RW3's CultureWizard is a leader in the intercultural and e-learning industries. He creates customized, co-branded CultureWizard websites that teach culture and foster cultural awareness through interactive e-learning tools and resources.
CultureWizard works with experienced interculturalists globally and tens of thousands of employees of global corporations turn to his insights daily. Country specific information on over 135 countries provides a wealth of cultural information and strategies for success when living and working around the world.
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If you’re from the West, you’ve likely heard of Nicki Minaj. The Trinidadian-American rapper is known for her provocative outfits, brash lyrics, and dance moves that can’t even be aired on basic cable. She also has a loyal international fan base and a net worth of at least $45 million USD. Above, American rapper, Nicki Minaj dressed more modestly than usual at a recent Abu Dhabi performance.
Given her outlandish reputation, it might surprise you to learn that Ms. Minaj is one of the most culturally agile Western entertainers in the predominately Muslim Gulf States. According to his article by Al Jazeera online, she drastically changed her image for a recent performance in Dubai – swapping her lingerie-inspired attire for a modest wardrobe and omitting profanity from her songs. The concert was open to all ages and was generally well received by Emiratis.
But despite her best intentions, Nicki Minaj still has a lot to learn about UAE culture. Unaware of the laws prohibiting unmarried males and females from touching, she tried to hug a male police officer and was subsequently threatened with arrest. “I almost got into so much trouble,” Minaj told an American talk show host, “One of the rules is that you can’t hug a man if you’re not married to the man.”
Nicki Minaj isn’t alone in her struggle to navigate the cultures of the Arab Gulf states. Western celebrities have often been reprimanded for being out of synch with local norms and expectations. As recently as October 2013, pop singer, Rihanna was asked to leave an Abu Dhabi mosque while posing for photos. While she did cover her head and donned the requisite head-to-toe modest garb, many Emiratis found her behavior distasteful because Rihanna is not Muslim and therefore, her intentions seemed questionable at best.
While many entertainers are revered in the West for their anti-authoritarian antics and uncensored performances, their inability to adapt to local customs can make them personae non gratae in Arab cultures. “Some Western celebrities don’t have any knowledge of our culture or Islamic laws,” said Suhaila Al Mansoori, an Emirati national, “since they come for business which is to sing or do whatever and get money.”
Unsurprisingly, some more conservative Emiratis view these entertainers as unwelcome Western influence. Regardless, pop and hip-hop continue to captivate UAE youth. As one of the wealthiest regions in the world, it’s no wonder celebrities want to capitalize on these lucrative audiences. In order to do so, they must be aware that some of the attitudes and behaviors that make them popular in the West may alienate and offend Middle Eastern fans, or worse, get them jailed, deported, or banned.
What do you think of celebrities who adjust their performances and image for different cultural audiences? Are they still authentically portraying their image? Have you ever had to change your behavior to avoid offending someone from a different culture?
How united are the United States of America? Many Americans believe that they live in a diverse yet culturally unified nation that shares a common language, history, and values. But dig a little deeper, and ask someone about the America* they live in versus other Americans, and you may get some interesting responses. While most are familiar with “red states” and “blue states”, the cultural differences between North, South, East, West, and Middle America are vaster than we realize. Above, The Americas are a medley of different cultural regions, influenced by their unique histories.
This interesting piece on the Washington Post blog delves into the cultural observations of journalist and author, Colin Woodard. “Our continent’s famed mobility has been reinforcing, not dissolving, regional differences, as people increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities,” he wrote in a Fall 2013 issue of the Tufts University alumni magazine. Check out his map above to see just how many different “like-minded” regional cultures exist in the US and other northern regions of the New World.
Here’s how Woodard explains cultural regions within North America, particularly in the US:
Yankeedom: Founded by Puritans, residents in Northeastern states and the industrial Midwest tend to be more comfortable with government regulation. They value education and the common good more than other regions.
New Netherland: The Netherlands was the most sophisticated society in the Western world when New York was founded, Woodard writes, so it’s no wonder that the region has been a hub of global commerce. It’s also the region most accepting of historically persecuted populations.
The Midlands: Stretching from Quaker territory west through Iowa and into more populated areas of the Midwest, the Midlands are “pluralistic and organized around the middle class.” Government intrusion is unwelcome, and ethnic and ideological purity isn’t a priority.
Tidewater: The coastal regions in the English colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware tend to respect authority and value tradition. Once the most powerful American nation, it began to decline during Westward expansion.
Greater Appalachia: Extending from West Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains and into Northwest Texas, the descendants of Irish, English and Scottish settlers value individual liberty. Residents are “intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers.”
Deep South: Dixie still traces its roots to the caste system established by masters who tried to duplicate West Indies-style slave society, Woodard writes. The Old South values states’ rights and local control and fights the expansion of federal powers.
El Norte: Southwest Texas and the border region is the oldest, and most linguistically different, nation in the Americas. Hard work and self-sufficiency are prized values.
The Left Coast: A hybrid, Woodard says, of Appalachian independence and Yankee utopianism loosely defined by the Pacific Ocean on one side and coastal mountain ranges like the Cascades and the Sierra Nevadas on the other. The independence and innovation required of early explorers continues to manifest in places like Silicon Valley and the tech companies around Seattle.
The Far West: The Great Plains and the Mountain West were built by industry, made necessary by harsh, sometimes inhospitable climates. Far Westerners are intensely libertarian and deeply distrustful of big institutions, whether they are railroads and monopolies or the federal government.
New France: Former French colonies in and around New Orleans and Quebec tend toward consensus and egalitarian, “among the most liberal on the continent, with unusually tolerant attitudes toward gays and people of all races and a ready acceptance of government involvement in the economy,” Woodard writes.
First Nation: The few First Nation peoples left — Native Americans who never gave up their land to white settlers — are mainly in the harshly Arctic north of Canada and Alaska. They have sovereignty over their lands, but their population is only around 300,000.
Beyond the social and political clashes between US cultures, these differences can cause strife within regions. States in the Deep South, Tidewater, The Far West, and Greater Appalachia have notably higher rates of violent crimes than those in Yankeedom and New Netherland. States with increased violence tend to have cultures that value independence and self-determination while less violent states are more likely to allow government intervention.
How do your experiences working with North Americans (particularly US Americans) relate to Colin Woodard’s perspective? What sort of cultural differences do you notice between different regions?
*The demonym for people from the US is American but many Americans are technically incorrect when referring to the United States as simply “America”. The Americas, however, usually refers to all of North and South America.
At that rate, an individual could rake in $33,000 a year while not working a single day. According to Public Radio International, this may soon be a reality for all Swiss nationals. Because of a petition passed around by a grassroots organization, Switzerland must now vote on whether or not to provide all adults with a generous base income.
No strings attached. In Switzerland, any public petition that receives 100,000 or more signatures must be voted on and in a culture known for following the rules — this one is no exception.
This “base income” (2,500 Swiss Francs, monthly) has a different purpose than what’s typically called welfare, and according to Georgetown University professor, Karl Widerquist, “it isn’t as kooky as it sounds”. Switzerland is a prosperous economy with a relatively small population of less than eight million people. It’s not unusual for the tiny nation to find itself with a budget surplus at the end of a year while many nations often come up short. In this case, what better way to stimulate the economy than rotating in a little extra spending money? The fact that it directly benefits Swiss citizens would likely just be an ancillary benefit to the intended economical reward.
While just giving citizens money is raising more than a few eyebrows, recent studies in India and Africa shows that it may increase productivity. “A basic income, in a way, frees you to improve your skills and your efforts and do something that actually makes a bigger contribution to the economy,” says Widerquist. It’s likely that some will use this financial buffer while seeking advanced degrees and learning marketable skills but there’s another reason this may work as well.
The fact that the Swiss are already big spenders compared to most in the world might not hurt either. According to a 2012 report by AT Kearney, the Swiss are among the biggest consumers of luxury goods. This means that “free money” would give those who need it a boost while enabling already prosperous citizens the chance to spend even more in Switzerland’s well-established luxury marketplace.
So far, there’s no set date for voting but it’ll certainly be interesting to see if this proceeds. Switzerland is not nearly as group-oriented as a culture like India but they tend to seek a consensus and do what’s right for the majority. While the Swiss are not known for generosity without cause, the fact that the motion could help increase productivity and drive spending may make it an appealing option yet.
photo credit: 10travelspots.com
As many of you know, drinking is an important relationship-building activity in many cultures and can be a great way to bond with your colleagues. In China and Japan, drinking is serious business and it’s likely your host will offer you something potent. The pressure to over-participate can sometimes be overwhelming. After all, you’re an outsider in a foreign culture and you want to be gracious to your hosts by accepting all they offer.
Women do have a little more leeway in situations where drinking is the bond. “Women are not typically expected to keep up with their male colleagues,” says Barry Spaulding, “so there will be less pressure on you than your male counterparts.” This may comes as a relief to those who are not interested in doing several shots of baiji, but women are not completely off the hook when it comes to drinking across cultures.
If you don’t have a health or moral reason not to drink, it’s recommended that you try a little of what your host offers. If you want to participate but can’t drink much, it’s a good idea to say “I can’t drink much” and drink a smaller amount. “This makes you look like a good sport and shows them you are a grateful guess,” says Spaulding. As a woman, it won’t be necessary to drain the glass but if you’re not going to imbibe much, a good tactic is to make it seem more special and show great appreciation when you take a drink. It’s also a nice touch if you make your own toast at the beginning or end of the evening, either to thank your hosts or to congratulate your team on a successful endeavor.
For some women, drinking is simply not an option and that’s okay too. You can state up front that you won’t be drinking. If you want, you may use a real or made-up health reason which usually eliminates any protests. Teetotalers can even designate “drinking proxies” to drink in their place.
In China and Japan, women traditionally drink less than men but that doesn’t mean they are not expected to indulge at least a little. For this reason, it’s prudent to prepare yourself before your visit by learning something about the culture and its libations. This will help you avoid unpleasant surprises and make the best choices for yourself.
Photo credit: The Guardian
A restaurant seems an unlikely place to mend diplomatic fences but that’s exactly what Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh, PA is doing. This eatery serves more than exotic food — it offers patrons a chance to learn more about the lives and cultures of people living in nations the United States is currently in conflict with.
Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country. The restaurant rotates identities every few months in relation to current geopolitical events.
Theirt current Cuban version introduces our customers to the food, culture, and thoughts of people living in Cuba and those that have immigrated to the U.S. Developed in collaboration with members of the Cuban community, our food comes packaged in wrappers that include interviews with Cubans both in Cuba and the United States on subjects ranging from culture to politics. As is to be expected, the thoughts and opinions that come through the interviews and our programming are often contradictory and complicated by personal perspective and history. These natural contradictions reflect a nuanced range of thought within each country and serves to instigate questioning, conversation, and debate with our customers.
Operating seven days a week in the middle of the city, Conflict Kitchen uses the social relations of food and economic exchange to engage the general public in discussions about countries, cultures, and people that they might know little about outside of the polarizing rhetoric of governmental politics and the narrow lens of media headlines. In addition, the restaurant creates a constantly changing site for ethnic diversity in the post-industrial city of Pittsburgh, as it has presented the only Iranian, Afghan, and Venezuelan restaurants the city has ever seen.
Since 2010, the restaurant has changed its menu and cultural focus every few months depending on current geopolitical events. Conflict Kitchen’s real raison d’etre revolves around facilitating dialogue and encouraging political and cultural understanding. Orders even come wrapped in paper printed with interviews of people from the featured country.
Sometimes, informal dinner parties are hosted with a featured expert on world conflict. Cooking classes and Skype dinner parties with participants from conflicted nations tuning in via live video stream are also offered, allowing customers a personal glimpse at their “enemy” as a human being.
Each national theme is researched six months in advance by keeping an eye on the news and trying to interpret what is happening and what needs more attention. Owner, Dawn Weleski studies the culture’s history and seeks out experts to determine what people are predicting for the future of a given nation. “Then we dig deeper and try to hear what people’s personal stories are,” she said, conducting Skype interviews or sometimes traveling to the country.
Upcoming iterations will focus on the U.S. involved boarder conflicts of North/South Korea and Palestine/Israel. The restaurant has already started interviewing South Korean chefs and North Korean refugees to see what they think of the US and what they like to cook. “We were able not only to share a plate of food with locals, but at the same time share something that could be very sensitive “says Weleski, “for example, information about a North Korean defecting into China and then South Korea,”
Do you think places like Conflict Kitchen are an effective way to build empathy for other cultures?
Top photo credit: scheduleonedope.squarespace. com
You may be shocked to learn that for every three diabetes sufferers in the world, one of them is Chinese. World development experts are saying that China now outranks the US in the percentage of adults with Type II diabetes, with a staggering 11.6% of adults living with the disease. Just between 2007 and 2010, the number of diabetics in China shot up by 22 million, the equivalent of Australia’s population.
Guang Ning from the Chinese Ministry of Health says that with this increase comes risk for a “major epidemic of diabetes-related complications, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and chronic kidney disease.” Interestingly enough, many Chinese diabetics, unlike their Western counterparts, are not necessarily overweight, causing many to wonder why this is happening. The causes are a confluence of several factors.
“Poor nutrition in utero and in early life combined with over-nutrition in later life,” says Ning, “may contribute to the accelerated epidemic of diabetes in China.”
Not surprisingly, when a poor society suddenly becomes richer, rapid changes in diet and lifestyle can cause a sudden spike in diabetes. According to Dr. Chan Wing-bun of the Hong Kong Diabetes and Endocrine Center, after a while, people will become more health conscious and the rates will likely drop. He uses Hong Kong in the 1980s and 90s as an example — the number of diabetics climbed to 10% at this time but dropped to 7% by 2004.
But beyond the obvious health concerns, many still fear the illness could have serious economic implications for China and even bankrupt the healthcare system. Paul Zimmet of the Diabetes Federation worries about “the capacity in China to deal with a problem of such magnitude.” His concerns are valid — in 2010 the diabetes related costs in China were 173.4 billion yuan (HK$214 billion). Scarier yet, costs are expected to skyrocket in the next 10 to 20 years as millions more seek treatment.
What do you think the correlation is between culture, economics and diabetes in China? Will it get worse before it gets better?
Photo credit: NBCNews.
Think you’re a polite person? So does everyone else. In our own cultures, most of us get along just fine, but what happens when you’re traveling or living abroad? Like the spoken word, hand gestures can also be misinterpreted between cultures, sometimes leading to embarrassment or worse, irreparable cultural gaffes.
The below video will show you some amusing hand gestures commonly used in America that can get you into trouble abroad. See why the “Texas Longhorn” implies spousal infidelity in Colombia and the victory “V” is equivalent to the middle finger in the UK.
Here are just three of the seemingly innocuous gestures that carry negative connotations in different cultures.
Hand Extended, Palm Outward
In the U.S. this motion is frequently used to halt someone or something (e.g. a taxi about to run you down in a crosswalk). In Greece, the same gesture—called a moutza—is actually an ancient insult, dating back to the Byzantine Empire. When Greeks and Romans were opponents, ancient Greeks would pick up mud or cinders (called moutzos) and wipe them on the faces of Roman prisoners with open fingers. The meaning has changed over time, and the modern connotation is actually quite salacious—each of your five fingers representing a specific insult.
The “Thumbs Up”
What may seem like a universally positive gesture in the US is actually super offensive in several countries in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Latin America. For thousands of year, this common sign has been confusing the masses. Contrary to popular belief, the gesture was not used by Roman emperors to spare a gladiator. While you may think you’re telling your colleague that everything is copacetic, what you’re really saying is that they can take whatever they’re talking about and swiftly shove it up their posterior. However universal this one seems, do yourself a favor and skip it.
Beckoning with Your Hands
Beware: what you think is a benign gesture is only used for dogs in Singapore, Japan, the Philippines and Malaysia. In Japan and Malaysia, it’s not malicious, but still very rude. However, in the Philippines those who summon other people this way may even face criminal charges. Why? Because you’re essentially calling them an asong kalye, or “street dog”. If you must use a beckoning gesture, try extending your arm, hand facing toward the floor and making a fanning motion.
This cultural interpretation of key expressions in Brazilian Portuguese is a great rendition of The Economist’s other guide to what the British mean when they speak. The cultural values Brazilian society espouses are inherent in these helpful translations.
What Brazilians say: No (Não)
What foreigners hear (on the very rare occasion a Brazilian says it): No
What Brazilians mean: Absolutely never, not in a million years, this is the craziest thing I’ve ever been asked
What this means is that saying no, in certain cases, is reserved for extreme situations where providing an indirect “no” would not be appropriate. “No” is a harsh word for Brazilians who prefer to keep things friendly and cordial. Asking yes / no questions often traps you into a box where the answer will undoubtedly need some reading between the lines, especially with respect to non-verbal gestures.
In the following example, it’s easy to fall into the same trap that without cultural translation results in disillusion.
What Brazilians say: I’ll show up later (Vou aparecer mais tarde)
What foreigners hear: He’ll be here later
What Brazilians mean: I won’t be coming
Of course, the meaning this writer has attributed to these cases will not apply to every interaction you have, but the trappings of Brazilian behavioral norms are what’s important to keep in mind. How can you adjust the way you listen to factor in these cultural values?