Ways of Comparing and Contrasting Cultures

Scholar have contrasted and compared cultures for decades to provide ways of comparing and contrasting cultures. One scholar divide eight schemes for comparing and contrasting cultures. For each, he found descriptive elements that stress the cultural contrast. For example, one of the eight divisions concerns values. Another way of comparing and contrasting cultures is the use of universals. In this section we will discuss the way of comparing and contrasting cultures on the basis of five schemes. Differences between cultures are a matter of degree. The groupings will help us sort out the possible contrast and comparisons.

Individualism and Collectivism

Communication behavior differences across cultures can be differentiated by their orientation by individualism or collectivism.

Perceiving the Self

The contrast between the two cultural orientations become apparent when showing their characteristics. The main distinction centers on the concept of self – how we perceive and evaluate our self.

In individualistic cultures the self is independent. The self-concept is an integral part of U.S. culture. We assume intrinsically that each person is not only separate biological entity, but also a unique psychological being and a singular member of our society.

In our culture the self ingrains deeply. Our dominant self, visible in the form of  individualism, involves our relationships and is part of all of our activities. It is as though we have a wall around our self that differentiates our self from other people.

People in the USA typically are our self-image. The self is a unifying concept, providing a direction to our thinking, a perspective for our activity, a source of our motivation, and focus for our decision-making.

In contrast, in the collectivistic cultures the self is not in the foreground. In collectivistic cultures people may not think their own selves are much  different from other selves. Another self is not independent from one’s own self. Collectivists perceive themselves as part of a group.

An individual’s personal goals overlap with those of the group and if they do not coincide, the group’s goals take precedence over personal goals. The “I’ and “me” of individualistic cultures changes to be “we” and “us”.

For example, the Chinese self-concept, has deep roots in the social structure of the society. Its concept implies that anything that family members have done, are doing, or will do is an action of the self.

Group Perceptions

Many groups  are open to membership like neighborhood, athletic, church, recreational, political, professional, and school groups. Members join mostly for the personal satisfaction they get from their membership.

Communication behavior in individualistic cultures is likely to be assertive as group members perceive confrontation as advantageous. Disagreements help clear the air and winning a verbal battle is a measure of personal worth.

In collectivistic cultures the members are less likely to join many groups, instead restricting their membership to a group or two. These usually are the family and the work or school group. Their attachments to the groups to which they belong are strong, however, and the group’s goals are their goals.

The types of groups in collectivistic cultures are similar to those in the individualistic cultures, but they do not have the large number of members. Within the group itself the communication style encourages harmony and cooperation among members, and group success is worthy than individual accomplishments.

Status Perceptions

Individualistic cultures tend to reject status differences, preferring an equalitarian approach. Authority figures confer with their underlings frequently and try to avoid ordering or telling. Governmental regulations promote equality in virtually all areas of life, especially in the United States.

Paternalism is the prevailing hierarchical arrangement. Age or seniority, not ability or knowledge, often is the basis for promotion. At home, in collectivistic cultures, the eldest male rules. Each family member has a carefully defined role.

Nonverbal Behavior

Members of individualistic cultures smile more and are friendlier than the collectivists. They flirt more and engage in more small talk. Even the dance styles contrast. Individualist more often do their own thing o the dance floor and the collectivists do more group sorts of dances.

Masculinity and Femininity

Masculinity and femininity has nothing to do with biological qualities. Masculine refers to cultural personality characteristics including assertiveness, dominance, and achievement. Feminine refers to interest in people and independence.

In addition, members of masculine culture internalize their emotions. Money and things are important too. So, they work to achieve and to be independent.

Feminine cultures shows free expressions of emotions, compassion, and service. The people concern and care about the less fortunate. In contrast to the masculine groups, they work to live rather than live to work.

High and Low Contact

This contact classification refers to space in physical relationships. People in high-contact cultures stand close, touch frequently, and maintain eye contact. People in low-contact cultures touch little, stand farther apart when talking. They also make eye contact less frequently.

For example, Spain illustrates high-contact behavior in social relationships. The handshake is obligatory at the beginning and end of every conversation, even at work, where colleagues start the day by shaking hands.

Another example is that Spanish greetings include hugs and kisses. Men who are good friends usually greet each other with a hug. Men who are members of the same family often kiss each other o the cheek as well.

While in high-contact cultures, women and children are greeted by friends and family with a kiss on each cheek. When introduced to older people, young teenagers offer their cheek for a kiss. In Spain, persons attempting to move through a crowd simply touch those in their way on back and shoulder which prompts them to move.

High-Power and Low-Power Distance

High-power distance cultures, the bosses make up elite and the workers are the powerless. They have to follow orders. The powerless also accept the disparity between themselves and the powerful. Communication between the two groups is limited. When they do talk, the powerless normally agree with the powerful.

Low-power distance cultures support equality for all people with latent harmony between the powerful and powerless.They value independent and do not seek obedience. They make decision based on the input of all involved.

High-Context and Low-Context Cultures

In high-context cultures the members’ message are implicit. The bulk of the message resides either in the physical context or is internalized in the communicators.

Meanwhile, low-context cultures are the opposite. The message is in the words uttered. It usually comes in elaborate detail.

Members of high-context cultures read more verbal cues. They can understand both facial and bodily movements. Gestures and environmental signs are more meaningful than low-context persons.

People in low-context cultures are talkative. They are direct, informal, and sincere. They tell it like it is. Likewise, they are impatient with indirectness.

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