Customs and values
- Understand what is meant by culture.
- Know that there are different kinds of culture.
- Identify several different kinds of culture.
As the opening case about Dunkin’ Brands illustrates, local preferences, habits, values, and culture impact all aspects of doing business in a country. But what exactly do we mean by culture? Culture is different from personality. For our purposes here, let’s define personality as a person’s identity and unique physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics. No doubt one of the highest hurdles to cross-cultural understanding and effective relationships is our frequent inability to decipher the influence of culture from that of personality. Once we become culturally literate, we can more easily read individual personalities and their effect on our relationships.
So, What Is Culture, Anyway?
Culture in today’s context is different from the traditional, more singular definition, used particularly in Western languages, where the word often implies refinement. Culture is the beliefs, values, mind-sets, and practices of a group of people. It includes the behavior pattern and norms of that group—the rules, the assumptions, the perceptions, and the logic and reasoning that are specific to a group. In essence, each of us is raised in a belief system that influences our individual perspectives to such a large degree that we can’t always account for, or even comprehend, its influence. We’re like other members of our culture—we’ve come to share a common idea of what’s appropriate and inappropriate.
Culture is really the collective programming of our minds from birth. It’s this collective programming that distinguishes one group of people from another. Much of the problem in any cross-cultural interaction stems from our expectations. The challenge is that whenever we deal with people from another culture—whether in our own country or globally—we expect people to behave as we do and for the same reasons. Culture awareness most commonly refers to having an understanding of another culture’s values and perspective. This does not mean automatic acceptance; it simply means understanding another culture’s mind-set and how its history, economy, and society have impacted what people think. Understanding so you can properly interpret someone’s words and actions means you can effectively interact with them.