Globalisation is the process by which “the constraints of geography on social and cultural arrangements recede and in which people become increasingly aware that they are receding” (Waters, 1995). While this process has become more rapid over the course of the past century, geographic and social constraints still dominate our lives, and as such national differences remain of critical importance. Our present level of globalisation is actually minimal — a person may know one or two people from China but has never been there and knows very little about Chinese culture. The only things someone from the Caribbean might have in common with someone from Southeast Asia is a love of fried chicken from the night market. National differences are still very strong, and they relate to the lack of physical and social mobility that still dominates our societies.
The Nature of National Differences
If the theory about globalisation is held to be true, national differences arise because of physical constraints on travel, and other social and cultural constraints. Most cultures in the world have been in place for around a thousand years, some much longer than that. Cultures are the product of language, geography, religion and identifiable sets of behavioural norms. The ability of a person to identify with a specific culture is essential to the existence of culture. The concept of national differences is closely related to culture, allowing for the fact that nation and culture are not always perfectly interchangeable.
Once established, national differences are reinforced in two main ways. The first is through physical boundaries. Travel between nations remains restricted for most people in the world, subject to passports and visas. This perspective is sometimes lost among Westerners, who generally are subject to fewer barriers to international travel. For most of the world’s people, distance and cost are further barriers to travel. Even among those with the means to easily travel, most do not take advantage of the opportunity. When they do, most prefer to travel into settings that are relatively familiar and comfortable — a Briton going to Cyprus is likely to end up in a pub full of other tourists than a taverna with locals, for example.
The second way in which national differences are reinforced is via the artifacts of culture. These include everything from the national flag or football team to religion, language and understanding of local issues. Even permanent ex-pats still identify in some way with their homeland, and it can take generations or even centuries to shake that identity, or to blend in with established groups in the new land. The Scots-Irish in Ulster are a fairly good example of a group that after centuries of living in the region are still not accepted by one and all as “Irish,” for a variety of reasons but usually related to cultural artifacts such as religion. Religion is a barrier artifact, as is language, because they clearly delineated groupings. The world is full of religious and linguistic minorities seeking national autonomy as a means of helping to reinforce their national differences to ensure that their culture continues in a relatively undiluted way.
The Homogenising Process
The homogenising process is in its early stages. Television stations in Abu Dhabi promote Western fast food and cosmetics, and in doing so may give the impression of large-scale cultural hegemony, but such impressions differ from reality. The reality is that while a Briton can eat a familiar meal and after that meal brush his or her teeth with a familiar brand of toothpaste, even those basic rituals will be altered for local cultural differences (e.g. order in Arabic, women seated separately). On other points, there will be no similarity between the experiences of living in a modern Arab city — the Briton will be completely shut out from the social and religious experience of the mosque, will not become involved in local politics, and will not see the land as anything other than foreign. Globalisation, at this point, has seldom moved beyond the superficial. Where it has — such as with respect to Disneyfication, which reflects the underlying cultural values that are transmitted through entertainment — its effects have not created much impact as of yet. While this process is related to the standardization of McDonaldsisation, Disneyfication contains more embedded cultural values. In this case, the superficial elements are usually adapted to local tastes (e.g. editing nudity out of movies for the Arab market) but the embedded values can have a more profound shift (e.g. depicting women in empowered positions in those same Arab markets).
Cultural differences can still be observed when crossing national borders and sometimes within nations as well (Bavaria vs. The rest of Germany or even Scotland vs. England). For businesspeople, these differences can be substantial. Geert Hofstede (2009) analysed culture along a set of dimensions including power distance, time horizon, masculinity, individualism and uncertainty avoidance. These different dimensions shape how members of each culture interact with one another and with the outside world. These cultural dimensions vary widely from nation to nation, meaning that there are significant implications for communication between cultures with respect to national differences.
When conducting business, it is critical to understand the different cultural dimensions, what those are for the target country and what the implications of that are for communication. Some business cultures emphasize relationships, so a Briton attempting to negotiate a contract quickly at an airport hotel will probably not succeed, no matter how good the terms are. Other cultures have a high power distance, so underlings are unlikely to take any initiative and will not make any agreements without consulting their superiors, something that might frustrate most Westerners.
It is also important for global business people to understand which elements of culture are regional, which are national and which are subnational. If doing business with four Chinese, from Shanghai, Vancouver, Hong Kong and Singapore, all four will have some cultural similarities but there will be significant points where all four have distinctly different approaches that derive from their cultures.
The four cities mentioned are good examples of highly globalised cities, however, where people are accustomed to dealing with multiple cultures and traversing multiple cultural divides simultaneously. Such globalisation takes place on a more fundamental level, where people view themselves as global citizens, familiar with many cultures and willing to work or travel anywhere. Often, people in global cities are of mixed ancestry and do not even think of foreign cultures as being foreign, but simply a new norm where the world truly is globalised. This represents a next level of globalisation, but one that is mainly only seen in a handful of global cities, most of which are located in “immigrant” countries like Canada, the U.S., Israel, Australia and some of the major cities in Europe (London, Paris, Berlin), as well as a handful of major cities in Asia (Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong). Beyond these places, globalisation remains restricted to superficial artifacts such as products; and to trade relationships.
The reason why trade relationships are only a small part of globalisation is that trade typically involved very limited cultural interchange on an interpersonal level. Mainly, goods and wealth are exchanged. The U.S., for example, gains nothing of cultural value when sending dollars to Saudi Arabia in exchange for oil. When the Chinese drink Starbucks, they pick up more cultural influence, but the act makes them no more American than a person in Seattle eating a noodle soup is Chinese. Products rank relatively low on the importance scale for cultural artifacts. When they do rank higher is when there is symbolism behind the product. A greasy hamburger is irrelevant to French culture; the opposition to McDonald’s opening in Paris was a reaction to the introduction of the concept of fast food to French gastronomic culture. Thus only when a product is representative of a way of life does it have the ability to influence culture. It can be argued that, for example, sending sit-down toilets to India will influence that country’s culture, but squat toilets are not an essential element of Indian culture. Sending Christianity to India have far greater impact and homogenising effect.
It is worth considering the impact of major languages, however. Languages are related to trade — English, French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic are all languages widely learned to facilitate trade. When learning those languages means not learning one’s native language, cultural hegemony has occurred and the world moves a step closer to monoculture, but for most people learning one or two extra languages for trade and global communication purposes is considered normal. Finns learn four languages in school, and there is no risk that they will stop learning Finnish, for example; but this contrasts with the loss of minority languages and dialects throughout the world. Protection of culture through protection of language is one of the strongest arguments for independence in places like the Basque region, Quebec or even Wales.
To this point, the cultural artifacts that rank high in terms of importance remain more subject to the constraints of the pre-globalised world. Immigration policy, distance and financial constraints reduce the flow of people. Religions are notoriously difficult to pass from culture to the next because of the deep level of personal involvement. Languages are passed to outsiders only when pragmatic, as in the case of lingua francas. As long as the barriers to passing important cultural artifacts between cultures remain, globalisation will remain in evidence mostly with what can be transferred easily — money, goods, and sometimes information and entertainment, but only when the receiving side is willing, which is no guarantee.
Part B. Junction Hotel is going to have to deal with an international set of guests and is likely to have an international staff as well. It will be imperative for the managers of the hotel, therefore, to be able to deal with both of these. (French, et al., p.25) note that the global manager must be culturally sensitive. This is important with respect to issues such as individualism in setting human resources policies, in particular incentive and motivation policies. It is also important with respect to power distance and the desire of the manager for workers to have autonomy in decision-making.
The Hotel is also going to have to deal with this with their guests as well. While some differences will be subtle (incorporating a sticker on the ceiling pointing the way to Mecca, for example) other differences may be substantial, specifically in the way guests from different cultures interact with staff. Managing a hotel in a globalised environment is challenging because a positive environment must not only be created but also must be sustained. This can be challenging, as the introduction of different cultures will change the dynamic within the workforce. Many service industry employers for this reason will emphasize hiring of one particular ethnic or national group in order that the department has greater cultural harmony, as this makes it easier on the managers as well.
The intercultural management training program will need to teach the managers of the Junction Hotel to understand the different dimensions on which culture exists, and to relate that knowledge to practical actions that managers can take to operate with a global staff and customer base. The program will need to provide background on the key dimensions, and provide examples of each using different cultures. This will help the Hotel’s managers to understand how cultural dimensions work in the real world, and how challenges can be not only identified but overcome as well.
Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions (2009). Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions [Internet] Available from http://www.geert-hofstede.com / [April 25, 2011]
Waters, M. (1995). Globalization. London: Routledge. Powerpoint presentation in possession of the author.
French, et al., (no date) no title — powerpoint presentation in possession of the author.
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