Culture Matters!

Culture Matters!

Andrea L. Edmundson (eWorld Learning, Inc., USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-989-7.ch019


I have had my mantra since my first trip overseas–a six-month internship as an undergraduate spent in New Zealand–“Culture matters!” On my first international trip, I asked myself, “How different could it be? After all, New Zealand is an English speaking, developed country!” On my first day, I had to drive on the left side of the road instead of on the right. Can you imagine? They gave me the keys to a vehicle without considering this handicap. I circled the ‘round-about at least 4 times before I felt comfortable that my brain had adjusted to exiting correctly. I literally had to practice that maneuver mentally: My first hint that managing cultural differences required different thought patterns and practice!
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The Elephant And The Mouse

To understand how Americans have typically responded to cultural differences, imagine an elephant and a mouse sharing a small room. The elephant (the United States) is large and strong and thus, does not need to pay much attention to the mouse (other countries): It moves at will and expects the mouse to adjust to it. In contrast, the mouse (the rest of the world) constantly monitors the elephant, frequently adjusting and moving to accommodate it.

As an example, non-U.S. companies are willing to adjust their products, their marketing, and so forth. to accommodate other countries’ preferences in order to be successful (look at the Nintendo marketing). In contrast, very few American companies have decided to accommodate other cultures, even if it could lead to better cultural relations, better trained workforces, increased revenues, or access to foreign or niche markets (such as Yum Foods in China). However, this situation is changing in our globalizing environment. The mouse is growing larger and, eventually, the elephant will needs to pay attention. Culture matters…adapt to it!

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