Cultural Differences

Latin American Cultural Differences


Though many outsiders of Latin American countries perceive many of them to be basically the same, they are, in fact, quite different from not only the U.S., but also from their neighboring countries. With over two dozen different countries, it should be expected that language, appearance, celebrations, and architecture, can and is different.

Cuba • On a decidedly different note, the Cuban government is still not recognized by the United States and all business and law specifically prohibits private commerce with the island by Americans. Culturally, it takes a lot to roil a Cuban but once done, reconciliation is just as difficult.

Argentina • The South American continent is home to Argentina, the most Spanish inspired culture. Argentineans make over 70% less money than Americans, but in turn, spend over 80% less on health care. Honor and respect can be expected in day-to-day life in the home, community, and business, and include making eye contact, greeting with a handshake from eldest to youngest, and when leaving, saying good-bye to each person individually.

Brazil • Unlike Americans who live to work, Brazilians work to live, putting their family, outside work life, and vacations first. Americans often don’t use all of their paid time off, whereas Brazilians appreciate and use all of their vacation time. The “time is money” concept does not apply in their laid back mind set and lunches can often run 2-3 hours long… something American’s surely wish for!

Venezuela • Similar to Brazilians, Venezuelans are generally unpunctual because in general, they do not really stress over time, unlike Americans who generally go by the “if you’re not early, you’re late” motto. In America, time represents something to be used wisely, whereas in Venezuela, it is meant to be enjoyed and not something to worry over.

Chile • Appearance is not taken as seriously in Chile like it is in America. Generally, expensive hand bags, accessories, and clothing are not widely sought after, clothing is fairly inexpensive, and fashion trends are not a concern. Greeting with a kiss is common, Christianity is widely practiced, and because of this, homosexuality is not accepted and divorce is looked down upon.

Asian Cultural Differences

As any student of languages can tell you, there are a variety of ways that the cultures of the Far East and the West differ. These differences manifest themselves in various ways including how one greets another person, how business is conducted and how much physical contact is allowed. While the nuances of every Asian culture would take an entire book to explain, here are some of the basics for seven of the most popular Asian destinations:

China – Social relationships are highly formalized and involve a very ritualized sense of reciprocal obligation. For the unwary, gift-giving can be quite confusing so obtain the services of a local before presenting anyone with a gift. Direct confrontation is also considered poor etiquette and negotiations will usually last far longer than a Westerner expects.

Taiwan – Although rooted in Chinese culture, Taiwan is far more westernized. Still, there are some distinct cultural differences from the West. In particular, handshakes are rare except among friends. Instead a slight nod of the head when introduced by a third party – yes, that’s the etiquette – is all that is required. Finger pointing is a no-no as is touching anyone’s head. Lastly, be restrained in your actions and you will offend no one – loud and boisterous behavior is considered uncommonly rude.

Japan – The simple act of handing or receiving a business card in the Land of the Rising Sun is fraught with the possibility of insult. If handed a card, you must study it for at least two minutes and remark upon its qualities or you will be guilty of rudeness. On the other hand, once the business day – usually a very long one – is concluded, you will be expected to be entertained by your hosts for many more hours of drinking and singing.

Thailand – Bhumibol Adulyadej, king of Thailand, is very respected. Concerning this subject, it is probably best to bypass this topic so a harmless statement is not mistakenly taken out of context. The people of Thailand are otherwise generally friendly, outgoing people. It is custom to enter a home only after removing your shoes, to return a friendly gesture, such as smiling, and also never to touch someone’s head.

Philippines – While Filipinos can be fairly obtuse when speaking, they are much more physically oriented in person – at least for members of the same sex. Do not be alarmed if a Filipino man whom you have just met puts his arm around you and guides you to your seat. Also, refrain from pointing at a person as it is considered rude. Filipinos are far more cognizant of eye contact and a simple nod will get their attention.

South Korea- Like many Asian cultures, bowing is a common way to show respect. Being introduced to a group of people, meeting someone for the first time, and leaving a room or gathering should all be accompanied with a bow. It is also important to remember that in South Korea, eye contact is seen as a threat and/or challenge and should be avoided.

Indonesia – Propriety is considered sacred in the Muslim country. Always be on time, never use your left hand to receive a gift or touch another person and always greet people with the word “Selamat.” The country is also quite crowded so physical contact is to be expected and one’s personal space will be far smaller and may make the unprepared Westerner uncomfortable.

German Cultural Differences

When visiting a foreign country, it’s important to know what cultural differences to be prepared for. While Germany has many similarities to America, there are some interesting cultural differences. Here are some common cultural differences to help prevent any misunderstandings.

Dining Out
• Many basic and surprising cultural differences occur at restaurants and pubs. Water isn’t automatically brought to the table; you’ll need to order it. Also, water comes either with or without “gas” (sparkling), tap water isn’t normally drank or served, and none of it comes with ice.

• If a restaurant or pub is busy, it’s common, and socially expected, for people to share their table with strangers.

• Germans almost never eat with their hands, only appetizers and BBQ is a safe rule. Even pizza is eaten with a fork and knife.

• It’s not common to say grace before eating, but it’s very common to say “Guten Appetit!”

Meeting People
• Many cultural differences also occur in communication and it’s important to know them to avoid offending anyone. In general, Germans are more formal than Americans. They expect to be addressed as “Mr.”, “Mrs.” or “Miss”, even by people they are in contact with every day (including co-workers). In addition, Germans expect to be addressed as “Dr.” if they have any doctoral degree.

• If you are going to attempt to speak German, make sure to double check the form of “you” you use. Sie is the formal version while the informal du could be insulting.

• Instead of saying “Cheers!” when toasting, say “Prost!” or “Zum Wohl”.

• While Americans easily call someone a friend, Germans reserve “Freund” for long close relationships. One of the biggest cultural differences that can cause problems is that Americans are insulted by what they consider standoff-ishness or Germans are made uncomfortable by Americans who are too close too fast.

Out and About
• Plan ahead, most businesses are closed on Sundays. Germans use Sunday to stay with family, but few Germans attend church.

• Keep change handy, you’ll need to pay to use almost all public restrooms.

• Cultural differences also occur at businesses. Most have separate offices, as opposed to the “open air” American offices. Also, most Germans keep their doors closed and expect people to knock.

These are just a few of the cultural differences. However, in general the German culture is reasonable and nice, if you’re not sure of something go ahead and ask!