Cultural aspects that you need to be aware of before you emigrate – part one

Columnist: Lucas Migray

The world is shaped by different cultures, and in a globalized world like ours, you need to have certain intercultural skills to work successfully abroad.

There are many studies that have tried to classify cultures. Today we take a look at some cultural dimensions according to an American anthropologist, Edward T. Hall.

1. Time orientation

According to Hall there are two types of time orientation:

The first one, where time is considered a finite good that must be used sparingly and efficiently, is called monochron (M); the second, where time is considered unlimited, is called polychron (P).

In countries where time is regarded as monochronic, things are done differently than in countries where it is regarded as polychronic.

Whereas in countries with a monochronic time orientation deadlines and plans are kept and delays and cancellations lead to trouble, in countries with a polychronic time orientation time is seen as infinitely available and as something to be used by people and to which people do not have to adapt.

Moreover, in M countries one thing is done at a time, and in P countries several things are done at once, because people remain flexible in the face of change.

Examples of M-countries: Germany, Austria, (German) Switzerland.

Examples of P-countries: Italy, Greece, Spain.

2. Context orientation

According to Hall, there are two types of context orientation: high context (HC) and low context (LC). This describes how to deal with something or how to behave in a situation.

In high-context societies, such as China, Japan, France, Spain or Turkey, things are not called by name. The relationship between the speaker and the listener is in the foreground, i.e. it comes before the main subject, and there is always room for interpretation.

In contrast, in low-context societies, e.g. in Germany, the USA, Canada and Scandinavian countries, everything is called by name and precise information is given. Furthermore, the factual topic comes before the relationship, and “meant is what was said”.

3. Spatial orientation

Depending on the culture, the spatial orientation differs. That is, how close you get to a stranger.

While people in the centre and north of Europe are more distant to strangers, people in southern Europe are much more open and come much closer to each other.

In conclusion, it really helps a lot if you check what kind of country you are going to – before you emigrate. It may be the case that the cultural differences between your home country and your new country are not that huge, but the other way around is also possible.

Being aware of the cultural aspects of your destination country not only makes life easier for you, it also helps you to get along and integrate more easily into that society.

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