Today is the first day of Chinese New Year. I’ve just returned from paying respects to my mother in law. Later I’ll be visiting my mom with my siblings. Tomorrow I’ll be visiting her siblings. When my dad returns from Malaysia, we’ll be having another reunion dinner on the 7th day of CNY, and we will be having lion dance. I’ve prepared red packets of money into pretty envelopes to be given to children and people who are working for us these years. For friends and colleagues, I have given them gifts of pineapple tarts and received similar food goodies in return.
What is the major festival you celebrate? How do you celebrate it? How do you give gifts? Chinese and Japanese give packets of money during new year. I know the Indians do too. I used to think this is such a practical and wise thing when I was a kid, because my mom would save the money for me and I get to spend it on something useful. Recently, at the celebration of my fifth year in the company, the university gave us money banked into our accounts instead of giving us a momento. Which I thought was so wise, until a fellow Irish lecturer sitting at the same dinner scoffed at the idea, thinking it so crass. Its meaningless he said, and no one remembers money. Most western cultures would give a clock for long service award. [Note: Giving clock is a “no-no” for Chinese, as it sounds like sending the person off to the other side of heaven.]
Hofstede defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another”. Today, despite the convergence of culture as expected with availability of information technology (the “global village culture”), cultural differences are still significant today and diversity tends to increase.
He identified the following main dimensions of culture that affect work practices in different countries:
- Individualism versus collectivism – loyalty to self and family or to the wider group. The extent to which people are expected to take care of themselves and to choose their own affiliations as opposed to showing a preference for a closely bonded social framework where people look after each other and organisations protect their members’ interests.
- Power distance – Members of high power distance cultures such as Malaysia accept status differences and are expected to show proper respect to their superiors. Low power distance cultures such as Denmark are less comfortable with differences in organizational rank or social class and are characterized by more participation in decision-making and a frequent disregard of hierarchical level
- Uncertainty avoidance – High uncertainty avoidance cultures have clearly delineated structures, many written rules even if they don’t work, standardized procedures, promotions based on seniority or age, lack of tolerance for deviants, strong need for consensus. Low uncertainty avoidance cultures prefer risk taking, have a tolerance of differing behaviors and opinions, more flexibile although the flip side is that some may not have a sense of urgency.
- Masculinity verses femininity – or quantity of life versus quality of life – relates to the degree to which a culture values assertiveness, competition, and materialism (stereotypically associated with masculinity) versus the degree to which people value relationships and show concern for others (stereotypically associated with femininity). It is unfortunate that Hofstede used such sexist connotations and some later writers prefer to substitute the terms quantity of life versus quality of life.
- Long Term Orientation – Why do Chinese give red packets of money for weddings/ new year/ birthdays or any celebrations instead of a gift-giving culture as the West. Hofstede added to his Dimensions approach with this last one that Chinese generally have a strong propensity to save and invest, thriftiness, and perseverance in achieving results and in the way they build networks and relationships, rather than short-term.
Today, with globalisation, joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions and foreign entry into new markets, the world is no longer a melting pot. Do you believe that the world is flat as Thomas Friedman sounded? Or do cultural distances between countries still matter as argued by Ghemawat? [Both are great thinkers.]
What do you think?
In the meantime, wish you a blooming success and a swinging good time this Golden year of the Monkey. May you swing from height to height步步高升 (bubugaosheng).
While I go to my mom’s place and fill myself with more good luck and goodies.