Understanding Cross-Cultures: U.S. vs. China
Understanding Cross-Cultures: U.S. vs. China
With the latest innovation and technology, people around the world are interconnected. In just a click away, everything seems easy to access. Communication is within one’s reach. Nations globally share knowledge and information. Building relationships and stronger ties among states of different backgrounds is possible as countries learn the basic cultures of their partner nations. As interconnections worldwide increase, we experience daily situations that require our interaction with the other countries across the globe.
Some activities that we do in our country may not be applicable to other nations since countries in general have cultural differences. Values, norms, rules and styles of doing things vary and sometimes uncertain about their effectiveness whenever used in other nations. Because of these, we struggle in understanding communication patterns that we need to adopt in better interaction with our neighboring countries.
Researchers around the world have already made studies in identifying cross-cultural differences of various countries, particularly in compliance training or issues that relate in understanding cross-cultural differences in interpersonal differences (e. g. Blickhan, Glance, & McBain 1988; Burgoon et al. 1982; Miller, Reynolds, & Cambra 1983; Neuliep & Hazelton 1986; Shatzer, Funkhouser, & Hesse 1984). These studies were used to identify basic cross-cultural differences in the selection of strategies that may be useful to a particular nation.
But the question lies on how well we know the people in the other side of the globe. Can certain guidelines be set to have a better interaction with them? Cultural barriers are part of the glaring cause of misunderstandings because different countries have various beliefs, traditions and behavior. What we consider as a normal activity in our daily living may have some varied effects on the cultural beliefs of other countries. Other countries may look at them as something negative or holy based on the early teachings of their ancestors.
The historical beliefs have been passed on to generations and up to this day some are being used as points of reference in decision-making and how interaction with other people is being portrayed. A number of studies have addressed cultural issues and assessed the nature of strategies within public forums (Bruschke & Wiseman 1992; Glenn, Witmeyer, & Stevenson 1997; Renz 1987). Studies, in particular, analyzed the strategies used in negotiations and arguments in the international and public debates with regard to the application of interpersonal communication.
Other researches dealt with conflict management in relation to cross-cultural comparisons. Some researches were even burdened in applying categorical schemes made by U. S. to other countries based on their existing cultures. Recent researches focused more on particular distinctions that has an effect on cultural differences (Ma 1990; Ting-Toomey et al. 1991). Issues relating to conflict management allowed the opportunity to look into perspectives that were culturally biased.
Society, culture and tradition are broad topics to discuss, but this paper will try to look at the simplest forms of creating an overview on how can we manage cross-cultural differences as we look into two countries that have great influence to the world as a whole. The U. S. and China are considered “superpower” countries that have a greater impact in the decision-making and policies with regard to the business trends in the global community. These two countries are an epitome of nations with major differences in the cultural, social and historical beliefs; yet, they are partners in a number of treaties and global business trading.
This paper will present basic understanding of the clashing cultures of China and U. S. and how both can learn from each other’s differences in promoting better business partnerships. Overview of Managing Cross-Cultures Cultural differences are a big issue whenever global conflict and misunderstandings are discussed. As national cultures vary most of the time, it is necessary for countries to know each other by understanding the historical background of neighboring countries in identifying and managing certain causes of conflict, development and diplomacy. As the cliche goes, “no man is an island.
” So it is but normal to recognize cultural differences and make necessary adjustments in interacting with other people of different nationalities. As global trading and other economic activities are growing out of bounds, there is an immediate need for cross-cultural communication. When there is the presence of greater interdependence, rising situations of cross-cultural conflicts may arise. With this reality, acquiring knowledge of cultural differences and understanding why people at the other side of the globe behave that way may reduce existing clamor and miscommunication.
Such differences are visible in the types of government and the basic principles of how decisions are made. Countries may generally be classified either loose or tight cultures. The U. S. has a loose culture, wherein a wide range of behavior, such as having more independence in the selection of choices, is allowable within the free trade of situations. Situations showing that the U. S. has a loose culture are seen with its low population density, less territorial threat, a democratic rule of decision-making, openness to media, high-promotion focus and low need for structure change.
These historical, socio-political and psychological attributes are not seen in other tight nations like China. In this case, countries that have partnering agreements with China need to understand the high situational constraints and behavior that Beijing has within a wide range of situations such as high population density, history of territorial and political conflict, natural disasters, higher level of autocracy, lower openness to media and lower rates of freedom of expression. Doing so, possible sources of conflict and causes of stress can be minimized and cultural differences can be managed (Gelfand, 2007).
Meanwhile in Fu (2001) study, it focused on the similarities and differences in the use of influence tactics across cultures under three broad categories. The study was in relation to the behavior of workers from different cultures working in an international organization. The broad categories studied were (1) rational persuasion or giving the work to the employees and explaining the benefits for doing so; (2) exerting pressure or seeking support from boss in decision-making, resigning employees, etc. ; and (3) socializing or using reward system such as buying meals, etc.
Fu conducted a survey on the impact of influence tactics among 1,700 middle- and lower-level managers in telecommunications, finance, and service industries of 12 cultural regions employing foreign workers of different cultures in Europe, Asia, North America and Latin America. With her previous research on U. S. and China as blueprint, her team was able to create six-work scenarios that most managers experience either with their superior, coworker or a subordinate. The scenarios included reactions for additional workload, asking for assistance from coworkers, requesting for a raise in budget and seeking approval of a new project.
In her study, she found out that social values are different cross-culturally, while personal inclination and beliefs are not. This means foreign workers may have certain behavior toward a situation based on their cultural background but when it comes to personal attitude toward work, they don’t vary significantly. Fu discovered that among the three broad categories, the rational persuasion is the most effective measurement among the targets. When workers are informed of what benefit it will entail after accomplishing a task, then they will work hard for it.
But the other two categories also showed considerable effects. General Perception of Culture: Chinese vs. American Culture Ernest Pinson (2000), in his fourth in a series of letters about the differences in American and Chinese culture, said that generally Americans have a distorted view of China and the Chinese people. He cited the first impressions and common descriptions of China as the land of rickshaws, noodles, and its leaders with many wives; Chinese people boiling their water before drinking, and the gloomy historic events of the country’s despotic rule during the ancient civilization and its civil wars.
But in the last 15 years, Pinson said China made great efforts toward improving its system by taking steps in attaining industrial and technological innovations. New infrastructures are being built everywhere. Although new buildings are set as additional construction in schools, he noted that the Chinese government only spared 3 percent of the gross national product to education. However, when it comes to industry outputs, China is ranked as one of the top 10 countries in the world along with U. S. , Japan, Germany, France and Russia.
Pinson said that generally there are three basic differences between Chinese and Americans. One, the Chinese people believe in the power of groups or they are generally group-oriented, while Americans are independent people and mostly they are individualistic. Chinese families are closely-knit and have a culture of living together even if the children were already married until the fourth generation. Meanwhile, most Americans are taught to be on their own once they reach the adult age and leave their parents’ house to get a life of their own.
Second, China uses the communist/mercantile system of government while the U. S. employs democratic/capitalistic system. With these different forms government, they affect how people act on certain things. While Americans are more liberal in expressing their thoughts and opinions and they can say what they what against the government, the Chinese are more reserved and tongue-tied about their sentiments. They usually follow commands without complaining and do not question authority.
Third, in issues about courtship and marriage, Chinese usually get married at late 20’s, 27 or 28; do not show affection in public; have high moral standards when it comes to serious relationships; condemn homosexuality; do not permit sex scenes on television except health videos; and do not exercise divorce. In China, you can not be admitted in college when you are married. Women can go to his boyfriend’s house, but men are prohibited to visit their girlfriends. Late married couples are adopting the one-child policy. Unlike Americans who have a liberalized notion of courtship and marriage.
In the U. S. , divorce is a common thing and public display of affection is a norm among relationships. Teenage pregnancy is fine and a student can still continue studying even if she is pregnant. Chinese honor the deceased loved-one by taking time with the other living relatives to gather each year sometime in April to visit the grave site of their dead. They do rituals such as talking to the dead, burning fake money and incense, and give simple prayers or poems in memory of the dead. Recently, due to expensive burial, the Chinese prefer cremation.
The Chinese also believe in certain taboos that Americans may think so strange. One of them is that names of people should not be written in red or it may mean their death. During gift-giving, do not give the Chinese a clock or an umbrella because they would mean a bad omen. Praising people is not a good motivation but rather a means of asking favors for the Chinese. For Americans, they do this boastfully as a form of motivating an employee. The Chinese don’t usually give presents during graduation, birthdays or anniversaries in the form of cards or flowers.
They don’t consider male strangers’ showing courtesy as a proper decorum. They would still ask a help from people that they know. Westerners consider forms of gigantic icons as evil such as dragon or Beowulf, but for the Chinese, a dragon is a symbol of eight other animals and it is seen as something harmless, funny and loving creatures (Pinson, 2000). Unique Traits of the American Culture Generally, Americans are independent people who have the passion to excel in all fields of endeavor. They are trained to be a leader and express their thoughts well.
In the article, “Some Unique Aspects of the American Culture,” (2007) several aspects of the U. S. culture are unique. Some culture may relate a gathering or eating as something part of getting together and sharing of special moments with friends and loved-ones, but for Americans they do not have any social significance. It is a normal activity of being with friends and nothing more. Unlike Asians who value closely knit ties with families and relatives, Americans do not consider family ties that important as compared to other cultures.
Some nationalities are just contended with the same old thing and doing what has been the usual, while the Americans like changes. The latter easily get bored and would want to try other new things and tap other ventures that they can learn something from. For some nations, social contacts are good ways of having friends, being part of the community and widening one’s relations to the neighbors; but for Americans they tend to be work-related. Just like Chinese who always master the craft of what they are doing, Americans like changing jobs and welcome career move whenever there are opportunities of moving up for better opportunities.
Office work is usual to the Eastern workers, but for some Americans they prefer working freelance or something that is not tied to companies, industries or location. Mobility in career means getting ahead for greener pasture. Education is seen as job-related and not for self-enhancement. Americans believe in the practical application of what they are doing rather than for improvement of oneself. Social movement in the form of having a good job is more for money, not social standing or social family ties. They take pride in having achievements, entitlements of being a doctor or lawyer or having a family member with a “title.
” Americans are good tax payers. They believe in the legalistic approach of doing things that there are valid points why a certain behavior can be accommodated. Their eagerness to understand other cultures is low; some are not taking extra effort of knowing the other nation’s origin, unlike other states with most number of immigrants such as New York and Los Angeles. Meetings are usually informal, but they put extra effort in dealing with them (Some Unique Aspects of the American Culture 2007). In understanding more the American culture, The ABCs of American Culture (2007) listed 10 tenets of what Americans believe in.
For them, success is highly regarded and relates to a number of characteristics in American life such as individualism, freedom, goal-setting, progress, experimenting, social mobility, making money and a positive attitude to something good. Generally, they love freedom and privacy. They don’t want other people interfering in their personal lives. Americans love having fun in almost all possible ways like watching tv and doing recreational activities. Having fun is a lifestyle among youth, retired people and even adults. Shopping is a form of relaxation.
They are usually doers and take some actions without really so much planning. Americans don’t like being regulated or controlled about their actions. What they think legal, they do it without hesitation. They like practicing the “just do it” attitude. Americans like gaining and improving something. Success for them is all about taking risks and experiencing pain. They look down on individuals who are always complaining. They view suffering as a way of leading to the goal. The U. S. citizens are known for standing for their own rights. They fight for what they believe in.
If they feel they are being controlled, they take all legal means to get even. They are money conscious about their worked time. They think that time is money. For every hour spent, there is money involved. They don’t like wasting time doing senseless things. Some Americans follow rules, but sometimes they are made to be broken. If they have thought of a better idea of doing things, they don’t take the usual way but rather impose their own strategy. For most of the U. S. citizens, they believe that God helps those who help themselves. You don’t ask for providence without doing something to help yourself.
Unique Traits of the Chinese Culture More than the personal traits, the Chinese are more structured in all their undertakings. They strictly follow rules and regulations. They follow authority and don’t break rules. They consider them as a golden rule and for every mistake there is a punishment. Their history, traditions, and culture are bases on how they act on certain things as discussed earlier in the paper. They have superstitious beliefs when dealing with business deals and making changes is confusing when introduced. They value social relationships more than business partnerships.
They plan ahead and do not take abrupt actions. They ask suggestions and impose proved strategies in their business transactions. Conclusion Managing cultural differences can be done when countries are willing to accept their dissimilarities and respect each other’s beliefs. As U. S. and China strengthen their global partnerships, they need to understand each other’s core values so that they will be able to communicate effectively. When one knows what the sensitivities of the other are, then they can talk about them and compromise on certain issues.
When communication lines are open and both are willing to adopt the practices that have been used worldwide, then both countries have no means of disparity and situational conflicts. They may not be allies when it comes to cultural beliefs but in business partnerships they can be united. Cultural differences are just a part of knowing each other’s identity. Being sensitive to such issues that may create conflicts may lead to lasting bonding and communal partnership. One country may not adopt the traditional practices, but they will know why other countries behave that way.
It is more of recognizing the values of a particular country and giving importance to them. After all, diversity and dynamism are ever-present in all life’s undertakings. References The ABCs of American Cuture. 2007. The ten commandments of American culture. [online] Available at: http://www. gmi. org/products/abcs_ten. htm#Five [accessed 21 October 2007] Blickhan, J. , Glance, J. , & McBain, L. D. , 1988. ‘Ethnicity and gender as it impacts compliance-gaining strategy selection,’ Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association, New Orleans, LA.
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