Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The World and You

Today, more and more people find themselves living in a foreign country. Be it a temporary state or a more permanent situation (as for myself); regardless, the world is becoming more global and multi-cultural. Or is it? And what exactly is culture? These are some of the questions that is being answered in Geert Hofstede’s cultural research, which now spans five decades. The book is a goldmine for people who are puzzled by culture clashes, and want to increase their understanding of cultural behavior. And who isn’t puzzled by cultural enigmas these days? No matter where you live, you just have to turn on the TV or head down to your local market or restaurant, and you will be exposed to foreign culture.

Cultures and Organizations: Software for the Mind, Third Edition
It turns out that the environment where we grew up ingrains eternal values in us. These values can be analyzed and measured, with averages calculated per country to quantify regional differences. This is exactly what Geert Hofstede has been doing since the sixties.

This book has personally helped me to straighten out two types of question marks; questions relating to why I sometimes feel out-of-place in my new country, and questions relating to how international conflicts play out.

The research identifies six dimensions, where countries are ranked:

  • Power distance
  • Individualism
  • Masculinity
  • Uncertainty avoidance
  • Long-term versus short-term orientation
  • Subjective well-being (happiness)

For me personally, moving from Sweden to Israel, I can empirically verify Hofstede’s data that the greatest differences between the countries are in “uncertainty avoidance” and “masculinity”. Israelis are fighting the inherent uncertainty of life, while Swedes generally accept uncertainty. A trivial example of this, is that during my wife’s pregnancy we have had numerous medical examination and ultrasounds, more than I can count; while the Swedish pregnancy exams are counted on the fingers of one hand. The fact that Sweden is labeled as a more “feminine” country than Israel has implications, on many levels including personal, family, gender, sex, education, consumption, workplace, politics and religion.

I highly recommend anyone to read this book. And especially if you find yourself living abroad, you owe it to yourself to understand why your new life is so strange. There is logic behind it.

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