is because loyalty is not to the group thus it does not need to be protected.
In contrast, in Collectivist cultures, it takes time to feel welcomed and friendships take much longer to develop but they are deep and long-lasting. This is because the group is most important and needs to be protected.
If you find yourself in a Collectivist culture, don’t be put off by feeling like an outsider. You are an outsider and will be treated as such until you are accepted (fake it till you make it). Pretend you’re in one of those ‘get to know you’, ice breaker/team-building exercises and jump in with enthusiasm, whether you feel enthusiastic or not.
Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)
The name of this dimension is a bit confusing. It’s about how much people avoid uncertainty, which means if you like taking risks you have ‘low uncertainty avoidance.’ It’s a horribly awkward name.
The UAI is concerned with how much people feel comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is whether people find security in knowing what is going to happen or if they are content with not knowing what is going to happen.
By way of example,
High Uncertainty Avoidance individuals (those that avoid risk) prefer a job such as government service in which they know the hours and days they will work and exactly how much they will be paid.
Low Uncertainty Avoidance individuals (those that are content with risk) prefer a job such as commission sales in which the more effort exerted the more they will be earn. They might work Saturday and Sunday or take a week off. They just don’t know week to week or day to day when they will work or how much they will earn.
Imagine not being paid on payday! When you ask the boss what happened he or she answered, “Nothing. Maybe you’ll be paid next week.” Most Americans (America is low on the UAI) would be upset.
Several times in several countries I was not paid on time and was told my salary would come ‘soon.’ I’ve always been paid, although I was not always happy about this ambiguity.
To determine if you are high or low on the UAI, do you prefer to take a guided tour of a new city or jump on a city bus to see where it takes you?
Indulgence Versus Restraint (IVR)
Here at last is a dimension well named and easy to grasp.
On the Indulgence end of the spectrum, people practice more gratification of basic natural human drives. They feel lIfe is meant to be enjoyed and to have fun.
On the other end of the spectrum, restraint societies prefer to suppress gratification and regulate fun and frivolity often through strict social norms and laws.
This may sound similar to Long Term and Short Term Orientation (LTO) (see Part II) but there is a substantial difference.
- LTO is about ordering one’s life based on tradition or progress
- IVR is about indulging or restraining desires
Thus it is possible to hold traditional conservative beliefs and live accordingly (Short Term Orientation) while also being high on the indulgence spectrum. Thus a conservative religious individual (Short Term Orientation) might indulge in the second ice cream, stay up to watch a movie on a workday, or take more vacation time (Indulgent).
Conversely, a Long Term Oriented culture may accept and adapt to alternative lifestyles while also displaying self-discipline by exercising daily and not eating any ice cream.
Those from an indulgent culture who are in a restraint culture might find it boring and restrictive, not very exciting. As an indulgent individual, I found China this way. I love China, but it can be a bit dull on a Friday night.
The Cultural Puzzle
Living in a different culture is much like solving a grand puzzle. These three blogs have given you some important clues to work through the puzzle. But, the expat life is not for everyone. If you do take the plunge realize that some cultures will not be right for you. If you like differences, challenges, and purposefully walking into the unknown, you will love the expat life. I hope this has given you some insight into what to expect and how to adapt.