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The Cultural Compass

19.7.2018, , Zdroj: Verlag Dashöfer

The Cultural Compass

Edward Thomas


Doing business internationally, or travelling, often requires understanding people with very different cultural experiences. Do you know the words in English for the kinds of differences there are?

Can you understand the words on the left of the following table well enough to connect them with the descriptions on the right?

a) Making eye contact 1. showing that you know the significance of the person to whom you are talking
b) Greetings „in the flesh” 2. when you do something bad or stupid in the other person's view which makes it difficult for them to like you
c) Allowing others personal space 3. talking casually about general topics that cannot cause any problems
d) Recognising social status 4. suggesting things to people, such as food or drink, for their entertainment and health
e) Exchanging pleasantries 5. asking someone to join you on some occasion
f) Causing offence 6. doing things in a way that seems socially positive to the other person
g) Offering hospitality 7. whether you simply shake hands, or don't touch, or bow, or kiss the other person
h) Showing politeness 8. how much you look at the other person's eyes while talking, for example.
i) Extending an invitation 9. doing things in the order and degree in which they are done locally
j) Following etiquette 10. how far you are from the person in different contexts- for example while eating

Correct answers are here1


Below you can see a presentation on cross-cultural understanding. Read what the speaker had to say. There are a few word missing. All of them are nouns that talk about different cultural values. Some of them were introduced in The Cultural Compass. Using the list below, fill in the gaps in the presentation.

Hello everyone,

Allow me some words of introduction. I am Juan Gonzales, of Spanish origin, but I've lived 20 years in the US and other countries. I expect you think I am going to tell you about how you shouldn't make hand motions around Chinese people. Or how not to laugh too loudly in Russia. The fact is, there are many ways you can upset people and cause a) ……………………………. But I think we shouldn't be too careful - the similarities between peoples in different lands are always greater than the differences.

In every culture the key thing is to show people the b) …………………………… of allowing them to instruct you as to what is appropriate and what is not. This takes a personal quality that we don't know too much about in so - called western countries: c) ……………………………. This could also be described as teachability - it means that you listen, and watch, and learn, and imitate.

One part of courtesy that is very important in many countries is d) ……………………………. This often depends on the age of the people you are socialising with. In East Africa, age is very important. It is good to be a „mzee”, old man (men have more social status than women, generally), but really it is just balancing the fact that young people have advantages of health and energy - in this culture, old men (and women) are listened to more than young ones.

Another detail about East Africa is the importance of e) …………………………… it is common to greet people you don't know with „habari gani?” (what's the news?). The use of general questions like that and a friendly positive greeting is vital to show that you mean well. I would suggest though that „meaning well” is vital in every culture - and if you „mean well” you'll find out how to show it!

In the UK it's common that the first part of a conversation is about the weather. But as we come to details, we come to matters of simple f) ……………………………. These have to be learned of course, so its important to watch carefully the little rituals (habits) which make up people's social lives.

I will end with one detail of etiquette which I learned recently and which highlights my main point here. If you go into a room of Chinese to greet them, always look for the most senior and greet him first. Greet in the order of seniority which you see. Funnily enough, this rule was the same in Kenya, and when I think about it comes pretty instinctively. You see how cultures have so much in common?

That's it then. My advice is to watch, follow your instincts, make comparisons, and learn!

Thank you for your attention.

courtesy, offence, social status, etiquette, pleasantries, humility

Correct answers are here2


Look at the statements below which refer to the presentation you read in The Cultural Expert. Which are true about what Juan Gonzalez said, and which are false?

1. It's rude to move your hand too much when talking to a Chinese person.

2. Loud laughter is welcome to Russian people.

3. People everywhere are very different.

4. We should think very seriously about all the differences as they are very important.

5. Being old means that you are treated with more respect in some countries.

6. In East Africa a positive greeting is important.

7. It is more important how you look than what your intentions are.

8. It's important to notice details of cultural difference.

9. There are many similarities between countries.

10. It is important to actively learn from the culture you are living in.

Correct answers are here3


Below you can see some sentences which describe actions that are polite or impolite. Try