Facts schmacts, but not culture schmulture. (Week 11)
I found Ishii’s research to be informative, but somewhat… I don’t know… predictable? For example, on page 358, he offers figures demonstrating that tweens and teens are less socially skilled than adults. It seems that that is a basic attribute of people in these age groups – it’s largely physiology and brain development that humans generally develop more social skills as a result of maturity and life experience. Also, the discussion of adolescents using text messaging and mobile phones to keep their social interactions away from their family seemed fairly obvious. Perhaps it was worth investigating because Ishii is from Japan, where family seems to be more sanctified than it is here.
Anyway, the topic of differences in the use of technology based on culture is an interesting one. While I haven’t seen differences in “niceties” as demonstrated in Spilka’s examples on pages 172 and 173, I have definitely noticed differences in how people from different cultures view the urgency of e-mail messages. At work, we have a small percentage of foreign military sales (FMS) contracts, and under my title of contract administrator, I am the main point of contact for our customers. In one case, I have been trying to obtain some necessary information from a Brazilian customer whose product requires an export license. Our time zones are only an hour or two off and we could logistically speak on the phone, but I don’t speak Portuguese, and the contact person at that company writes much better English than he speaks, so he corresponds via e-mail only. I remember learning in an earlier college course that people in Central and South American countries rarely see things as urgent, and are not pushy because pushiness is considered rude. Obviously, any statement about the people of an entire continent is a generalization, but our Brazilian customer certainly makes a case for this generalized statement. Every time I need to send an e-mail requesting information, it takes at least a week or two to receive a response. This is very unusual in our industry, as customers generally want their products as soon as possible. In drastic contrast to the Brazilian customer is our customer in Japan. Regardless of the subject at hand or the urgency of the issue, it is unusual to wait more than 20 minutes for an e-mail response. Likewise, if they do not receive a response to an e-mail they have sent within an hour, they begin sending “second requests” or forwarding it to other contacts they have at our company.
In looking for evidence in the internet of how widely intercultural business communication is addressed, I found there is a website that offers guides specifically geared toward business communication unique to several individual countries, as well as guides for just about anything else in a country that is influenced by the surrounding culture. I can see how this could be of high value to industries involving a lot of interpersonal communication or where customer service in the traditional sense is of a high priority. In general though, it seems the nature of my particular industry trumps our respective cultural traditions, at least in part. There is a basic, professional, courteous-yet-firm “voice” used that is fairly universal, at least in my limited experience. When it comes down to it, we all just want to get our work done without having others walk all over us and the company we represent.