Culture Comparison

Introduction

Peoples values and beliefs on how they behave and interpret experiences either in groups or individually make up their culture; therefore, culture is a “community or group of beliefs and practises with which you share common experiences that shape the way you understand the world” (Bibikova and Kotelnikov, 2002).

One of the most notable figures in the field of social research who have extensively researched on the subject of culture and how it differs across regions and communities is Geert Hofstede. Hofstede’s study on the issues of cross-cultural differences in communities and organizations has been the culmination of several works of research notably, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (1991).

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It this Hofstede’s findings that provided the first ever most reliable framework of managing cultural differences and understanding cultures behaviours across regions that shall be our focus in this paper as we get to analyze and discuss several components of cultural differences for two countries namely United States and Germany.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension theory

In order to understand the wider context in which we shall analyze the cultural differences of the two countries mentioned above it is essential that we briefly discuss the concept of Hofstede model. Foremost, most of Hofstede research setting that formed the basis of his early findings was based on multinational organizations such as IBM from where he started investigating the phenomenon of cultural differences across regions.

This is because business is one of the best environments under which culture of a community can best be examined in practice; besides this, family obligations, marriage and other similar experiences such as death and illness provides good forums in which cultural values and differences can be learned. In both circumstances cultural practices are formed by deeply held cultural values toward employment, trust, wealth, power and communication (Hooker, 2008).

There are four distinct categories that Hofstede used to develop his framework of cultural differences; these are uncertainty avoidance, power distance, individualism vs collectivism and masculinity vs feminity (Hofstede, 1991). Power distance is the degree to which power is shared evenly in a community as well as the extent in which the community recognize and accepts this variation in power distribution among itself; this is notably one of the key findings of the Hofstede’s model (Hofstede, 1991).

“A high power distance culture” opts for strong leaders and has high regard for authority and hierarchical bureaucracy such as in US which is a typical example of this, while “a low power distance culture” prefers autonomy and personal responsibility (Clearlycultural.com, 2009). We shall discuss this particular component of Hofstede’s cultural dimension model in a later section and how it differs in the context of US and Germany.

The second component of Hofstede’s model is uncertainty avoidance; this is described as the degree to which people need laid down regulation and structures in order to function effectively (Hofstede, 1991). Countries that score high on uncertainty avoidance usually strive to put in place laws and regulations that are structured to reduce the factors of uncertainty in general while countries that score low on uncertainty avoidance have none of this.

The third component is Individualism vs. Collectivism; this is the degree to which people support self-centredness vs. the group interest; in the culture of the individualism, independent self-control is highly esteemed while in a shared culture, individual requirements are less significant than the needs of the collective group (Arrindell, 2003).

Finally, there is Masculinity vs. Femininity; this is a measure of how societies attach values and importance to their cultural gender roles and how this gender expectation differs across regions (Arrindell, 2003).

Comparison of US and Germany Cultural Differences

Power Distance

Based on Hofstede’s model that we have so far discussed, we can now be able to analyze the cultural differences between these two countries on the four major components that make up this cultural dimension framework. The power distance scale for instance is a reliable measure that was developed by Hofstede to measure the extent that community members tolerate or accept the inequality of power distribution amongst its members.

Now based on this scale United States has a score of 40 while Germany has a score of 35 (Clearlycultural.com, 2009); a casual look at this scores indicates that they are very much close together which means we expect similar behaviours and characteristics in this two countries as far as the issues of power distance are concerned.

Foremost, the fact that US has a power distance score of 40 which is higher than that of Germany by 5 implies that it is more inclined as a country to accept inequality in power distribution and consequently its citizens are more likely to bestow much power and authority and trust to particular individuals.

In the same way Germany is also inclined to behave in the same way when it comes to power entrustment among its leaders and will consequently cope well in such circumstances but slightly less than US citizens. So let us briefly look at the two countries political and governance system and determine if this behaviour is indeed reflected in their systems.

For US there is evidence that the people are comfortable with entrusting individuals with much power and authority in a system that they respect. It is certainly because of this high power distance score that they opt to elect a single person to run the country whose office has all the power concentrated in it; besides this, they have senators and governors who also have their fair share of power concentrated in their offices.

What Hofstede is arguing in his model is that no individuals can support or tolerate for that matter such a governance system unless they are comfortable with it and have respect for such unequal distribution of power such as is the case for US and to an extent in Germany as well.

In the case of Germany we realize that the tolerance of unequal power distribution is a bit toned down when compared to US; this too is evidenced by its political and governance system. For the case of Germany there are two principles who are at the helm of the country and responsible for overseeing it which is a clear indication of efforts to distribute power and authority across two individuals; these are the Chancellor and the President.

The Chancellor is the one with the mandate to oversee and manage the day to day activities of the government and is therefore the “head of government” while the President is concerned with management of the country from a wider perspective and is therefore the “head of state” (Hofstede, 1991).

It is then no wonder that German has indeed less tolerance for unequal power distribution and consequently scores less on power distance scale compared to US. Even so, for these two countries the power distance score ratings are just average when you compare with the highest score on the scale of 80 as is the case in Middle East countries, incidentally where most often the president is also a spiritual leader.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance determines the extent to which a society will go to put in place structures that mainly comprise of laws, regulations and standard operating procedures just so that they can limit the occurrence of uncertainty. Countries that have low uncertainty avoidance will have less of such structures in place while those that have high uncertainty tolerance will have many laws and regulations to manage all sorts of uncertainties that might arise.

Because uncertainty avoidance is a cultural phenomenon countries that have much tolerance or less tolerance of it will have systems in place that reflect the same. Germany uncertainty avoidance at 65 is considered high since it is well above average while US score on the same is 46 which is way below.

What this implies is that US will make less efforts in putting into place structures that are aimed at reducing the impact that uncertainty might make on its systems while Germany on the other hand will appear to be obsessed in trying as much as possible to institute laws that are meant to avoid uncertainty as much as possible. So let see how this is actually reflected in the behaviours of these two countries respectively.

One of the major ways in which uncertainty avoidance is assessed in societies is through analyzing the nature and commitment of the people to religious beliefs; this is because in countries that have high uncertainty avoidance much effort is made towards establishing a common belief rather than having a multidimensional or lack of it since this will be confusing.

This is the case for Germany which can be considered to be more religious than US and which in fact has one of the oldest and strongest parties that have religious affiliations; the Christian Democratic Union; in fact the current sitting president and Chancellor have been elected through this party (Arrindell, 2003).

In US, this is not the case and there is in fact no party that has religious affiliations, rather United States has just two parties, Democratic and Republican; even on its constitution, the US has gone to great lengths to separate religion from the government at all costs.

The other obvious way in which a society can be assessed on its uncertainty avoidance is by analyzing the systems that it has put in place in general; in Germany even in terms of city designs and planning it is very different from US.

Germans in many respects appears to be very methodical, systematic and well organized in most respects such as in terms of infrastructure, urban planning, housing and even in enforcing its governing laws. In US and on a direct comparison with German this can’t be said to be the case since the level of urban planning, infrastructure and so on cannot be said to be of the same level with that evidenced in German.

Individualism vs Collectivism

In this respect the Hofstede scale focus is on assessing the extent to which individuals in a society are predisposed to function as individuals or work as a team as a result of their cultural orientation; based on this scale Germany is rated as having a score of 67 while US has a much higher score than Germany at 91.

What this means based on Hofstede interpretation is that US is largely an individualistic country than Germany by far; in fact, in this particular component US has the highest score overall worldwide which means its considered the single most individualistic country in the whole world where collectivism or communal collaboration have little if any place among US citizens.

German is not so far off on this scale and would still be considered individualistic oriented but not to the same extent as US; indeed, this we find to be the case when we analyze the cultural behaviours of both these countries on this one particular component.

The most common way in which individualistic orientation is exhibited among societies is in the way that they attach value to personal success and the amount of responsibilities that they expect individuals to shoulder.

Thus, on a very broad benchmark, individualistic countries place much emphasis on capitalism system which is actually the hallmarks of this cultural orientation that they most often have perfected while collectivism societies will probably embrace communism. In the case of US the individualistic behaviour exhibited by their culture is certainly one of the highest and is a testament of what is most often described as the “American Dream”.

Consequently because of the systems and cultural orientation that US had put in place in line with this cultural behaviour of individualistic a person is more inclined to be successful in US singlehandedly than is possible in a country that has low score on the same, in this case let’s say like Germany. In a country like Germany on the other hand as much as it is individualistic it also places much emphasis on family relationships and to an extent cultivates close family ties as well.

Masculinity vs Femininity

In terms of masculinity the US and Germany have very similar behavioural culture with Germany having masculinity culture of 66 while US has 62 (Clearlycultural.com, 2009); this implies that on this component both countries are very much similar to each other.

The Hofstede masculinity score in this case represents a measure of the extent that masculinity in relation to femininity is expressed across societies; in German for instance men are more assertive, success oriented, dominating, power hungry and aggressive compared to women which is also the case in US.

All these characteristics are best illustrated in various forms such as in the way that jobs are distributed between male and females; indeed, for both countries the management jobs in many organizations are often taken up by men which is a clear indication of male masculinity

Conclusion

We have looked at the various ways in which Hofstede’s model of cultural dimension applies to different societies in different regions of the world; indeed as we have seen Hofstede cultural dimension framework is consistent with the actual cultural behaviours and country specific systems that exist for each of the two countries that we have discussed.

It is clear that the data we have does support Hofstede’s model of cultural dimension in more than one way and more importantly confirmed to us that US and German are as similar and different with each other in exactly the same way that Hofstede model has predicted.

References

Arrindell, W. (2003). Culture’s Consequences: Comparing values, behaviours, institutions and organizations across nations. Behaviour Research and therapy, 41: 861-862.

Bibikova, A. amd Kotelnikov, V. (2002). Managing Culture Differences. Retrieved from http://www.1000ventures.com/business_guide/crosscuttings/cross-cultural_differences.html

Clearlycultural.com. (2009). Making Sense of Cross Cultural Communication. Retrieved from http://www.clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions/

Hofstede, G. (1991). Culture and Organizations: Software of the Mind. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishers.

Hooker, J. (2008). Culture differences in business communication. Retrieved from
http://web.tepper.cmu.edu/jnh/businessCommunication.pdf

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