Intercultural relations

How do we communicate between one another

Stereotypes

When we do business in the global world we tend to go to the country we have our customers in with an idea of how the people will be. We could call this “stereotype”. This means that through the stories we have heard about that country and its people, through reading books and watching movies, listening to our friends and reading the newspaper, we think we have a clear image about how the natives work, negotiate, do business and communicate.

Unfortunately, stereotyping is a way to help us understand another culture, it gives us hints about possible behaviour we our going to encounter, however it can also have a negative impact on our business. Why is that ? Well because let´s imagine that you are going to meet your customer in Germany. A stereotype of Germans is that they are very punctual. Now your customer arrives late, what happens in your mind ? You might think that he is disrespectful, he did it on purpose because usually Germans are very punctual ! In fact your customer being late will create already a barrier to communication as what you were expecting from the stereotype you had did not happen.

 

Stereotypes can be used to help us recognize certain aspects of cultures, however they are not to be taken literally ! Because in every culture you have different people who have different personalities, a different education and thus they may not belong to the stereotype of the country you are going to.

Here is a little video about French stereotypes, those of you that know France very well will probably smile as these stereotypes reflect the way French people are seen by others, Please do not do business or go to France with these stereotypes in mind, you may be disappointed.

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Communication breakdown

Because English is spoken across the world, we often forget that natives from other cultures might not necessarily understand what we say.

Why is that? Well English is spoken across the world, however idioms, jargon and slang are not or rarely taught there! So when we come to do business let´s say in Asia or any other country where English is not the mother tongue, we might face misunderstandings!

The same will happen when our counterparts speak with us or write to us ! The probability of us understanding 100% of what they are writing and what they are saying may be slim. It may be slim because we think differently and have different ways of expressing ourselves. Some cultures are direct; hence what they say is what they mean! However others are indirect, thus context has to be taken into account, and if we do not know the context we may be faced with misunderstandings.

The best way to deal with it would be when we address a non native English speaker, speak slowly, use simple English, rephrase if we feel we have not been understood, pause so that our counterpart has time to take in what we said. And from our side, listen carefully, try to understand the context. If we do not understand, ask for clarifications and avoid using slang, jargon or idioms!

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Integration into a new culture and coming back home

Whilst in Paris for a few days I was invited by a very good friend of mine to go to one of her friends birthday party in the 18eme arrondissement of Paris!

When we arrived we gave “la bise” to all the people already there (they were approximately twelve! ) which took us a little while 🙂

During the evening I met a very interesting Chilean lady with whom my friend and I started to chat with! We were interested In knowing how she felt in France and if she had faced any difficulties when she went back to Chile.

She first explained why she came to Paris. She came to Paris to study French and social politics at a University. And her second objective was to integrate, melt into French society and have many French friends. She said it was not easy at first, she went to many bars to try and meet people but realised that the French usually stayed in groups and did not mix with others, even if they saw her standing there on her own! So she visited many bars until she found the right one and made many friends! She also used online groups that met regularly, people who wanted to mix and meet new friends! After three years in Paris she had made it, she felt part of the Parisian lifestyle, she felt French and she had many friends!

After three years she was offered a job in Chile where she went back! She said that the first three month was hard, she had lived three years abroad so the people she knew kept telling her she was a snob because she had lived elsewhere and she didn’t speak as good a Spanish as before! Then also from a cultural perspective, she realised that family values were very important, many of her friends in Chile were surprised that at her aged she was snot married and did not have a boyfriend, that made her feel different! After a year back it is better, but she still realises that people see her differently, but she is confident that it can only get better!

The moral of the story is that when we expatriate ourselves it is always important to keep in mind that we should integrate and not stay with people from the same country! And when we come back home, yes we have changed but the people we knew have not and so a gap has emerged, the hard work is to fill this gap again !

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Case Study: a Franco- German Wedding

This summer I was invited by one of my French friends to her wedding in France. She was getting married to a common friend who was German. The city hall and church wedding were held in both languages so that all guests could enjoy the wedding.

After the ceremonies, all guests gathered in a Chalet and the party was celebrated “French style”, hence an emphasis on food and wine. The dinner lasted for about 4 hours, around great food and wine. After the dinner, all gathered up on the dance floor to celebrate the couple´s union!

Now, I was interested in understanding how the German guests perceived the wedding and thus I went on a little expedition and asked a few questions to them, here are some of the remarks that came out:

  • The difference between a French and a German wedding is that in France, you prefer to sit at a table enjoying good food and wine, whilst having discussions with one another, whereas in Germany, we have a quick dinner and then we drink and dance until dawn.

 

  • Another interesting point that was raised about the French culture was that the French work to live, and the Germans live to work! So work is perceived as very important for Germans, it comes before everything else.

 

  • The French family, as opposed to the German family seems to be more united, family values and unity are very important, and when there is a celebration such as a wedding or even for Christmas, the family comes together; whereas in Germany it is slightly different, it stays within the nuclear family. Of course we celebrate with the grandparents and aunts/uncles, but the occasions are rarer.

By the end of the evening it seemed clear that both cultures are neighbours, but their way of living life and celebrating is different. This case study is food for thought: think about your friends or neighbours from other countries, and try to see whether your perspectives on life are the same, and if not, why is it different and how can you find a common ground?

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