“Listen to or download the podcast NOW by scrolling below to see the player.”
Amid accelerating change and globalization, companies are faced with the difficult challenge of thinking globally while acting locally. Companies are in dire need of leaders who possess an exceptional ability to accelerate business in complex and multicultural environments. However, working in a multicultural environment is complex and causes many misunderstandings. Even if you never leave the US, the increase in the rate of globalization will likely have you working with a peer, employee or boss from a different national, cultural background. Join us to find out how these cultural misunderstandings take place and how you might prepare yourself to overcome them. Read, Listen, Share »
Recent Blog Posts
Being open-minded after I do – A discussion and tips on the blending of an intercultural relationship
In six months, I will be getting married and one of the Pastor’s requirements was to meet with him and discuss how we plan to handle certain topics such as money, parenting, and marital expectations. The meeting was fairly easy as my fiancé and I share similar views and values on most of the topics covered. The other day at school, I was speaking to a friend who is also getting married around the same time as me, to a man from a completely different religious background. My friend is Catholic and her fiancé is Hindu. She will be blending two different religions into one household; I couldn’t help but think to myself how challenging that must be for a couple. Religion is one of those dinner party topics you are supposed to avoid because of the conflicts that often arise when they are discussed. However, a couple that is about to get married does not have the luxury of avoiding such topics. I began to research the challenges intercultural marriages face, and the majority of the information I found discussed the ability to learn, understand, accept, and adjust to one another’s cultures.
In an article found on Marriage Missions International, initially written in Steve and Mary Prokopchak’s book, Called Together, they first caution intercultural couples to “Know each other’s culture.” Intercultural couples must have an understanding of one another’s culture, beliefs and values, as these are part of what makes up a person’s identity. A lack of understanding has the potential to raise fierce conflicts later on in marriage.
Herbert G. Lingren, an Extension Family Life Specialist, warns a value conflict may occur if, “two people have different attitudes, beliefs, and expectations. These differences may interfere in making decisions if we are inflexible and hold rigid, dogmatic beliefs about the ‘right way’ to do things.” Communicating, understanding, keeping an open mind, and respecting one another’s beliefs and customs can alleviate a lot of the disagreements an intercultural couple faces.
In an article originally published in the Washington Post, Rebecca R. Kahlenberg, a freelance writer, suggests “Negotiate and renegotiate dicey issues. Ideally, the time to discuss and make agreements about intercultural topics is before the wedding. What are each of your commitment levels to your culture?” Prior to getting married it is imperative that an intercultural couple discusses in detail what cultural expectations each has and how they will address differences as they arise.
Lastly, Steve and Mary Prokopchak encourage “Accepting and appreciating as many of the differences as you can will serve to enhance the marriage relationship. This experience is not to be viewed as all negative. The differences are something to embrace and value in one another.” While the blending of two different cultures may seem challenging at times, the positive outweighs the negative when looking at the big picture. An intercultural couple learns to be more open-minded and tolerant towards other people’s values and beliefs. If the couple then chooses to have kids, their kids will also grow to be more tolerant and open minded, which in today’s society is absolutely needed to make the world a better place.
My aforementioned friend said that despite the challenges she and her fiancé have and will face, she has come to love and appreciate Hindu customs. She said she looks most forward to kids and sharing with them all of the wonderful elements that both religions have to offer.
Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –
Negotiation and Conflict Management Program
There are many different things to take into consideration before traveling abroad. Conducting some research before heading out can help you understand what to pack and what to expect on your journey. Last week’s Texas Conflict Coach® blog post focused primarily on handling issues dealing with language barriers when traveling. Continuing with that theme, this blog concentrates more on cultural taboos, faux pas and overall etiquette while in a foreign country. Various countries across the globe have their own unique beliefs, traditions, habits and social behaviors that shape their culture. Learning about the people, customs, rules and norms of your host country can make your trip more interesting and exciting. By being conscious of your host country’s culture, you can also prevent yourself from getting into conflict or doing something embarrassing. Furthermore, demonstrating cultural etiquette is a sign of respect. It should be stressed that culture is dynamic and changes over time. Some norms that you research could be outdated and no longer apply. Also, not everyone follows their own country’s norms or typical practices. Nonetheless, when preparing for your trip, it is important that you study your host country’s culture in order to understand their way of life.
One of the first differences you can notice between two cultures is the type of attire being worn. Since individuals often judge one another based on first impressions, it is important to understand the type of clothing worn. In some countries the general style is rather relaxed and casual, while other countries are stricter. For example, in some European countries such as Germany, the common style is more formal compared to the United States. In the United States, colors and shoe choice play a small role, but in Germany, bright colors are often only worn by younger people and shoes have specific purposes. Flip-flops, which are commonly worn in the United States to the mall, around town or at the beach, should only be worn at the beach or near a swimming pool in Germany. It is not offensive to wear Flip-Flops around town, but it is considered embarrassing. An American tourist who did not conduct cultural research before his or her trip could travel through Germany wearing Flip-flops and never understand why he or she constantly received weird looks.
Dining is another area where cultures often have unique differences. According to an article on the site MindTools, differences in seating, utensils, conversation, body langue, and timeliness are important aspects to consider when dining abroad. When drinking in a pub in Australia, for example, it would be considered rude to not pay for a round of drinks when it is your turn. Focus on the dining experience and food being served plays a large and vocal role in France, but in Germany, work related matters are often discussed instead. In Russia and South Korea, alcohol plays a large cultural role, but in United Arab Emirates alcohol is rarely consumed and limited to restaurants. Punctuality is extremely important to Germans, while in Mexico, timeliness is not as serious and is treated completely differently. Interestingly, the common American “OK” symbol (thumb and index finger touching) is an offensive gesture in some South American countries.
TravelTaboo is an online resource that provides cultural information on different countries.
If you are thinking about traveling to Japan: be prepared to take off your shoes when you go into someone’s house (you want to make sure your socks do not have holes in them). Unlike in the United States where seating plays a minor role, it is important to not sit down before you are told where. When dining in Japan, you should not tip or use chopsticks in a non-traditional fashion.
Thinking about visiting China? You should know that physical contact is something that should be avoided. Opening a present in front of the person who gave it to you is considered rude. You should also consider things that in your culture play little or no role. For example, do not use red ink when writing in China as it is a sign of a relationship ending.
Learning cultural etiquette can enrich your journey and help create a smooth trip. If you’re traveling abroad to a foreign culture – check out these resources to help educate yourself and avoid any possible embarrassment: Kwintessential, TravelTaboo and Mind Tools – Dining Faux Pas
Salisbury University – Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution
In the summer of 2011, I traveled to Italy with a friend, to take a guided fourteen-day tour of the country. Before we left, I bought several travel books to educate myself on the dos and don’ts of the American traveler. Throughout all the readings, it appeared that American’s had gained quite the tourist reputation. In a blog written by Caroline Morse a contributor to the HuffPost Travel, it explains American’s reputation is so infamous, “that the term “Ugly American” has become shorthand for any tourist that sticks out or misbehaves abroad.” The timing of my travels was unfortunate, as the cast of Jersey Shore had just concluded filming in Florence just before we arrived; therefore, I journeyed to Italy already feeling as though I had something to prove.
The majority of the literature I read stressed that the language barrier is often the most difficult task for Americans to overcome. Caroline Morse points out, “American tourists are notorious for just repeating English questions louder when a nonspeaker doesn’t understand.” Another language barrier issue for Americans is they use a lot of slang when speaking. Rick Steves, author of travel guidebooks, illustrates “Our American dialect has become a super-deluxe slang pizza not found on any European menu.” When Americans, or anyone for that matter, travel, it can become frustrating and even cause conflict when you are unable to effectively communicate.
So what can a traveler do before traveling abroad to assist in breaking down the language barrier?
The first tip emphasized is to research the country that you are traveling to and educate yourself about their customs. Female First suggests that you “Check out local customs, laws, and cultural differences. That way you can be prepared and avoid situations that might lead to a problem where a language barrier might stand in your way”. American culture is very different from other country’s culture; therefore, it is important to be aware of minor details such as when two people are first introduced, do they shake hands or bow? Or do they make eye contact when speaking to one another or is long held eye contact considered disrespectful? In order to make sure you are not offending anyone when traveling, knowing these details is necessary.
The second tip is to learn several key phrases in the country’s native tongue so that you can use when needed. Stacey Rudolph from Business 2 Community recommends that you, “Learn how to say good morning, hello and how do you do in the local tongue. Apart from that, learn the right phrases to ask for help in an emergency, directions, way to the bathroom and so on”. If you show that you are taking the initiative to learn their culture, people will be more inclined to help you.
The third tip is to speak slowly and annunciate your words. Rick Steves suggests, “Choose easy words and clearly pronounce each syllable (fried po-ta-toes) Try not to use contractions.” The person assisting you may be able to pick up on one or two words and determine what it is that you are asking if you speak slowly. Stacey Rudolph even advises that you “Find out if the person speaks English before you start stumbling in the local tongue”. If the person assisting you understands English then they can help you more quickly then you stumbling and mangling words and further confusing the conversation.
When traveling it is always important to keep in mind that each country has their own set of cultural customs and not attempting their language can come across as disrespectful and may raise conflict. Residents of the country that you are traveling do appreciate a tourist taking the initiative to learn their language and customs, and Americans who do this can assist in improving the stigma of the “Ugly American tourist”.
Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –
Negotiation and Conflict Management Program