Socio Cultural Factors – Part 2
Welcome to this session of the International Socio-Economic Context Course. This class continues the review of the Sociocultural Factors Chapter that aims for the comprehension of how societal, political and cultural elements have an impact on MNCs activities..
In this session, the influence of aesthetics and material cultures within societies will be studied. Also, how verbal and non-verbal communication might have a positive or negative effect when trying to send a message in the development of a business context.
So, by the end of this class you will be able to recognise that a correct management of both elements is advisable for the benefit of a MNC and that while some elements might be unique in every others, due to increasing globalization, some others are common despite long distances.
Ajami. & Goddard J. (2015), define that Aesthetics pertains to the sense of beauty and good taste of a culture and includes myths, tales, dramatization of legends, and more modern expressions of the arts: drama, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, and so on. Like language, art serves as a means of communication. Color and form are of particular interest to international business because in most cultures these elements are used as symbols that convey specific meanings. Green is a popular color in many Muslim countries but is often associated with disease in countries with dense, green jungles. In France, the Netherlands, and Sweden, green is associated with cosmetics. Similarly, different colors represent death in different cultures. In the United States and many European countries, black represents death, while in Japan and many other Asian countries, white signifies death.
In many countries physical contact in public by persons of opposite sexes is not considered proper, and exposure of the human body is treated as obscene. MNCs must be exceptionally careful in designing their advertising programs, the packaging of their products, and the content of their verbal messages to ensure that they do not offend the aesthetic sensibilities of the country they are operating in.
Material culture refers to the things that people use and enjoy and includes all human-made objects. Its study is concerned with technology and economics. Material cultures differ very significantly because of tradition, climate, economic status, and a host of other factors. Material culture is an extremely important issue to be considered by an MNC. Almost everything a society consumes, or, in other words, whatever the MNC sells, or hopes to sell, is determined by the material culture of the population. For example, sell- ing humidifiers in a tropical country would be a failure because they are not needed by the local people and are simply not a part of the material culture. Alternatively, selling American-style barbecues would be a failure in parts of the world where outdoor cookery is not a part of popular material culture.
Technology is an important factor that affects the material culture of a society. As more and more new products and processes are made available by technology and become familiar to the population, they ultimately become a part of the material culture. One ex- ample is the cell phone, which has become an integral part of the material culture of most industrialized societies. Therefore, a US multinational might target France or Australia as a major market for selling cell phone accessories. There would not, however, be much of a market for this product in the nations of sub-Saharan Africa, at least at present, because cell phones are not as large a part of the material culture in these countries.
Tradition also determines material culture to a considerable extent. The French, for example, prefer drinking wine, while Germans prefer drinking beer, the distinction being largely traditional, but critical for a company aiming to establish a market for alcoholic beverages in these countries.
A country’s particular physical and geographic circumstances also play an important part in influencing its material culture. Space limitations in Japan prevent the use of large domestic appliances, such as large-capacity deep freezers or refrigerators, and preclude a real estate market featuring rambling suburban homes, even though the economy may be prosperous enough to pay for these luxuries. Thus, suburban homeowner living is not a part of the material culture of Japan, and this affects the type of products the Japanese middle class will or will not buy. For example, sales of lawn mowers, backyard pools, and playgrounds are likely to be extremely low in Japan, while sales of compact, sophisticated appliances and luxuries that can be accommodated in small apartments are likely to be very high.
The literacy rate of a potential overseas market or facility is used by many areas of the international business firm. The marketer uses it to determine the types and sophistication of advertising to employ. The personnel manager uses it as a guide in estimating the types of people available for staffing the operation. Literacy rate numbers, however, rarely provide any information about the quality of education.
Countries with low literacy rates are less likely to provide the MNC with all the quali- fied personnel it needs to staff its local operation and will necessitate the transfer of a large number of expatriate managers. Literacy rates must be used with caution, however, because they often hide the fact that a country with a low literacy rate but a very large population may have a large number of qualified professionals, who as a percentage of the population may be very small but form a fairly large absolute number by themselves. Literacy rates generally have a more direct bearing on the general level of education and abilities of the workers at the lower levels, because much of the population that suffers from illiteracy is at the lowest economic level in society.
When considering education as an aspect of culture, an MNC should not only look at literacy rates and levels of education but also try to understand the education mix of a certain society; that is, which areas are considered important for concentrated education? For example, a combination of factors caused a proliferation of European business schools patterned on American models. First, increased competition in the European Union resulted in a demand for better-trained managers. Second, Europeans began establishing their own business schools after they were educated at American business schools and returned home. Third, the establishment of American-type schools with faculty from the United States was frequently accomplished with the assistance of American universities.
This trend toward specialized business education is slower in less-developed countries. Historically, higher education in LDCs has focused on the humanities, law, and medicine; engineering has not been popular, with the exception of architectural and civil engineer- ing, because there were few job opportunities in that field; and business careers have lacked prestige. As income levels in developing countries increase, so will the desire for expanded educational offerings.
Brain drain is a phenomenon experienced by many developing nations, especially China and India. Because governments overinvested in higher education in relation to demand, developing nations have seen rising unemployment among the educated. These unem- ployed professionals must emigrate to industrialized nations to find appropriate work, which effectively represents a loss to the country that has spent substantial amounts of scarce public resources to finance professional education. The brain drain creates a cultural diaspora abroad, something also of interest to multinational firms desiring to target ethnic groups in advertising campaigns.
Communication and Language
Communication and language are closely related to culture because each culture reflects what the society values in its language. Culture determines to a large extent the use of spoken language—specific words, phrases, and intonations used to communicate people’s thoughts and needs. These verbal patterns are reinforced by unspoken language—gestures, body positions, and symbolic aids.
Spoken language becomes a cultural barrier between different countries and regions. In China for example, verbal language can consist of many dialects and different col- loquialisms and may be totally different from the written language. There is no way to learn a language so that nuances, double meanings, and slang terms are immediately understood unless one also learns other aspects of the culture.
Languages delineate culture. In some European countries there is more than one lan- guage and, hence, more than one culture. For example, French and Dutch are spoken in Belgium; German, Italian, French, and Romansh are officially spoken in Switzerland. Different cultures exist within each country. One cannot conclude, however, that where only one official language exists, there will be only one culture. The people of both the United States and Great Britain speak English, but each country has its own multifaceted culture.
An example of the problems facing an international firm that must respond to the language aspects of a culture involves the sort of computer hardware marketed in Canada. Although the Canadian government is officially bilingual, English remains the dominant language; French is dominant only in Quebec. After years of heated national debate about the country’s official language, a joint government-industry committee has come up with Canada’s first national standard for computer keyboards with both English and accented French letters. Many English speakers resent the government’s move to promote French. Hence, selling keyboards with both English and accented French letters could prove to be an obstacle in the English-speaking provinces of Canada.
Where many spoken languages exist in a single country, one language usually serves as the principal vehicle for communication across cultures. This is true for many coun- tries that were once colonies, such as India, which uses English. Although they serve as national languages, these foreign substitutes are not the first language of the populace and are therefore less effective than native tongues for reaching mass markets or for day-to- day conversations between managers and workers. In many situations, managers try to ease these communication difficulties by separating the workforce according to origin. The preferred solution is to teach managers the language of their workers. When communication involves translation from one language to another, the problems of ascertaining meanings that arise in different cultures are multiplied many times. Trans- lation is not just the matching of words in one language with words of identical meanings in another language. It involves interpretation of the cultural patterns and concepts of one country into the terms of those of another. It is often difficult to translate directly from one language to another. Many international managers have been unpleasantly surprised to learn that the nodding and yes responses of their Japanese counterparts did not mean that the deal was closed or that they agreed, because the word for yes, hai, can also simply mean “it is understood” or “I hear you.” In fact, it is typical of the Japanese to avoid saying anything disagreeable to a listener.
Many international business consultants advise the manager in a foreign country to use two translations by two different translators. The manager’s words are first translated by a nonnative speaker; then a native speaker translates the first translator’s words back into the original language. Unless translators have a special knowledge of the industry, they often go to a dictionary for a literal translation that is frequently erroneous or simply makes no sense.
Nonverbal language is another form of communication. Silent communication can take several forms, such as body language, space, and language of things. Body talk is a universal form of language that has different meanings from country to country. Usually, it involves facial expressions, postures, gestures, handshakes, eye contact, color or symbols, and time (punctuality). The language of space includes such things as conver- sational distance between people, closed office doors, or office size. Each of these has a different connotation and appropriateness in different cultures. The language of things includes money and possessions.
In this session, aesthetics as a relevant factor of running an international business was presented. As established, it is not only related to appreciation of beauty but more to the elements that are underneath, eventually is not limited to the recognition but the comprehension of the cultural elements that lead individuals to certain behaviors.
Also, the implication of communication of both (verbal and non-verbal) kinds were described. So, as a business professional it is also clear that sometimes the message depends more on the used media than the words themselves. Also, a significant message is also hidden by the unsaid words and that becomes important when negotiating or selling in a foreign market.
Ajami R., & Goddard J. G. (2015). International Business: Theory and Practice. Routledge (278-281)
Pellegrino, R. (s. f.). Cross cultural communication. Tedx Talks. Youtube (Video File) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMyofREc5Jk&ab_channel=TEDxTalks