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Comparing cultures

Professor Geert Hofstede has extensively researched culture. His cultural orientation diagram is a useful model for understanding some of the stages people can go through when they experience a different culture. Remember – you may experience cultural changes at a different stage or not at all, however it is an interesting exercise!

Professor Hofstede’s most popular book Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind has been translated into 20 different languages. Visit www.geert-hofstede.com to compare your own culture with that of the UK and other countries.

  • ‘Honeymoon’ stage When you first arrive in a new country, cultural differences are intriguing and you may feel excited, stimulated and curious. At this stage you are still protected by the close memory of your home culture.
  • ‘Distress’ stage A little later, differences create an impact and you may feel confused, isolated or inadequate as cultural differences intrude and familiar supports (eg family or friends) are not immediately available.
  • ‘Re-integration’ stage Next you may reject the differences you encounter. You may feel angry or frustrated, or hostile to the new culture. At this stage you may be conscious mainly of how much you dislike it compared to home. Don’t worry, as this is quite a healthy reaction. You are reconnecting with what you value about yourself and your own culture.
  • ‘Autonomy’ stage Differences and similarities are accepted. You may feel relaxed, confident, as you become more familiar with situations and feel better able to cope with new situations based on your growing experience.
  • ‘Independence’ stage Differences and similarities are valued and important. You may feel full of potential and able to trust yourself in all kinds of situations. Most situations become enjoyable and you are able to make choices according to your preferences and values.

Adapted from “Orientated for Success”, edited by M Barker, Australian International Development Assistance Bureau, 1990

You may find the following books interesting for more information about British culture:

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour; Kate Fox (2004). Hodder and Stoughton.
The English: A Portrait of a People; Jeremy Paxman (1999). Penguin Books.
Notes from a Small Island; Bill Bryson (1996). Black Swan.
Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind; Geert Hofstede et al (2010). McGraw-Hill USA