Exploring languages and cultures
Exploring languages and cultures

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Exploring languages and cultures

4.4 Doing business in different cultures

So far, the issues that have been discussed in this course have focused primarily on the use of different languages in a business context. However, doing business in international settings is not only about linguistic differences and closing language gaps: cultural differences, something already alluded to by some of the staff at Guidance, can raise just as many issues and are often more difficult to identify and understand.

Activity 34

Watch this video, which is an extract from the one you saw in Activity 29, and features four Guidance staff talking about the differences in cultural expectations and behaviour between the UK and other countries they have worked in. Then answer the questions below.

Download this video clip.Video player: Cultural expectations
Skip transcript: Cultural expectations

Transcript: Cultural expectations

Łukasz Gawryluk:
I think here in UK, everything is less formal, and the biggest difference for myself is that you can call your bosses by his, their first names, which is a bit unusual in Poland. In Poland, I used to start earlier and also finish earlier. We have actually flexible working hours, so I can start a few hours later.
Brian Tse:
China, in general, the people work for longer hours during the day and then meetings and business meetings are held over lunch as well as dinner, whereas in UK, um, generally we have very fixed working hours, so after work, people don’t tend to talk about work too much.
Shazia Maqbool:
Generally speaking, um, environment in UK, it’s more informal, more flexible, whereas in Pakistan, it is more formal and does not support too much integration, if you like, between people at work. People won’t call each other with their first names at work for colleagues, they would rather call each other with surnames, Mr and Mrs, and then for boss and for seniors, we don’t call them with their names at all. We either call them as Sir or Ma’am.
Marina Magnabosco:
At the beginning, it was a bit strange, trying to get used to call your boss with his nickname instead of his full name. Talking with colleagues in Italy, you would interrupt each other and everything. You might try to find the, the right spot to interrupt people, so always with respect, of course. Certain culture is allowed. Some other are not, but from where I come from, I think it is allowed. [laughs]
End transcript: Cultural expectations
Cultural expectations
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List the examples of countries and behaviours that they mention, dividing their observations into the following areas.

1. Attitudes to time:

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Answer

  • In Poland, the working day starts and finishes earlier.
  • People have longer working hours in China, and may hold business meetings over lunch or dinner.

2. Attitudes to hierarchy:

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Answer

Poland, Pakistan and Italy are more formal than the UK. More formal forms of address for colleagues and bosses are used in all three countries.

3. Attitudes to turn-taking at meetings:

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Answer

In Italy it is more acceptable to interrupt each other than in the UK.

4. Attitudes to mixing business and personal life:

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Answer

In China it is more common to discuss business outside working hours and to have business meetings over dinner or lunch.

The Guidance employees’ responses show that attitudes and behaviour in different cultures are not always straightforward or predictable. For example, although Italian workplaces are more formal than in the UK in some ways, people are more likely to interrupt each other in meetings.

Remember that supposed characteristics of national behaviour are not absolute and that generalisations of this sort are always potentially risky.

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