This blog is a little different. It’s more educational. I actually used my lecture notes. But I think you will still like it!
This blog is about why people do the things they do. Why they act like the way they do. It’s about the different elements of culture and where you fit in.
What Is Culture?
Culture is the stuff of everyday life that is different from someone else’s everyday life.
Culture includes customs, beliefs, social norms, attitudes, values, and goals, as well as the knowledge passed to each generation.
Culture Over Place And Time
Culture differs by place and time. China is different than Mexico, 2020 America is different than 1950’s America (give the older generation a break, they’re from a different culture).
Culture can be as broad as a region, Western vs. Eastern, or as narrow as the individual. One of my boys is a vegan the other appears to only eat meat.
In the 1980s a Dutch researcher, Greet Hofstede, developed six dimensions of culture which have stood the test of time:
- Power Distance
- Uncertainty Avoidance
- Long Term-Short Term Orientation
This is where you can have some fun and decide where you fit on the continuum in each category. Then you can find the country which best fits your personal culture.
We are all a mix of these dimensions where there are no absolutes. Each dimension is on a continuum that changes over time also with each situation. I’m collectivist in eating situations but an individualist when it comes to sleeping arrangements.
As always, remember that different cultures are not good or bad, better or worse, right or wrong. They are different. Do not judge different cultures – accept them as different.
This is about how people accept those in power (or don’t) plus how society handles inequality.
High Power Distance cultures believe everybody has a defined place in society. They accept their place. Inequality and autocratic leadership are accepted. Subordinates follow orders and are blamed for mistakes. Children learn respect.
Low Power Distance cultures want an equal society. They demand an explanation from those in power. These countries have equality, democracy, and the rule of law. Subordinates are consulted but the system is blamed for mistakes. Children learn independence.
I don’t imagine there is not a lot of questioning of superiors in Russia. I’m not sure if they have superiors in Denmark.
There can be a lot of grey area. Americans embrace inequality but detest autocracy. They want children to be respectful but teach them independence.
Individualism And Collectivism
Individualistic cultures are self-centered.
People are identified by their personal characteristics. Individuals are more social. People take care only of themselves and their families. Performance is more important than building relationships. Individual freedom is required.
Collectivist cultures are responsible for their community.
People are identified by their group and have a tight social network. Individuals are taken care of by relatives and members of an “in-group” in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. Keeping good relations is more important than tasks. Harmony in society must be maintained.
Masculinity Vs. Femininity
This has nothing to do with men and women. It’s a poorly named category.
What is important in Masculinity cultures are:
Men do manly things and women do feminine things, they don’t cross over. Masculine cultures are tough, logical, aggressive, and cruel.
What is important in Femininity cultures are:
- Quality of life
There is little concern about what jobs or activities men or women do. Feminine cultures are gentle, emotional, calm, home-oriented, and kind.
I have Norwegian friends. They are logical and kind. Mostly they are cooperative, caring, and working for a high quality of life. Men and women are equal. Norway is a lovely country. This is vastly different than the Norway of the Viking age – cultures do change.
This is about how comfortable people are with uncertainty and ambiguity.
In cultures that AVOID uncertainty being different is dangerous. People are intolerant of new ideas. They have rigid beliefs and behaviors.
Individuals are hostile to those who look or act differently especially foreigners. In these countries, rules must be followed. Additionally, an identity card must be carried. In these cultures stress and anxiety are common.
Most religious communities fit into this end of the UA spectrum.
On the opposite side of this spectrum, different is interesting. People have relaxed attitudes and are open to new ideas. Rules are more like guidelines where people accept change easily.
America is an interesting mix of this dimension full of subcultures that trend to one extreme or the other.
Long Term and Short Term Orientation
Long Term cultures are practical. They value thriftiness, perseverance, common sense, and education. People learn from others presenting the ability to change.
These cultures look at the circumstances to determine what is right and wrong.
Short Term cultures are traditional with strict social rules. Change is considered wrong. Life has few grey areas. Unwavering beliefs determines one’s actions. The country is right and traditions are sacred.
Many religious communities are Short Term.
Indulgence Vs. Restraint
This dimension is about enjoying life and having fun, or not.
Indulgent people are healthier and happier, have leisure time, and are optimistic and social. They play a lot of sports. Moral discipline is not a high priority.
On the other side, Restraint cultures suppress gratification while regulating desires. They are neither healthy nor happy. But they have a strong work ethic with strict moral discipline.
Your Personal Culture
What is your personal culture? Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions aren’t really designed to be evaluated on the individual level but it’s still fun to use them that way.
My profile looks like this:
- Low Power Distance. I believe everyone is equal and decisions should be made with input from everyone.
- Middle of the road Individualist. I prefer to be judged on my individual character not my group character. However, I also have a responsibility to the community.
- I lean toward the Femininity side of the spectrum. However, I am also logical and not very home-oriented. I am not a money chaser, not aggressive, but I think I would make a great hero.
- My most extreme tendency is LOW Uncertainty Avoidance. I fully embrace a relaxed attitude about life. I’m open to new ideas thriving on change. And rules? What are those? Low UA pretty much sums up my life outlook.
- I’m also strongly on the Indulgence end of the spectrum. However, I am burdened with the American/Puritan work ethic having grown up in the United States (I’m rapidly overcoming this).
Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions is a great tool to evaluate cultures. It explains why people behave the way they do. Hofstede has created a website where you can compare cultures. Next time you travel scroll down to the Country Comparison Tool on Hofstede’s site to prepare yourself for the culture you will be visiting.
Embrace the differences.