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Potential Effects of Cultural Patterns

Introduction

Cross-cultural communication refers to how people from different cultures communicate. It encompasses the differences and similarities between the different cultural communities as well as the effort different people from different cultural backgrounds put to communicate effectively across cultures. Cross-cultural communication has become an important discipline due to globalization. People from different cultural settings meet in various settings such as business, educational institutions and thus communication must take place between people when they meet in such situations. To overcome the problems that may occur in intercultural communication especially in the business world programs have been developed to help people cope with cross-cultural communication especially when in a foreign country. Furthermore, the cross-cultural communication comprises cultural anthropology, which is a field that studies the cultural variation in human beings. Effective interpersonal communication often leads to effective cross-cultural communication. This paper will endeavor to explore the potential effects of cultural patterns, such as the beliefs, values and norms of the Swedish culture compared to the U.S. American culture.

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Significant cultural patterns in the Swedish and American cultures

One of the communication patterns in the two cultural communities is communication apprehension. Communication apprehension refers to the constructs of reticence, shyness, unwillingness to participate in communication and “predisposition towards communication” (McCroskey, Burroughs, Daun & Richmond, n.d, p. 2). On the factor of willingness to communicate the Swedish people are generally described as introverted. They are normally silent and in most cases uncommunicative. This makes most of the children from the Swedish culture exhibit more communication apprehension than their American counterparts do. Children aged between the age of 9 and 11 showed greater communication apprehension than younger children (Watson, Monroe & Atterstrom, 1989, p. 68). Thus, communication apprehension in this communication grows with age. On the contrary, Americans are considered extroverted. They are usually open in communication and exhibit a higher willingness towards communication. Older Swedish males are more apprehensive than younger American males. “American younger females, and American older males; and Swedish older females were significantly more apprehensive than American younger males” (Watson et al, 1989, p. 72). The American culture can be attributed to the willingness to communicate because from a young age children are spoken to and encouraged to speak by their mothers. This is because the mothers often engage their children in conversation and thus as they grow up they tend to become more talkative. This often leads to greater linguistic competence for the children. Conversely less talked to children become less talkative and their linguistic competence is lower than their talked to counterparts (Tulviste, 2004, para. 1). However there is a change in communication pattern of Swedes nowadays and many have become more talkative especially after the changes in socialization that happened in the 1960s.

Communication competence is another pattern in the two cultures. Individuals who believe that they are competent in doing something often go ahead and do that thing. On the other hand, those who believe they are less competent or lack competency often shy away from engaging in activities. This is also true in communication, individuals typically engage in communication because of the belief in their competence. This belief makes either once reticent or talkative. The basis of judgment may be learned from one’s cultural background but one’s self-perception is critical in determining how one communicates. In the American culture people are more willing if they perceive themselves as competent to engage in communication regardless of whether they are actually competent in communication or not. This perception leads to the other pattern of communication apprehension (McCroskey et al, n.d, p. 3).

Communication apprehension refers to the level of an individual’s anxiety or fears that may be real or expected when interacting with people. Individuals who have high communication apprehension often shy away from communication but those with low communication apprehension are willing to engage in communication (McCroskey et al, n.d, p. 4).

Hofstede taxonomy

Individualism vs. collectivism. On Hofstede’s framework, America is ranked highly on the high individualism ranking. People in this country value individualism and do not take a lot of time in trying to form personal bonds. People are self-reliant and only look out for their close relatives. This could also explain why people only engage in casual relationships and do not often take time to cement friendships because they can be broken easily. Thus many people will not shake hands in public with strangers and after meeting a person Americans end the conversation by for example saying ‘see you soon but actually do not mean it. For foreigners who interact with them for the first time they may end up being disappointed as they wait for the newfound ‘friend’ to contact them again. They may also see that as a sign of rudeness or indifference because they had been given the hope of meeting soon (Jens, 1999, p. 5). In the Swedish culture, Hofstede ranks then lower on individualism. In the American culture, children are taught to be competitive and thus they work very hard to be successful because one is supposed to compete in every aspect of life. This makes individuals compete very hard to succeed and they lay a great expectation on the government to be successful in its projects. This competition encourages individualism as every person strives to succeed and beat the rest. Every child is raised to believe they are the best and can achieve the highest success while in Sweden children are never raised to believe they are better than other children are. They are raised to believe that they are equal.

The society is oriented more towards collectivism and most people will work for the good of a group or society. The children in this society are socialized to be moderate. Thus in everything that they do they have to practice moderation for example in the workplace they work hard but not too hard. Furthermore when they go to relax for instance at a party or pub they are not supposed to over it and thus do not engage in extremities (Sweden, 2010, para. 8). In addition, boasting or unnecessary show of in Sweden is not acceptable while this may be acceptable in America as someone who has worked very hard may decide to show off their beautiful house, cars and so forth. For example, in Sweden senior employees at workplaces are not supposed to dress in a fancy way to show off and thus dress just like their employees. Furthermore, due to moderation Swedes often speak calmly and softly. It is unusual to witness Swedes shouting at one another or displaying strong emotions such as anger in public. On the other hand, it is unusual to see some Americans displaying their strong emotions in public.

On Masculinity vs. Femininity, dimension American scores higher than Sweden. The American society is patriarchal and the male gender dominates most of the life’s aspects. The male dominates the society as well as the power structure. Thus, many women in the American society work very hard to be like men and therefore they are very competitive. This has encouraged many females to join the male profession and even shift away from the female gender roles. On the contrary, in Sweden, gender equality is highly valued and thus both men and women do not need to be in competition with each other. They can take equal roles in the family and in many instances women are encouraged to take up the role of providing financially for their families. Even the government recognizes gender equality and both men and women are allowed to take paid leaves when a new child is born into the family. A mother or father is allowed to take up to eighteen months off in addition they can reduce their work by up to 25% until their child attains age eight and is ready to begin formal schooling. This shows that Swedes regard families very highly and will do everything to support this basic unit of the society. For instance, a parent is entitled to 60 days off to take care of a sick child. Thus rearing children is not seen as a female role as males participate whereas in the American culture men are usually not given paid leaves when a child is born in other instances women have to take off unpaid leave when they give birth. The women from both countries may fail to understand each other especially when it comes to the role of the breadwinner as the American women believe this is the role of men and they on the other hand only pull their resources for the welfare f the family if they will (Sweden, 2010, Family, para.3).

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On Power Distance American, ranks at 40 and this means that there is equality in terms of power and people from all structures of the society are considered equal. This equality cuts across government organizations as well as within families. On the other hand in Sweden Power Distance is greater and people who are older or senior in positions are respected by those lower than them (Jens, 1999, p. 6). For instance, in a dinner setting one cannot offer a toast to people who are senior to them whereas in American anyone can offer a toast regardless of their age. (Sweden, 2010, Role of hospitality, para. 8).

Hofstede’s dimension for Uncertainty Avoidance is low compared to the average ranking. This means that in this society people are left to decide on the fate of their lives without much interference from the government, as there are fewer rules to control people’s actions and the results of the same actions. Different ideas, beliefs and thoughts are tolerated greatly. People in this society therefore are great risk-takers, which serves them well due to their competitive nature. Change is readily accepted in this society and new ideas often are given a chance (Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension, 2010, para. 3).

Long Term Orientation focuses on the extent to which societies embrace or are less interested in traditional values. The American society is low in the rankings and therefore the concept of traditional values is not highly reinforced. This society allows change due to its tolerance to new ideas and businesses in such an environment developed very fast as they embrace new developments and do not allow traditional values to become a hindrance to adaptation of change (Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension, 2010, para. 4).

The other dimension in Hofstede’s taxonomy is indulgence vs. Restraint. Indulgent cultures permit their members to gratify their desires freely. For instance merrymaking, consumption sex and so forth (Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension, 2010, para. 6). The American society is such and people are free to indulge as much as they will. This explains why there are many people in this culture with problems such as shopping addiction. They spend their money buying things they do not need and end up in big financial troubles. The society does not teach people to be restraint and try to deal with the consequences of indulgencies later. This means that more people in such a society are likely to engage in drugs and sex without a care in the world. On the other hand, restrained cultures tend to control people’s gratification. People are taught moderation and this has to apply in every aspect of their lives. This is the reason why people in Sweden do things in moderation and it is uncommon to see people engaging in indulging behaviors, as this is not permissible in this society.

The last dimension is monumentalism vs. self-effacement. In monumentalism cultures individuals who are rigid, proud are regarded highly and rewarded while self-effacing cultures are proud of individuals who are humble and accommodative and flexible. The American culture is monumentality and rewards individuals highly while the Swedish culture is more self-effacing and humble individuals are rewarded. This comes because of the regard for others and thus people check their emotions especially while in public. In light of the above Hofstede dimensions, people in the two cultures have different behaviors in different scenarios as explained below (Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension, 2010, para. 7).

Behavior in initial face-to-face meetings

When people meet for the first time, a handshake is norm. One is expected to give a firm handshake while maintaining eye contact. Greetings are very important in both cultures because they initiate communication. When people for the first time in Sweden introductions are a ritual because one is given a social identity in such meetings. In Sweden, one does not have to make introductions in all social interactions. It is common for people to have long conversations without introductions first. One is only required to introduce oneself if there is the possibility of interaction for a particular purpose. When people meet face to face in Sweden for the first time an individual can introduce oneself and then shake hands with the other person. Another type of introduction takes place when a third party introduces a new person to another person. The person being introduced is expected to shake hands with that person and say something like (agent) which means delighted. This type of introduction is very common in the American culture and immigrants in Sweden often have problems with introductions if they are not used to self-introductions (Jens, 1999, p. 11). In the American culture when one meets a new person they often wait upon a third party to make the introductions before they engage in a conversation while in Sweden a person can go ahead and make the introduction or join in the conversation without the introduction. Such behavior is not common in the American culture because introductions are very important.

Problems with different behaviors

This means that if anyone joined in conversation without an introduction in the American culture it will be taken as rudeness and lack of manners. Another behavior that may cause problems in both cultures is how meetings are conducted. In Sweden it is the role of the chairperson to lead the discussion by giving time to speakers listed down prior to the meeting according to the in which they request to speak. Each individual is expected to give short exchanges. In the American culture the chairperson is not restricted by a list and thus can give the floor to any member present that they deem fit to give meaningful contributions. This means that Swedes doing business in America may fail to speak in meetings if they fail to appear on a list, which is the norm in their own country (Jens, 1999, p. 9).

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Hand kissing is a common form of greeting in America and other Anglo-Saxon countries. However, this form of greeting is almost nonexistent in Sweden and thus an American may offend a Swedish woman by kissing them on the hand. This is seen as intrusion into one’s personal space. Another form of greeting that may offend Swedes is kissing on the cheeks but this greeting is common in America. People in American can interpret the lack of kisses as well as embraces in Sweden as a sign of coldness yet to the Swedes this is common behavior. People in American use verbal greetings frequently and this is a normal way of life whereas a Swede will interpret the high frequency of greetings as ridiculous or intrusive (Jens, 1999, p. 10).

In Sweden, giving gifts is very important especially when visiting a home. Visitors who choose to bring flowers should not bring chrysanthemums or lilies as these kinds of flowers are bought for funerals. Therefore, an American in Sweden may offend their host by bringing a bouquet that contains any of these flowers (Sweden, 2010, Gift-giving etiquette, para. 2).

Overcoming problems in cross-cultural communication

In cross-cultural communication problems may arise and one may feel uncomfortable. It is important to let the other person know you are uncomfortable with that conversation by telling them firmly what you do not like about the conversation. Care should be taken so as not to offend the person as they may be causing the discomfort unknowingly. Another solution would be to learn the culture of the other person so that one is aware of how communication occurs in that country to avoid communication breakdown or misinterpretations. This is very important because people from different cultures communicate differently. One should not use their own culture to judge communication in another culture as this often leads to ignorance due to ethnocentrism (Holenstein, 2003, Non-homogeneity rule, para. 2)

Another way of dealing with problems in cross-cultural communication is to ask for clarification especially in instances where people have accents. This will minimize the likelihood of problems arising.

Ascertaining an individuals behavior in a conversation

In order to ascertain an individual’s behavior in a conversation it is important to understand his or her culture and be conversant with body language. This will help one to make good judgments about an individual’s behavior during a conversation and be able to adjust accordingly. One should strive to know how people from the culture he or she visits view his or her culture. Seeing one’s culture through the eyes of the host helps one to interpret an individual’s behavior during a conversation.

Conclusion

Intercultural communication is now more than ever very important due to changes in the world that have led to globalization. People interact more than ever before and it is important to improve one’s intercultural skills to make meaningful communication. The first step is to learn about the culture of different people to bring an understanding and greater tolerance of diverse cultures. Hofstede came up with a framework that categorized different cultures by giving them different ranks according to his study. However, it is important to note that just because the taxonomy classifies a certain country in a particular way it would be wrong to generalize people from that country based on the taxonomy of common stereotypes. This is because people are individuals and a person from a community that is considered introverted might actually be the opposite. Therefore, it is important to learn about different cultures to make inter-cultural communication meaningful in an intercultural setting.

Reference

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension. (2010). Web.

Holenstein, E., (2003). A Dozen Rules of Thumb for Avoiding Intercultural Misunderstandings. Web.

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Jens, A., (1999). Are there Swedish Patterns of Communication? Web.

McCroskey, J., Burroughs, N., Daun, A., & Richmond, P., (n.d). Correlates of Quietness: Swedish and American Perspectives. 2010. Web.

Sweden – Language, Culture Customs and Etiquette. (2010). Web.

Tulviste, T., (2004). Mothers’ Conversational Styles across Cultures. The Cases of Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and the U.S. Web.

Watson, A. K., Monroe, E. E. & Atterstrom, H. (1989). Comparisons of communication apprehension across cultures: American and Swedish children. Communication Quarterly, 37(1), 67-76.

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