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.

Oh, hello, Mr. Japanese Customer. I see you flew to Wisconsin because it took me an entire hour to respond to your e-mail.


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.

Posted on November 9, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Wow, the differences between the two cultures you mention is remarkable, but not that surprising. I can imagine the frustration you feel. I can’t get the link you shared to open now, so I’ll check on it later.

  2. I love the real-life examples you share with us. Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear from your customers’ point of view about those situations you mention? The link was interesting as well. Too bad I would have to pay to learn more about other cultures. Otherwise, I probably would have spent quite some time on that site.

  3. In a previous class I took, we spent time looking at usability and how that might change the way we write manuals or provide customer support differently depending on the culture or nation. We looked at Geert Hofstede’s work pertainint to cultural dimensions–power distance, individualism, masculinity/femininity, uncertainty avoidancd, and long-term orientation. By going to http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html , a person can study the profiles of over 90 countries and do side-by-side comparisons. To me it looks like Japan and Brazil are pretty similar except in the masculinity/femininity category. Japan in much more toward the “masculine” end of the scale. According to Hofstede this relates to how agressive or competitive a business is going to be. Perhaps this is why your customers from Japan are so urgent to have their emails answered.

    I’m not sure how to really interpret the information, but if nothing else, the Hofstede site is interesting.

  4. “There is a basic, professional, courteous-yet-firm “voice” used that is fairly universal…”

    Laura, I like your post and especially could relate to this comment. I do not have a great deal of international client contact in my past, but it rang true to me just in transition from company to company. There is the basic voice and each company tweaks it slightly to suit them. Some companies slide toward the more familiar, friendly tone; while others default to the uber-professional, borderline-terse interactions. This is always an interesting little nuance to learn about in a new position!

    Interesting post!

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