Interacting with people from different cultures can be difficult, but it is easier when there is an understanding of other people’s cultures. Cultural intelligence allows a person to understand why people from a certain culture might think the way they do. In his book Expand Your Borders, David Livermore dives into the ten culture clusters that make up most of the world. He expands the cultural intelligence of readers by giving them a small glimpse into the history and cultural values of these cultures.
The Nordics, made up of countries such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, value minimalistic, simple, functional designs. The people of this area descended from Vikings, who were successful traders, warriors, and skilled sailors known for their strength, speed, and endurance. In today’s world, one of the most defining ideas of the Nordic culture is Jante Law. Jante Law means, “Don’t think you’re anything special,” and it permeates most of Nordic culture. The idea is to place more of an emphasis on community achievements versus individual success. While more community focused, the Nordic cluster is still individualistic. Everyone has an equal chance to follow his or her interests, and there is a resistance to classify an individual based solely on his or her status.
Politically speaking, the Nordics prefer to come to an agreement through open dialogue and mutual respect. Also, most businesses focus on enhancing quality of life with the belief that society is better if all citizens have well-rounded lives. They are about working smarter, not harder.
Visitors should never be late to a meeting in a Nordic country. Nordics have very limited time to work, so they value punctuality and efficiency. Visitors should try to blend in by dressing modestly and neat. When communicating, they should be concise, clear, and focus on business first, as it can Nordics some time to open up to others.
Out of all the clusters, Anglos are the most spread out, spanning Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, but what ties them all together is their language: English. Oceans also border most of the Anglo countries, reinforcing their most identifiable trait, which is their desire for independence and space. Anglos believe in freedom, the rights of individuals, that all people should be equal, and that people should be allowed to struggle for self-reliance. The Anglo cluster lives by the idea of “quid pro quo,” which means there should always be a give and take. If someone does a favor for someone else, that person can expect a favor in return. Anglos are interested in immediate results rather than long-term 20-year plans, and they place value on short-term outcomes.
Visitors in Anglo countries should be on time and never ask how much someone makes, as it is a very private topic. They should also respect a person’s personal space; if someone is too close, it can be perceived as a threat.
The Germanic cluster, made up of countries such as Austria, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, shares the idea that rules and policies are necessary to regulate life. Germanics are very slow to change, and they will resist it as long as possible. While they are small in size compared to other clusters, they have huge economic strength due to the high-quality and innovative nature of their exports. The arts also play a vital role in the Germanic cluster, which is known for its poets, novelists, and musicians.
Germanics are individualist. There are a lot of rules, but those rules are meant for the individual. They look down on separating people by status, are very focused on achieving results, and appreciate order. One thing that makes Germanics stand out is the degree to which they go to avoid risk and uncertainties.
When meeting with Germanics, visitors should keep in mind that they love debates, so it may be a good idea to stay away from touchy or divisive subjects. They also appreciate punctuality, and education is highly valued, so visitors should avoid talking negatively about academics.
Some of the countries that make up this cluster are Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Serbia. The Eastern European cluster is one of the most diverse. Politics, language, economics, and religion are all very different in each country. However, what unites this cluster are the countless changes and transitions that have taken place in the region over several centuries While other clusters have had to deal with outside forces trying to conquer them, the Eastern European cluster has dealt with conquest and foreign rule much more frequently. The region has also faced many political changes as well, all of which have given its citizens a survivalist attitude.
Eastern Europeans can be a tough and cold bunch to those meeting them for the first time, but once someone is trusted, he or she becomes like family. While they have a survivalist outlook and are competitive, they are collectivist and look out for one another. This is also one of the few clusters where women have authority.
When meeting people from this cluster, visitors can expect them to be very expressive, including kissing, sometimes on the cheek or even lips, regardless of gender. It is helpful and seen as respectful to learn a few words in the host’s language, and visitors should always eat what is served–usually the best food is served to guests, and not eating it could be taken as an insult.
The countries that make up the Latin European cluster, France, French Canada, Italy, and Spain, have a rich heritage, and the Roman Catholic Church has had a huge role in shaping the culture, even for those who do not consider themselves religious. Latin Europe tends to have strong views on food and how it should be enjoyed. Coffee is to be enjoyed and not rushed, and France has very strict policies regarding its bakeries.
The Latin European cluster is paternalistic, and men are expected to act like gentlemen by holding the door for women, paying bills, etc. While paternalism can have negative ramifications, in the Latin European cluster it comes from the idea that those who have more privilege and power should take care of those who do not.
Latin Europeans avoid uncertainty and risk by having very predictable patterns and schedules. Members of this cluster identify themselves more by who they are than what they have achieved. Family name, wealth, and education level are all very important.
If visiting a country in this cluster, visitors should remember that dining out is not a casual event, nor is it to be rushed, so they should dress up a little more than normal and plan to be there a while. When eating, it is important to use utensils for everything and never start talking about business right away.
The Latin American cluster is very similar to the Latin European cluster in that both are very paternalistic, respect traditional gender roles, and have been heavily influence by the Roman Catholic Church. However, countries in the Latin American cluster, such as Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile, have been trying to break free of the traditions they inherited when the Latin Europeans colonized them. These inherited traditions are often seen as the cause for the economic and political problems they face.
As a whole, the Latin American cluster is socially conservative but feels the government has a duty to help those who are poor. There is also a huge sense of loyalty to one’s family, and family is considered to be everything. Like Latin Europeans, Latin Americans avoid risk and use religion and family to govern their behavior.
One thing to avoid when visiting this cluster is the American “come here” gesture, which is highly offensive and can be taken as a sexual solicitation. Latin Americans are more expressive and physical and tend to step close when they are talking. It is also helpful to know that time in this cluster does not hold the same value as it does in other clusters, so visitors should be flexible.
The symbol that really represents the Confucian Asia cluster–China, Japan, and Taiwan–is chopsticks. Confucius believed that knives and forks were too aggressive to be on the table, so chopsticks were created to not only replace knives and forks, but also to represent gentleness and benevolence at the same time, the highest values in this cluster.
The Confucian Asia cluster is built upon Confucian thought and focuses on two main ideals: li and ren. Li is the order and tradition found in the culture– it governs etiquette, customs, and behaviors. The behaviors and manners are very formal and symbolic, and there is a reason behind everything individuals do. Ren, on the other hand, is why liis practiced.It is the peace a person gets when everything is in order and done correctly.
This cluster is collectivist and gives preferential treatment to those considered insiders. Confucian Asia is also one of the few clusters able to focus on the long term over the short term. To hear the government making plans now for something that will start in 10 years is not a rare occurrence, neither is a company like Sony making a 100-year strategic plan.
Communication is based off of what a person says as much as what a person does. A lot of attention is paid to where people sit, how they dress, and how something might make them feel. The Confucian Asia cluster prefers to avoid conflict as much as possible and places value on traits such as generosity and kindness.
If taking a trip to visit any of the countries in this cluster, visitors should make sure to pay extra attention to manners and keep sarcasm to a minimum. Also, since those who do not use chopsticks are seen as inflexible or unable to adapt, visitors should try eating with them beforehand if possible.
The countries that make up the Southern Asia cluster, India, the Philippines, and Thailand, are some the most diverse, with not only different religions and cultures, but different languages and traditions as well. What is unique about this cluster is that given members’ tremendous differences, they have been able to live side by side in almost complete peace for centuries, partly because they prefer not to talk about religion and their differences. They are also very laid back and try to have respect for other people’s beliefs. Countries in this cluster have also been able to seamlessly blend together modern and external influences with their own natural environments.
One thing that sets this cluster apart from others is its members’ natural inclination toward service. Guests are always waited on, and it is acceptable for them to show up unannounced. Family is a source of identity, and it is important to respect and consider one’s parents. The Southern Asia cluster is collectivist and status and roles are very clearly defined with people acting accordingly.
When taking a trip to this cluster, visitors should eat whatever is served as food is seen as an extension of a person’s home. However, they should also be mindful of different eating preferences since it varies quite a bit by country. Personal space will most likely be limited because of how extremely crowded the area is. Visitors should try not to get too over-whelmed by all the different cultures.
A major theme that runs through the Sub-Saharan African cluster is Ubuntu, which means, “I am what I am because of who we all are.” There is a heavy interconnectedness that runs all through this cluster, whether in a rural, urban area, political, or business setting. At the heart of Ubuntu is family, and family in this cluster also includes the entire extended family as well as schoolmates, neighbors, and co-workers.
The Sub-Saharan African cluster is also deeply religious and holistic. Stores and businesses often have a religious reference in their name or scripture on their windows. Because of Ubuntu, this cluster is also very collectivist. It is almost impossible for an individual to think of him or herself outside of the group. Success is viewed as something that comes from cooperation, and a business that focuses solely on competitive strategies will most likely fail. The people of this region tend to be more laid back and believe that a person is more than just what he or she does.
Each of the countries that make up this cluster, Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia, is comprised of many tribal groups with their own customs, and conflict is a daily occurrence. While Ubuntu permeates the culture here, it applies only to one’s own group.
A couple things to keep in mind when visiting these countries is that because the people value relationships, it is important to take the time to make small talk before discussing business. Visitors can ask about family and how they are doing. Also, this is a very conservative cluster, so it is a good idea to dress modestly.
Because religion plays such an important role in the Arab cluster it is important to understand the five pillars of Islam:
1. Shahadah: there is only one God and Muhammad is His messenger.
2. Salat: prayer happens five times a day, every day of the year.
3. Zakat: everything belongs to God, so Muslims set aside part of their wealth (2.5%) for those in need.
4. Sawm: Once a year, Muslims have a month-long fast during Ramadan and they abstain from eating and drinking from dawn until sundown.
5. Haij: At least once in their life, Muslims must make a pilgrimage to Mecca as long as they are physically and financially capable.
Not everyone in the Arab cluster is Muslim, there are also Jews, Christians, and even those who are agnostic, but regardless of what religion a person belongs to, Islam still has an influence on daily life for everyone. When it comes to cultural values, this cluster is collectivist and family is the source of one’s identity. Family life here is very patriarchal; men, especially elder men, make the decisions. Large families are symbols of financial strength and speak to men’s virility, so they are quite common.
The Arab cluster tends toward short-term solutions over long-term plans because it is believed that God has planned everything so there is little need for them to plan for the future.
When visiting any of the countries that make up the Arab cluster, Egypt, Kuwait, and Tunisia, visitors should avoid using the left hand as much as possible since it is seen as unclean and reserved for cleaning oneself in the bathroom. Visitors should be respectful during prayer times, and if visiting during Ramadan, follow the traditional customs of not eating and drinking during the day.