top of page

What's going on here? 2: cultural awareness

Remember the 7,250 easy steps. Here’s why…

Culture always matters. Yes, I said “always.”

This is part two of my last post. In most cultural awareness courses a lot of time is spent on the content of a culture in order to understand the cultural differences. While my work goes far deeper than just differences...

this is where the ‘fun’ begins.

Sometimes it is just language translation and nuance. Remember the “got milk” campaign? In Latin American countries this didn’t work: it is translated to mean, “Are you lactating?” Not the same thing.

Or the IKEA product. …let’s let the picture say the thousand words:

After a church leadership conference in the UK, the English host offered to drive the US speaker and his wife to their hotel. The American wife says to the host, “I’ll just sit my fat fanny here in the back seat.” Unknowing that to her, “fat fanny” is a playful way of saying “my behind,” but in the UK it is quite more explicit, even vulgar.

What about in advertising. A Canadian grocery store tried to celebrate Baisakhi (a Sikh religious holiday) by promoting Halal chicken, a Muslim product. A UK store featured Bacon Flavored chips in a Ramadan (Muslim) holiday food display. (a couple of errors here!) Sometimes it costs millions. Why did Walmart fail in Germany? Simplistically stated, Walmart’s insistence on its German employees to always smile when greeting the customer. Well, in Germany a smile amongst strangers is often seen as at least silly, and perhaps even a sign of stupid. Further, Germans prefer to bag their own groceries; it’s a bit unhygienic for another person to touch my groceries. What was considered good manners and customer service in Boston or Brampton, was not welcomed in Berlin.

Often it insults people and prevents further conversation: at the after-meeting dinner reception between a Chinese CEO and his North American counterpart, the Chinese man was greeted by the assistant, and invited to “sit wherever you want.” The deal was never signed. Highly hierarchical cultures pay close attention to seating arrangements, who speaks to whom. Unlike the egalitarian cultures in North America. Imagine the surprise of a first-year Chinese student when she approaches a door at the same time as the university’s president and he holds the door for her, inviting her to go first.

We could go on. A Canadian professor notices a group of Asian students conferring during an exam. Their reason? To honour the professor by making sure they do as well as possible as a group.

But sometimes "we" get it right. This picture, too, speaks a thousand words:

Culture matters. What's your CQ?

5 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

This is a quick thought about bias, diversity, ourselves, judgments and the point of pursuing intelligent cross-cultural engagement and careful cross-cultural communication. And let me start with a Bi

bottom of page