Notes on Intercultural Communication

Posts Tagged ‘conception of time

A Geography of Time

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Robert Levine – A Geography of Time

The Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist, or How Every Culture Keeps Time Just a Little Bit Differently

(…) As Miles Davis said, “Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” How we construct and use our time, in the end, defines the texture and quality of our existence. To seize control over the structure of one’s time is my own definition of what it means, as it is said in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to avoid “devoting thyself to the useless doings of this life.” And that, more than anything, is what I have taken away from my studies of the time senses of other cultures. Borrowing again from Russell Banks’s image of Hawthorne’s Wakefield: I had moved out of my house and this is what appeared when I looked back to “see what’s true there.” Simply that. (…)

In each country, we went into one or more of the major cities in order to measure three indicators of the tempo of life.

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First, we measured the average walking speed of randomly selected pedestrians over a distance of 60 feet.

(…)

The second experiment focused on an example of speed in the workplace: the time it took postal clerks to fulfill a standard request for stamps. In each city, we presented clerks with a note in the local language requesting a common stamp—the now standard 32-center in the United States, for example. They were also handed paper money—the equivalent of a $5 bill. We measured the elapsed time between the passing of the note and the completion of the request.

Third, as an estimate of a city’s interest in clock time, we observed the accuracy of 15 randomly selected bank clocks in main downtown areas in each city. Times on the 15 clocks were compared to those reported by the phone company.

The three scores for each country were then statistically combined into an overall pace-of-life score.

(…)

Geography of Time Fast Countries

Geography of Time Slow Countries

(…)

We can speculate about the direction of causality between the tempo of life and economic conditions. Most likely, the arrow points both ways. Places with active economies put greater value on time, and places that value time will be more likely to have active economies. Economic variables and the tempo tend to be mutually reinforcing; they come in a package.

(…)

It is one of the great ironies of modern times that, with all of our time-saving creations, people have less time to themselves than ever before. Life in the Middle Ages is usually portrayed as bleak and dreary, but one commodity people had more of than their successors was leisure time. Until the Industrial Revolution, in fact, most evidence suggests that people showed little inclination to work. In Europe through the Middle Ages, the average number of holidays per year was around 115 days. It is interesting to note that still today, poorer countries take more holidays, on the average,than richer ones.

(…)

Our results confirmed the hypothesis: greater individualism was highly related to faster tempos.

(…)

How we define and measure our time does, in fact, border on the religious. And people do not change religions lightly.

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Since our own study found a very strong relationship between economic vitality and the pace of life, we hypothesized that this should also lead to a positive relationship between the pace of life and happiness. And this is exactly what we found: in all of our pace-of-life experiments, people in faster places were more likely to be satisfied with their lives.

(…)

It is in the middle ground between too much and too little pressure that people enter the experience, described in an earlier chapter, called “flow.” When Csikszentmihalyi kept tabs on people by having them wear beepers, asking them at frequent intervals what they were engaged in and how good they felt, the most positive reports came when people were in moderately challenging activities that engaged their skills. People doing too many things at once tended to be overstressed. But those who were doing nothing at all experienced little sense of flow and little pleasure. Many contemporary psychologists believe the flow experience is an important key to a happy and satisfying life. Studies have shown that flow experiences are not only exhilarating but empowering: they raise self-esteem, competence, and one’s overall sense of well-being.

My own studies, we have seen, point to the mixed consequences of a rapid pace of life. People in faster environments are more prone to potentially deleterious stress, as evidenced by higher rates of coronary heart disease; but they are also more likely to achieve a comfortable standard of living and, at least in part because of this, are more satisfied with their lives as a whole.

Download the full pdf here. (C) 1997 Robert Levine All rights reserved.

(received 12.07.2013 at http://www.cycle-planet.com/paleo/AGeographyofTime.pdf)

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See also Arrow, Circle, Spiral and Cylinder – Different Conceptions of Time and History and Map of Happiness.

African and Western Conceptions of Time and History

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Bert Hamminga – The Western versus the African Time Concept – referring to John S. Mbiti (African Religions and Philosophy, London: Heinemann 1969)

The difference between the Western mechanical and African emotional time consciousness is a highly instructive one: it explains a lot of intercultural differences and problems of intercultural contact in any kind of business. Of course, also Westerners experience emotional time. Important events in your life, say a new job in another town, a marriage, a baby “mark” your past in that some things will later be experienced as before or after this or that important event. The typical holiday experience is that after a few days you feel you left home ages ago, while upon return it feels you just left. In waiting for something time “goes slowly”, in hurrying for something time “goes fast”. The difference between Western and African time consciousness is that a Westerner asks: “when did your grandfather die”. The answer is “15 years ago”. The African asks “When was 15 years ago”. And the answer is “When your grandfather died”. What is the difference? That is far less obvious than it seems at first sight.

Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) writes her young Kikuju cook: “His memory for recipes was awesome. He could not read en did not know English, so cookbooks had no value to him, but he piled up everything ever taught to him, with the help of his own system that I never got hold on, in his unattractive head. He named the diverse dishes after some event on the day he had learned to make them, so he spoke of the sauce of the ‘lightning that struck in the tree’, and the sauce of ‘the grey horse that died'”.

The African interpretation of time starts thus: events occur in some order: there is “before” and there is “after”. In African languages, there is a number of tenses that indicate roughly “how much” before, and how much after. There usually is a tense for “at that time”, for “after that”, for “a considerable time after that”, and “a very long time after”. That does not sound strange to a Westerner. He also has such rough ideas on events. But the Westerner’s clock and calendar gives him the option of filing the event as having occurred at a certain numerical date-time. The Westerner deems that more “precise”. He wants to have trains running on schedule and fly to the moon. Africans have different aims in life. They want to “live” their own way. Traditionally, Africans have no concept of historical progress: in every life of every person the same happens. There is no thrive to change things. They have another idea of preciseness: emotional preciseness. The past is a chain of events. It has its places that are marked in memory, just as when you travel far through an unknown area. You will remember the river crossed, the mountain pass climbed. In time, you remember your eldest brother getting his first child, your great grandfather dying, your harvest spoiled by torrential rains, a war. Those are the tops of the “hours” in the memory of the African. Between them are the minor events as “minutes”. Westerners would say these hours do not have equal length. Africans are not interested at all in such considerations. By talking and passing over history orally to one another, they cut themselves a wooden past that feels like a comfortable  place well connected to the present. A history to rest upon comfortably. Not so Westerners, who run puffing after the time they created to be their master! The kind of conversational context in which you create and pass over to younger generations the history in a time framework in which history itself is the “clock”, is dubbed “Zamani” (an abstraction of a Kiswahili concept) by Mbiti.

About “cardinal” and “ordinal”: if you count things you use cardinal numbers (like money, tanks and Western time). You use ordinal numbers if you merely want to indicate where (between which other things) units have their place in a succession (like the ranking in a competition  and African time). Thus, cardinal numbers you can meaningfully add and substract, ordinal numbers no not carry such meaning (rank number 2 and 3 in a competition are not “together 5”).

Mbiti tells: Waiting for the start of a play by the Ebonies in Jinja, I met a Ugandan sister who just returned from her first visit to London. I asked her: one Ugandan week, how many London weeks would it be. She immediately understood my question, did not think long and said: six. This would have tremendous consequences: it means that in one week’s hard work, a Ugandan suffers six times as much as a Londoner. If he is free for one week, he enjoys six times as much than a Londoner. If the number six would be a reasonable estimate, which I would be inclined to think, it would be very irrational for a Ugandan to work as hard as a Londoner, especially when you add that the Londoner feels sure about the future enjoyment of his working results and to the Ugandan the future is very unsure and hypothetical.

http://www.mindphiles.com/floor/teaching/timeafr/timeafri.htm

Or get the whole article here (click on the text).

You may also check about Asian conceptions of time in a previous article here (click on the text)

E.T.Hall – High Context Communication vs. Low Context Communication

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High Context Communication and Low Context Communication

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The Context

The context gives additional information, which is necessary to encode the whole situation / background of a given information.

high context low context

(retrieved 10.05.2014 at http://my.ilstu.edu/~jrbaldw/372/Values.htm)

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High Context

An example for High Context Communication would be the question, where my (the editor’s) black pepper is. A high context information would be: above my micro-wave. Those people, who know me, my apartment and my kitchen can immediately find the pepper. Their context is to know who I am, where I live, where my kitchen is and where micro-wave. Without the context (additional information) there is not enough information to encrypt the proper meaning.

In high context communication an information can have different meanings according. It needs additional information to encode (understand). Speaking in examples is also a high context information.

  • Less verbally explicit communication, less written/formal information
  • More internalized understandings of what is communicated
  • Multiple cross-cutting ties and intersections with others
  • Long term relationships
  • Strong boundaries- who is accepted as belonging vs who is considered an “outsider”
  • Knowledge is situational, relational.
  • Decisions and activities focus around personal face-to-face relationships, often around a central person who has authority.

(quoted from Culture at Work http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html)

(retrieved 12.09.2013 at http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html)

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High Context Communication is also common in many Western countries

The table sheds light on just how difficult it can be for a foreigner to understand what the British really mean when they’re speaking – especially for those take every word at face value. Phrases that prove the trickiest to decipher include ‘you must come for dinner’, which foreigners tend to take as a direct invitation, but is actually said out of politeness by many Britons and often does not result in an invite. The table also reveals that when a person from Britain begins a sentence “with the greatest respect …’, they actually mean ‘I think you are an idiot’.” (Alice Philipson in The Telegraph 02 Sep 2013)

WHAT THE BRITISH SAY WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND
I hear what you say I disagree and do not want to discuss it further He accepts my point of view
With the greatest respect You are an idiot He is listening to me
That’s not bad That’s good That’s poor
That is a very brave proposal You are insane He thinks I have courage
Quite good A bit disappointing Quite good
I would suggest Do it or be prepared to justify yourself Think about the idea, but do what you like
Oh, incidentally/ by the way The primary purpose of our discussion is That is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that I am annoyed that It doesn’t really matter
Very interesting That is clearly nonsense They are impressed
I’ll bear it in mind I’ve forgotten it already They will probably do it
I’m sure it’s my fault It’s your fault Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree I don’t agree at all He’s not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments Please rewrite completely He has found a few typos
Could we consider some other options I don’t like your idea They have not yet decided
(retrieved 30.09.2013 at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/10280244/Translation-table-explaining-the-truth-behind-British-politeness-becomes-internet-hit.html)

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Low Context

A good manual is an example of low context communication / information. No other information is necessary to understand it. In low context communication an information has only one single meaning. No additional information is necessary to encode (understand) the meaning.

  • Rule oriented, people play by external rules
  • More knowledge is codified public, external, and accessible.
  • Sequencing, separation–of time, of space, of activities, of relationships
  • More interpersonal connections of shorter duration
  • Knowledge is more often transferable
  • Task-centered. Decisions and activities focus around what needs to be done, division of responsibilities.
(received 10.05.2014 at http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html)

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High Context vs. Low Context

Take a look how members of high and low contextual cultures see themselves and their opposites:

High Context Communication

  • polite
  • respectful
  • integrates by similarities/harmony
  • not direct
Low Context Communication

  • open
  • true
  • integrates by authenticity
  • direct
High Context claims Low Context

  • impolite
  • “cannot read between the lines”
  • naïve
  • no self discipline
  • too fast
Low Context claims High Context

  • hiding information
  • not trustable
  • arrogant
  • too formal
  • too slow

For an example how a low context culture interacts with a high context culture as the Chinese, please visit GlobThink: http://globthink.com/2009/06/24/indirect-communication-and-indirect-leadership-in-asia/ Unfortunately this link is broken / not existing anymore (reviewed 12.12.2012)

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Applications of Hall`s Theories about the Context

Website Design in High and Low Context Cultures

Parameter: Tendency in HC Cultures Tendency in LC Cultures
Animation High use of animation, especially in connection with images of moving people Lower use of animation, mainly reserved for highlighting effects e.g., of text
Promotion of values Images promote values characteristic of collectivist societies Images promote values characteristic of individualistic societies
Individuals separate or together with the product Featured images depict products and merchandise in use by individuals Images portray lifestyles of individuals, with or without a direct emphasis on the use of products or merchandise
Level of transparency Links promote an exploratory approach to navigation on the website; process-oriented Clear and redundant cues in connection with navigation on a website; goal-oriented
Linear vs. parallel navigation on the website Many sidebars and menus, opening of new browser windows for each new page Few sidebars and menus, constant opening in same browser window

MacDonalds CN

Link to the current Mc Donald’s Website in China

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High Context Cultures

Japan
Arab Countries
Greece
Spain
Italy
England
France
North America
Scandinavian Countries
German-speaking Countries

Low Context Cultures


MacDonalds DE

Link to the current website Mc Donad`s Germany

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(…) Meanwhile, it’s rolling out a new social media campaign, asking consumers to share favorite moments at the store, and it made a massive ad buy on Baidu, China’s main search engine, this weekend. The new togetherness message doesn’t mean China is phasing out global slogan “I’m Lovin’ It.”

“What we’ve done is give a layer of context to the ‘it’ — why are you lovin’ it?'” said Agatha Yap, senior marketing director for McDonald’s China.

Read the full article here or download as pdf here.

(retrieved 21.05.2014 at http://adage.com/article/global-news/mcdonald-s-a-local-touch-chinese-store-decor/292702/)

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M;rs. Martina Wuertz published “A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Websites from High-Context Cultures and Low-Context Culture“, which gives an interesting idea of applications of Hall`s model. Download pdf “Cross-Cultural Analysis of Websites from High-Context Cultures and Low-Context Culture” here.

For more info about website design in different cultures see how AM+A used Hofstede`s framework for analysing website design in different cultures/countries. Download pdf here or visit the website http://www.amanda.com

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Monochrone / Polychrone Times

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Polychrone time

  • no fixed schedule
  • flexible
  • different tasks at one time
  • short term orientated
Monochrone time

  • has a fixed schedule
  • inflexible
  • one task at a time
  • long term orientated

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Western cultures intend to have a monochrone time (mono=single / chrone=time). Time is used as a single line, where all events are lined up. Asian and African cultures intend to have a polychrone conception of time (poly=different / chrone=time). Events happen simultaneously in a polychrone conception of time.

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Dialogue – when two time systems collide

Mr. Paul Rosen is the international sales representative for his computer equipment company. His most recent trip takes him to China,where he is scheduled to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Patrick Chang.

Mr. Rosen and his training team arrived in Beijing three days ago for a scheduled appointment with Mr. Chang. However, Mr. Chang has not yet met with Mr. Rosen or his team. Finally, a call to Mr. Rosen’s hotel room indicates that Mr. Chang is prepared to meet with him. When Mr. Rosen arrives at the location, he is asked to wait outside Mr. Chang’s office. As he waits, he notices many people entering and leaving Mr. Chang’s office at a very quick pace. The hallways of this building are a hustle and bustle of activity, with people shuffling in and out of many rooms. Finally, after several hours, Mr. Rosen is called in to meet Mr. Chang.

Mr. Rosen: Ah, Mr. Chang, it’s so good to finally see you. Gosh, I’ve been waiting for days. Did you forget our appointment?

Mr. Chang: Hello, Mr. Rosen. Please sit down. Everything is fine?

Mr. Rosen: Actually no … (Phone rings) … the problem is …

Mr. Chang: Excuse me … (Takes the phone call and speaks in Chinese. After several minutes he concludes the phone conversation) Yes, now … everything is fine?

Mr. Rosen: Well, actually, I’ve got a small problem. You see, the computer equipment you ordered…(A staff person enters the room and hands Mr. Chang something to sign.)

Mr. Chang: Oh, excuse me… (signs the document) Yes, now, everything is fine?

Mr. Rosen: As I was saying … all of the computer equipment you ordered is just sitting on a ship at the dock. I need your help in getting it unloaded. I mean, it’s been there for two weeks!

Mr. Chang: I see … This is no problem.

Mr. Rosen: Well, if it sits in the heat much longer, it could be damaged. Could I get you to sign a worksgroups to have it unloaded by Friday?

Mr. Chang: There is no need for that. The job will get done.

Mr. Rosen: Well, could we set up some kind of deadline? You see, I have a staff of people here waiting to train your people on the equipment. I need to let them know when it will be ready. How about this Friday? Could we do it then? My people are here now, and they’re waiting to begin training.

Mr.Chang: Dont worry. We have been living quite well without those equipment for years. If necessary, we could wait for several weeks. That’s not the problem.

There is little chance that Mr. Chang will sign any kind of workgroups for Mr. Rosen. Mr. Rosen is also distressed by the constant interruptions. To Mr. Chang, Mr. Rosen is in too much of a hurry. Mr. Rosen is monochronic, whereas Mr. Chang operates from a polychronic time orientation.

Get the full pdf here or visit the website.

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Proxemics

Proxemics is the theory, that people from different cultures have different (imaginary) spaces around them. Link: http://www.edwardthall.com/

See more about E.T.Halls Concept of Personal Space at E. T. Hall – Proxemics (Understanding Personal Space)

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(reviewed 10.05.2014)

Parameter: Tendency in HC Cultures Tendency in LC Cultures
Animation High use of animation, especially in connection with images of moving people Lower use of animation, mainly reserved for highlighting effects e.g., of text
Promotion of values Images promote values characteristic of collectivist societies Images promote values characteristic of individualistic societies
Individuals separate or together with the product Featured images depict products and merchandise in use by individuals Images portray lifestyles of individuals, with or without a direct emphasis on the use of products or merchandise
Level of transparency Links promote an exploratory approach to navigation on the website; process-oriented Clear and redundant cues in connection with navigation on a website; goal-oriented
Linear vs. parallel navigation on the website Many sidebars and menus, opening of new browser windows for each new page Few sidebars and menus, constant opening in same browser window