Posted in books, Personal Interest

‘Exploring Culture’ By Geert Hofstede

First of all, I want to say that this is more than a book review. After reading Professor Hofstede’s book and searching through his website, I learned a lot of useful information about international relations. With the knowledge I had, I prepared and presented workshops about teaching in multicultural classroom and how as educators, we could use these cultural differences for our own good.

The whole book is a summary of Professor Hofstede’s years of study. This is what the research summarizes:

Unconsciously, you bring your own cultural frame of interpretation to any situation.

Think about cultures as if they were a pair of glasses. Each time you wear a different one, you see the world differently. What causes these differences?

culture

The author of 2002 book “Exploring Culture – Exercises, studies and synthetic cultures”, Gerard Hendrik Hofstede is a Dutch social psychologist, former IBM employee, and Professor Emeritus of Organizational Anthropology and International Management at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. He is famous for his research on cross-cultural groups and organizations and he identified these 6 main differences among cultures.

According to Hofstede’s research, culture has 6 main dimensions:

  1. Identity (Collectivist vs Individualist)
  2. Hierarchy (Large power distance vs small power distance)
  3. Gender (Masculinity vs Feminity)
  4. Truth (Uncertainty avoidance vs. Uncertainty tolerance)
  5. Virtue (Long term vs Short term orientation)
  6. Indulgence (Indulgence vs restraint)

IDENTITY

Identity defines the relationship between the individual and the group. The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty (Hofstede-insights.com).

Individualism: The cultures of most wealthy countries are relatively individualistic. As countries have become richer, they have moved toward the individualist end of the spectrum. Wealth makes it easier for people to take care of themselves, to make is on their own. In very individualist societies, people may feel lonely, isolated or can develop antisocial behaviors.

Collectivism: Earliest examples are hunter-gatherer societies. Every culture was collectivist once: First for survival we needed each other, then agriculture and religion brought us together.

indiv

HIERARCHY

This dimension deals with the fact that all individuals in societies are not equal – it expresses the attitude of the culture towards these inequalities amongst us. Power Distance is defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. The degree of inequality between the people that is assumed to be a natural state of affairs. This is called ‘Power Distance’ (Hofstede-insights.com).

Small Power Distance: People are equal. Some people are better leaders than others, but they won’t show off their skills.

Large Power Distance: Nobody thinks that people are all equal (or even should be). Parents are not children, leaders are not followers and kings are not citizens. There is a clear distinction.

Within Europe, studies showed that power distance in Northern and Western European cultures is smaller than in countries in Eastern and Southern Europe. These two areas are separated, roughly speakig and not by coincidence, by the former boundary of the Roman Empire. A similar line separates Anglo American from Latin American countries.

Researchers have found that as a country has become wealthier, power distance has decreased. Large power distance is easier to maintain in a situation of poverty or limited resources.

large

GENDER

Although this dimension is divided into two as masculinity vs feminity, this is not about ‘supportive of man role more’ or vice versa. It is more about the tendency of the society’s behavior.

A high score (Masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field – a value system that starts in school and continues throughout organisational life Hofstede-insights.com).

A low score (Feminine) on the dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A Feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable. The fundamental issue here is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (Masculine) or liking what you do (Feminine) (Hofstede-insights.com).

Feminine: Caring for others and being modest are important. Small is beautiful, no need for bigger or something more assertive. Little difference between the education of boys and girls and between the roles of mothers and fathers. Men and women can wear the same clothes, go to the same places, and have the same rights and duties. Good control of agression.

Masculine: Tougher society. There is more emphasis on achievement and fighting than on caring and compromise. Unequal distribution between men and women. Very competitive.

Cultures of Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries are very feminine, but those of Germany, Switzerland and Austria are strongly Masculine.

Costa Rica and Portugal are feminine, but Colombia and most other Latin American countries are masculine.

Thailand is feminine,but Japan is very masculine, Britain and the US are also rather masculine.

masc

TRUTH

How people in a culture cope with the unpredictable and the ambiguous is called ‘Truth’. It has to do with anxiety as a human feeling, or in other words with fear of the unknown.

The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? This ambiguity brings with it anxiety and different cultures have learnt to deal with this anxiety in different ways. The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these is reflected in the score on Uncertainty Avoidance (Hofstede-insights.com).

Uncertainty Avoidance: Many people in this culture believe what is different is dangerous. Anxiety and the search for truth is closely related. This is not as same as risk avoidance. If risk can be acknowledged and quantified, it is not threatening to people.

Uncertainty Tolerance: More tolerant towards the unknown and ambiguous situations.

Russia and the countries of Balkans have cultures of strong uncertainty avoidance, as do Japan, Korea, Mexico, Belgium, and France.

Germanic countries are very uncomfortable with uncertainty. English speaking countries and China tend to be more uncertainty tolerant. Singapore, Jamaica and Denmark are very uncertainty tolerant.

uncer

VIRTUE

The problem is the choice between future and present virtue. This dimension describes how every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future, and societies prioritise these two existential goals differently. Normative societies. which score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future (Hofstede-insights.com).

Long-term Orientation: Hard work and persistence are important values and children are taught to sacrifice the pleasures of today for the benefit of their future.

The issue of virtue is particularly important in Asia and explains why non-Asians find it hard to come to grips with this cultural concept. Where Europeans and Americans are more concerned with truth, Asians are more concerned with virtue.

Short-Term Orientation: No savings for the future. It is more important to use your resources for present wealth. Not enjoying present for future savings is stingy.

Many countries of East Asia, such as China and Japan are considered long-term oriented, but some are not, for example, the Phillippines. Most European and American countries are fairly short-term oriented. The Dutch, with a reputation in Europe for stinginess, are long term oriented by European standards. African countries, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are very short-term oriented.

INDULGENCE

Indulgence can be summarized as the degree to which small children are socialized. Without socialization we do not become “human”, says Hofstede on his website (www.hofstede-insights.com). This dimension is defined as the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses, based on the way they were raised. Relatively weak control is called “Indulgence” and relatively strong control is called “Restraint”. Cultures can, therefore, be described as Indulgent or Restrained (Hofstede-insights.com).

Most of the Latin countries have high indulgence, where as most east Asian societies are considered as restrained.

The way in which a group of people resolves these six issues is what we call ‘culture’. 

POSSIBLE PROBLEMS

The book talks about misunderstandings. How one culture might read the other’s reaction in a completely wrong way. For example, individualistic cultures such as Americans, British, Germans, might be perceived as cold and selfish to collectivist cultures such as Saudi Arabians, Africans or Chinese.

Or a short-term oriented culture, such as Colombians can perceive a long-term oriented culture, Chinese or dutch very stingy.

problems

As you see, there is no right or wrong, but there are differences.

The book tells this interesting story about two Germans (Highly Masculine culture) going to a bar with a Dutch (Feminine culture). They order their beers, they are having so much fun. But all of a sudden, the conversation is taken over by the two Germans who are very passionately arguing about which Euro-league team is the best. One guy says his team is the best, they won the championship three times in a row,and the other said “No, my team is the best, they were the champions last year, they have a good team!!” This lasts about half an hour. The Dutch gets really bored and can’t take it anymore. He doesn’t understand why these two guys are wasting their time arguing about who is best.

Picture1The Dutch interrupts them and says: “Hey, you both have very good teams, why don’t you stop fighting and we talk about something else and have fun?” The two German guys suddenly stop talking and look at each other confused. Because, they weren’t fighting, actually this is how they were having fun and building mutual respect. However, they didn’t understand why their Dutch friend didn’t join the conversation and they blamed him being boring.

Another interesting example is again from a Dutchman (Low Power Distance, Feminine, uncertainty tolerant culture) who was working in Belgium (High Power Distance, Masculine and high uncertainty avoidance culture). Here is what he said:

During my work as a regional management assistant at a firm providing cleaning services in Belgium, I came into contact with a lot of people. Because I had to make new cleaning schedules and cost calculations for new and old customers, I met all the employees.

The first thing I noticed was the relationship between a superior and a subordinate. Orders from a superior were to be obeyed, not questioned.

Informal relations between people from different positions in the hierarchy were minimal: For example, no secretary had lunch with her boss.

Subordinates expected superiors to tell them what to do (Large Power Distance). When I talked to the people on the work floor, they always called me Mr. so-and-so, although I had told them my first name. They also expected me to tell them what to do, even if they had more experience in their areas than I did. This was difficult for mein the beginning. Sometimes people stared at me in surprise when I did something they did not expect, for example, when I helped carry some cleaning materials, which in their eyes, was inappropriate.

The Belgians were used to following the rules, and when rules where absent, they wanted a direct and clear decision or order from their superior.

Their work schedules and job descriptions were really detailed (Uncertainty avoidance) If something went wrong, the employees often referred to their job descriptions and schedules and said according to these, they hadn’t done anything wrong.

To Belgians, a good job meant high esteem in society (Masculine). Almost everyone was trying to improve his or her position. Not only did the money one earned tell something about the job one had, but this money also made it possible to buy a largeand beautiful house and a big car.

According to the Dutchman, the Belgians seemed like they were wanting to make themselves look better, they appeared obsessed with detailed instructions and greedy. However, they were just culturally different.

COMPARISON OF CULTURES

Hofstede provides this great service on their website. You can compare dimensions of different countries here:

https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/

As an example, I did Turkey vs. The USA and China. Here, I want to share the results  with you:

chinaturkeyusa

POWER DISTANCE

Turkey is a large power distance society. In Turkish Culture, kissing hands shows respect to the other person. In the picture you see a youngster kissing an elderly man’s hand to show respect. On the other one you see an elderly person kissing the Turkish Prime Minister’s hand, since he is hierarcially higher than him.

Turkey

Turkey scores high on this dimension (score of 66) which means that the following characterises the Turkish style: Dependent, hierarchical, superiors often inaccessible and the ideal boss is a father figure. Power is centralized and managers rely on their bosses and on rules. Employees expect to be told what to do. Control is expected and attitude towards managers is formal. Communication is indirect and the information flow is selective. The same structure can be observed in the family unit, where the father is a kind of patriarch to whom others submit.

The USA

The American premise of “liberty and justice for all.” This is evidenced by an explicit emphasis on equal rights in all aspects of American society and government. Within American organisations, hierarchy is established for convenience, superiors are accessible and managers rely on individual employees and teams for their expertise. Both managers and employees expect to be consulted and information is shared frequently. At the same time, communication is informal, direct and participative to a degree.

China

At 80 China sits in the higher rankings of PDI – i.e. a society that believes that inequalities amongst people are acceptable. The subordinate-superior relationship tends to be polarized and there is no defense against power abuse by superiors. Individuals are influenced by formal authority and sanctions and are in general optimistic about people’s capacity for leadership and initiative. People should not have aspirations beyond their rank.

INDIVIDUALISM

In China, family values and traditions are so important.

Turkey

Turkey, with a score of 37 is a collectivistic society. This means that the “We” is important, people belong to in-groups (families, clans or organisations) who look after each other in exchange for loyalty. Communication is indirect and the harmony of the group has to be maintained, open conflicts are avoided. The relationship has a moral base and this always has priority over task fulfillment. Time must be invested initially to establish a relationship of trust. Nepotism may be found more often. Feedback is always indirect, also in the business environment.

The USA

The society is loosely-knit in which the expectation is that people look after themselves and their immediate families only and should not rely (too much) on authorities for support. There is also a high degree of geographical mobility in the United States. Americans are the best joiners in the world; however it is often difficult, especially among men, to develop deep friendships. Americans are accustomed to doing business or interacting with people they don’t know well. Consequently, Americans are not shy about approaching their prospective counterparts in order to obtain or seek information. In the business world, employees are expected to be self-reliant and display initiative. Also, within the exchange-based world of work we see that hiring, promotion and decisions are based on merit or evidence of what one has done or can do.

China

At a score of 20 China is a highly collectivist culture where people act in the interests of the group and not necessarily of themselves. In-group considerations affect hiring and promotions with closer in-groups (such as family) are getting preferential treatment. Employee commitment to the organization (but not necessarily to the people in the organization) is low. Whereas relationships with colleagues are cooperative for in-groups they are cold or even hostile to out-groups. Personal relationships prevail over task and company.

MASCULINITY

5-8Capturesdftg

turk-askeri_489144
Turkish soldiers helping Syrian refrugees in the border during the crisis in Syria.

Turkey

Turkey scores 45 and is on the Feminine side of the scale. This means that the softer aspects of culture such as leveling with others, consensus, sympathy for the underdog are valued and encouraged. Conflicts are avoided in private and work life and consensus at the end is important. Leisure time is important for Turks, it is the time when the whole family, clan and friends come together to enjoy life. Status is shown, but this comes more out of the high PDI.

The USA

The score of the US on Masculinity is high at 62, and this can be seen in the typical American behavioral patterns. This can be explained by the the combination of a high Masculinity drive together with the most Individualist drive in the world. In other words, Americans, so to speak, all show their Masculine drive individually. The British, however, have the same culture in this respect. The question, therefore, should be: is the same drive not normally to be seen on the surface? This difference is a reflection of the higher score of the US on Uncertainty Avoidance than of the UK. In other words, in both societies we find the same drive, but Americans show it up-front whereas the British will take you by surprise.

This American combination reflects itself in the following:

Behavior in school, work, and play are based on the shared values that people should “strive to be the best they can be” and that “the winner takes all”. As a result, Americans will tend to display and talk freely about their “successes” and achievements in life. Being successful per se is not the great motivator in American society, but being able to show one’s success Many American assessment systems are based on precise target setting, by which American employees can show how well a job they did. There exists a “can-do” mentality which creates a lot of dynamism in the society, as it is believed that there is always the possibility to do things in a better way Typically, Americans “live to work” so that they can obtain monetary rewards and as a consequence attain higher status based on how good one can be. Many white collar workers will move to a more fancy neighborhood after each and every substantial promotion. It is believed that a certain degree of conflict will bring out the best of people, as it is the goal to be “the winner”. As a consequence, we see a lot of polarisation and court cases. This mentality nowadays undermines the American premise of “liberty and justice for all.” Rising inequality is endangering democracy, because a widening gap among the classes may slowly push Power Distance up and Individualism down.

China

At 66 China is a Masculine society –success oriented and driven. The need to ensure success can be exemplified by the fact that many Chinese will sacrifice family and leisure priorities to work. Service people (such as hairdressers) will provide services until very late at night. Leisure time is not so important. The migrated farmer workers will leave their families behind in faraway places in order to obtain better work and pay in the cities. Another example is that Chinese students care very much about their exam scores and ranking as this is the main criteria to achieve success or not.

UNCERTAINTY AVOIDANCE

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Photographer John Mireles is on an impressive quest to shoot portraits of citizens in all 50 states of America. You can see the diverstity of people even clearer in his photos.

Turkey

Turkey scores 85 on this dimension and thus there is a huge need for laws and rules. In order to minimize anxiety, people make use of a lot of rituals. For foreigners they might seem religious, with the many references to “Allah”, but often they are just traditional social patterns, used in specific situations to ease tension.

The USA

The US scores below average, with a low score of 46, on the Uncertainty Avoidance dimension. As a consequence, the perceived context in which Americans find themselves will impact their behaviour more than if the culture would have either scored higher or lower. Thus, this cultural pattern reflects itself as follows:

There is a fair degree of acceptance for new ideas, innovative products and a willingness to try something new or different, whether it pertains to technology, business practices or food. Americans tend to be more tolerant of ideas or opinions from anyone and allow the freedom of expression. At the same time, Americans do not require a lot of rules and are less emotionally expressive than higher-scoring cultures. At the same time, 9/11 has created a lot of fear in the American society culminating in the efforts of government to monitor everybody through the NSA and other security organisations.

China

At 30 China has a low score on Uncertainty Avoidance. Truth may be relative though in the immediate social circles there is concern for Truth with a capital T and rules (but not necessarily laws) abound. None the less, adherence to laws and rules may be flexible to suit the actual situation and pragmatism is a fact of life. The Chinese are comfortable with ambiguity; the Chinese language is full of ambiguous meanings that can be difficult for Western people to follow. Chinese are adaptable and entrepreneurial. At the time of writing the majority (70% -80%) of Chinese businesses tend to be small to medium sized and family owned.

LONG-TERM ORIENTATION

main-qimg-64780a79b21978af8541337b81abe4e4

Turkey

Turkey’s intermediate score of 46 is in the middle of the scale so no dominant cultural prefernce can be inferred.

But as your blogger, and as a Turkish person, I can tell you that definitely we are not long-term oriented. A lot of people who doesn’t earn much money have Iphones, expensive cars or motorbikes. Besides, a summer get away is more attractive than putting that money away for retirement.

The USA

The United States scores normative on the fifth dimension with a low score of 26. This is reflected by the following:

Americans are prone to analyse new information to check whether it is true. Thus, the culture doesn’t make most Americans pragmatic, but this should not be confused with the fact that Americans are very practical, being reflected by the “can-do” mentallity mentioned above. The polarisation mentioned above is, so to speak, strengthened by the fact that many Americans have very strong ideas about what is “good” and “evil”. This may concern issues such as abortion, use of drugs, euthanasia, weapons or the size and rights of the government versus the States and versus citizens. The US is the one of the only “Caucasian” countries in the world where, since the beginning of the 20th century, visiting church has increased. This increase is also evident in some post-Soviet republics such as Russia. American businesses measure their performance on a short-term basis, with profit and loss statements being issued on a quarterly basis. This also drives individuals to strive for quick results within the work place.

China

China scores 87 in this dimension, which means that it is a very pragmatic culture. In societies with a pragmatic orientation, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions easily to changed conditions, a strong propensity to save and invest, thriftiness, and perseverance in achieving results.

INDULGENCE

Turkish Kids Playing Football
Turkish kids playing soccer outside

Turkey

With an intermediate score of 49, a characteristic corresponding to this dimension cannot be determined for Turkey.

Again as your Turkish blogger, I will share my opinion here. I think we know the importance of children playing together, growing up together with siblings or cousins, etc. They are not forced to give up their entertainment or socializing time to study or work extra hours like in China or Korea, where students start school at 8:00 AM in the morning and finish at 10:00 PM in the evening.

The USA

The United States scores as an Indulgent (68) society on the sixth dimension. This, in combination with a normative score, is reflected by the following contradictory attitudes and behaviour:

Work hard and play hard. The States has waged a war against drugs and is still very busy in doing so, yet drug addiction in the States is higher than in many other wealthy countries. It is a prudish society yet even some well-known televangelists appear to be immoral.

China

China is a Restrained society as can be seen in its low score of 24 in this dimension. Societies with a low score in this dimension have a tendency to cynicism and pessimism. Also, in contrast to Indulgent societies, Restrained societies do not put much emphasis on leisure time and control the gratification of their desires. People with this orientation have the perception that their actions are Restrained by social norms and feel that indulging themselves is somewhat wrong.

I hope you found this book and the website as interesting as I thought. I will see you soon with yet another interesting blog, soon!

Hoscakalin!

Author:

Science lover, book enthusiast, a nerd who dedicated herself to education.

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