USA - American Citizens in Germany - A closer look on critical incidents and their explanations


Term Paper, 2002

16 Pages


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1. Introduction
1.1 The Concept of Cultural Assimilators
1.2 Research Methods

2. Theoretical background
2.1 About Hofstede and his work
2.2 5 aspects of norms and differences in behaviour
2.2.1 Power Distance
2.2.2 Individualism versus Collectivism
2.2.3 Femininity versus Masculinity
2.2.4 Uncertainty Avoidance
2.2.5 Long-Term Orientation
2.3 Short Conclusion
3. The Critical Incidents

3.1 First Critical Incident
3.1.1 Interview Partner
3.1.2 Description of the Incident
3.1.3 Analysis and possible Solutions
3.1.4 Explanation of the Critical Incident
3.2 Second Critical Incident
3.2.1 Interview Partner
3.2.2 Description of the Incident
3.2.3 Analysis and possible Solutions
3.2.4 Explanation of the Critical Incident
3.3 Daily Habit
3.3.1 Description of the daily habit
3.3.2 Explanation of the daily habit

4. Conclusion

5. Resources
5.1 Literature
5.2 Internet Web Pages
5.3 Appendix

1. Introduction

The world is getting smaller, faster, big has become beautiful, the terms `globalisation', 'internationalisation' or `going global' are key words in our days. From my point of view, the most spectacular development is the internet. Now it is possible to send and/or receive documents within a few seconds, to get all information imaginable so that the term `information society' now replaces the former term `consume society'. Fact is that the financial, economic, media, research, recovery and educational world experiences a tremendous change nowadays. Just think of digitalisation of texts, pictures or sounds! Think of communication satellites or the spreading of computer science! Mega-mergers and hyper-concentrations determine our present time, multinational or rather global enterprises are the result. Our world order seems to define itself in a new way. Remember the merger of Daimler Benz AG and Chrysler Corp. in November 1998, presented at that time as a merger of equals, it is still producing considerable unhappiness among the Americans and the Germans. The Americans contend privately that the combined company has come to be dominated by the Germans whereas the Germans complain that there is a gap between the American and the German management level. What do we learn from this? It is very often forgotten that there are deeper reaching problems besides determining the legal conditions or the new budget planning, which are based on the different cultures and backgrounds of those people who are supposed to work together. We are going global. Yes, indeed. But does this automatically mean that we do understand each other? Sure, English as the `Number 1' language is spoken almost everywhere, but does this mean that international relationships work perfectly? Obviously not, otherwise all the mergers would have been a success. Our world is full of confrontations between people since we feel, think and act differently. But at the same time we are exposed to the same problems which demand cooperation if we want to solve them. Nowadays, people begin to understand that there are cultural differences and try to accept them and even profit from them. There has been done a lot of research in this field and today courses like `Intercultural Communication' or `Intercultural Studies' are very popular.

1.1 The Concept of Cultural Assimilators

The cultural assimilator is a programmed learning experience designed to expose members of one culture to some of the basic concepts, attitudes, role perceptions, costumes and values of another culture. The culture assimilator is designed for persons, who have limited time and would normally receive little or no training before they go abroad. It is designed to provide the trainee with extensive information about the culture in a very short time. The typical cross-culture studies involve samples of the population of the country. Each respondent is asked a large number of questions. The answers are analysed by means of multivariate methods to determine major dimensions of social perceptions and cognition used in each culture and the extend to which these dimensions influence a wide variety of response. The main problem by creating a culture assimilator is: How can the researcher meaningfully simulate intercultural interactions ? Most methods make the trainee a passive observer. Yet the hetercultural encounter is by definition an active process. Granted that no books or reading situations will be able to provide ideal simulation experience, programmed instruction does not have the advantage of forcing the individual to interpret and evaluate various situations and to assimilate immediate feedback on the adequacy of his interpretation. The method used by cultural assimilators requires the trainee to read a short episode of an intercultural encounter and to give an interpretation of the encounter.

1.2 Research Methods

Within this research it was very hard to find relevant people during project work. First of all, there was no answer from the people I first wanted to interview, thus I have only one direct interview partner and one personal experience with an American citizen in business live that ends in an critical incident. Because of the long distance to my interview partner (Idaho, USA), the only working way for doing my interview, was to create an questionnaire and send it via email. After getting back the answers I analysed them and arranged a short phone call with my interview partner to get the detailed information’s I needed. Because of different problems with my other partners, I lost the chance to get a direct contact with more people, and thus the second critical incident based on a personal experience during my last practical course.

2. Theoretical background

2.1 About Hofstede and his work

Geert Hofstede was born on October 2, 1928 in Harlem, in the Netherlands. He received his Ph.D from Groningen University in 1967. He is very well known for his research on the influence of culture on the human being. His most famous accomplishment is the distinction of the four dimensions of cultural variability.1 He refers to culture as the `software of the mind' and states generally that every person carries within him or herself a pattern of thinking, feeling and potentially acting which were learnt throughout their lifetime. Furthermore, culture is not inherited but learnt as it derives from the social environment and should be distinguished from the personality (· partly inherited and partly learned and unique) on the one hand and from the human nature (· inherited and universal) on the other.2

Hofstede once gave management training at IBM. He noticed that managers of different cultural backgrounds acted differently and found different solutions for problems even though they worked for the same company and were therefore confronted with the same company culture. He then concluded that the different reactions are due to the different cultural origin and developed his four dimensions of values which help him to describe cultures.

2.1.1 Power Distance

This aspect focuses on the degree of equality or inequality between people in the society of a country. Societies with a high power distance perceive inequality as acceptable. Mighty and/or wealthy people have many privileges and the use of status symbols is common. These cultures are more likely to follow a caste system that does hardly allow upward mobility in the hierarchical society structure. Cultures with a low power distance always try to stress equality and opportunity for everyone. Members of such cultures don't show off power and everybody is considered to be equal. Hofstede characterises e.g. Brazil and Mexico as nations with a high power distance whereas Germany and Switzerland are examples for nations with a low power distance.3

2.1.2 Individualism versus Collectivism

This culture dimension refers to the question of the intensity of interpersonal relationships. According to Hofstede one can distinguish individualistic societies (like the USA) where everybody is responsible for him/herself from the collectivist one (like Sweden) where every individual is protected by the group.4

2.1.3 Femininity versus Masculinity

This aspect focuses on the degree, to which the traditional masculine role model is reinforced in the society. A high masculine ranking indicates a high degree of gender differentiation. Masculine societies tend to cherish achievements that are considered to be typical masculine such as material success or professional development. Masculine societies e.g. solve conflicts by holding them whereas in feminine societies the conflict parties try to find a compromise by discussing the topic. Germany is considered to be quite masculine whereas the Netherlands are considered to be more feminine according to Hofstede.5

2.1.4 Uncertainty Avoidance

This dimension deals with both: with people's different attitude to time and also with how comfortable people feel towards ambiguity. Generally, we all have to face the fact that we do not know what will happen tomorrow. Therefore, the future will always be uncertain and we will always have to live with this fact. Uncertainty avoidance can be defined as the extend to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations.6

But according to Hofstede, there are societies with a low uncertainty avoidance which are characterised by tolerance and moderation. Uncertainty is known and accepted in their daily life and people belonging to such a society deal with unknown risks relatively easy. It is said that such cultures put strong emphasis on Human Rights. It is believed that nobody is allowed to be prosecuted because of his/her conviction.

On the other side, Hofstede talks about societies with high uncertainty avoidance. These cultures can be characterised as quite conservative, fundamentalist and intolerant towards unfamiliar religions and ideologies. Detailed rules and laws are to protect them from the unexpected and uncertainty which is part of our every day life, is perceived as a permanent threat that has to be opposed. `What is different, is dangerous' is one of the key terms to describe societies with a high uncertainty avoidance. Taking everything into account we can come to the conclusion that the extensive German assurance system is part of high uncertainty.7

2.2 Short Conclusion

After taking a closer look at the ideas of Hofstede it is easier to understand why problems occur as soon as people from different cultural backgrounds come together. This especially helps in the business world as international co operations and mergers and therefore working with different people is part of our lives. Now it is possible to trace back cultural differences and to understand that there are different ways of doing things. The ideas of Hofstede therefore help us to structure our pattern of thinking as well as to gain a new a perspective.

However, we have to keep in mind that these ideas do not claim absoluteness. We cannot stand firmly behind them or think that they are unalterably. Concerning Hofstede we should take into consideration that their structuring of countries refers to statistical frequencies. This means that even though we Germans are considered to be monophonically and by high uncertainty avoidance and as low context culture there are probably many Germans who absolutely do not fit in this scheme.

3. The Critical Incidents

After finding people who were willing to answers my questionnaire, I will now list the best fitting critical incidents they told me.

3.1 First Critical Incident

The first critical incident belongs to the things which can happen in daily life and will show how the different understanding of behaviour can end in a critical incident.

3.1.1 Interview Partner

First of all I will give some background informations about my first interview partner. Her name is Efton Wilford, 46 years old and lives in American Falls, Idaho, USA. For the last 9 years she was store manager of “TACO TIME”. First I met her in Germany in the year 1998 when she was here with a group of high school students for about 4 weeks. Since that time she often travelled to Germany and got a lot of impressions about the differences between Germany and the USA.

3.1.2 Description of the Incident

Miss Wilford was on a short trip for about 8 days in Germany as the following occurs. She went to an supermarket in Straubing and looked for candies and found something named “Haribo - Gummibären” which she never saw before. Miss Wilford opened the package and tried some but didn’t like the taste and put the opened package back again. For her this was quite normal, something she always do in the USA. But for the woman of the service, who saw this, it wasn’t this normal and began to argue loudly until Miss Wilford went away with the opened package in her hand.

3.1.3 Analysis and possible Solutions

What happened ? or the better say why this happened ? I will give several possible answers and then line out one possible reason of this critical incident. The first possible reason could be that the woman in the store doesn’t like foreign people. The second reason could be that the number of sold “Haribo - Gummibären” wasn’t good enough this month and so she want force Miss Wilford to buy something. The third reason could be that the employee never saw before that someone open a package try some candies and put it back to the shelf and didn’t know how to react.

Surely the third answer is the right one. But more important is why it is the right answer and what can lead to an problem like this and should now explained under point 3.1.4 “Explanation of the critical incident”.

3.1.4 Explanation of the Critical Incident

Let’s go back to the moment as the employee saw Miss Wilford. It must be shocking for everyone living in Germany to see something like this, but why ? Let’s say in Germany there are very specific rules how to behave in a supermarket. But why there are so many rules and why we (the German) get so shocked when someone brake rules everyone is accepting ? To answer this question we have to look back in the German history. A lot of wars have taken place in Germany and everyone leads to extreme poverty and uncertainty towards the future. Feeling like this the people in Germany started to make a lot of rules spoken and unspoken.

Hofstede describes this as “Strong uncertainty avoidance”8and give as a possible reason the emotional need for rules, even if these will never work.9In the USA there was never such a strong need for security and the emotional need for rules. Comparing the history of this two lands, the USA never felt such a poverty and disorganization in there culture like Germany. To say it in one sentence why this incident happened, Miss Wilford broke an unspoken rule and the employee can’t accept this.

3.2 Second Critical Incident

Like mentioned above, the second critical incident bases on a personal experience during my last practical course, where I worked a certain time in a project group .

3.2.1 Interview Partner

My interview partner or better said my colleague was Mr. George Higgins. He was sent from a cooperating company and his job was to find an external software that could be implemented in our new software project. Unfortunately I do not have any further informations about Mr. Higgins but I think this isn’t such relevant for the following critical incident.

3.2.2 Description of the Incident

Mr. Higgins tried to find external tools which should be implemented in our own software. Obviously his opinion was that his German colleagues are loosing to much time with discussing hypothetic question and searching the right software. After two days Mr. Higgins was ordering a software without getting in contact with us in the end. Everyone was surprised but happy he reacted so fast. Asking him why he react so fast he answered that he want to act and discussing endlessly. We all were surprised but accepted it and started implementing the new tools but after some days we found out that more and more problems occurred and that it simply were the false tools.

3.2.3 Analysis and possible Solutions

Everyone can imagine that our team leader wasn’t this happy about the situation. But it would be false only to say Mr. Higgins act incompetent. Better is to look at possible solutions in his cultural background. Gain I will give some possible solutions and finding out the most right one. First solution, the American would demonstrate that a better solution can also be found without the German thoroughness. Second possibility, Americans doesn’t like it to solve complex problems systematically and prefer more simple solutions. The third alternative solution could be that Americans have the mentality “Let’s try it out and if it doesn’t work, we’ll look for another alternative”. The forth solution could be that Mr. Higgins simply didn’t look out for enough informations to solve the problem correctly.

3.2.4 Explanation of the Critical Incident

Nothing is always black or white, and so it is with some of the possible solutions. But lets look at the first possibility, It would be a possible explanation but Americans can be as thoroughness as Germans. The second one is complete nonsense and when we look at the great inventions done in the USA everyone have to see it like this. The third explanation is typical for American mentality and in my opinion the most right one. They often use the “Trial by error” method, not interested if it is the best way or not. The forth one belongs closely to the third and mean, when Americans think they have the right solution for a problem they stop thinking about alternatives and hope that it will work. Hofsted gives an explanation towards this behaviour basing on “Individualism versus Collectivism”. To say it in other words, the people in the USA are so concentrated in themselves that they really believe in their decisions.

3.3 Daily Habit

Now let’s end the critical incidents with a daily habit of American citizens that is hard to understand for us in Germany.

3.3.1 Description of the daily habit

An example for an critical daily habit of Americans in Germany is the behaviour in the sauna. When you see someone who is coming with a pair of bathing-shorts into the sauna, you can expect that it is an American. Germans usually are naked in the sauna, and won’t dress like Americans.

3.3.2 Explanation of the daily habit

The explanation of this behaviour is that Americans are normally a bit prude. They won’t show their naked bodies, not in the sauna or somewhere else. The basis of this behaviour can be found in the culture of the USA, but everyone see this as an normal daily habit.

4. Conclusion

As I started with this course and got the subject “American Citizens in Germany; A closer look on critical incidents and their explanations.” I first thought, that there absolutely nothing different between American and German culture. Nevertheless I had to find out that there are a lot of differences between these both cultures. Sure many things are the same in the USA and Germany, but when you take a closer look, you can see that there is a completely different style of living and behaviour within these both cultures. As I recognized this, I thought “Oh my God ! When these both cultures are so different how must it be between Germany and Asian cultures !” But I think it is quite simple, what you need in the world of today, is something like a guide, just some rules that will guide you to the right point of view where you can start. This is the cultural assimilator and, in my opinion, nothing more. Just a starting point from where everyone himself have to learn enough for living in a foreign culture.

5. Resources

5.1 Literature

Hofstede, Geert (1997): Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. 279 pages. New York: McGraw-Hill USA, 1997, ISBN 0-07-029307-4

Hofstede, Geert (2001): Lokales Denken, globales Handeln: Kulturen, Zusammenarbeit und Management. München, Beck/dtv, 2. Auflage 2001. ISBN 3-423-50807-8

5.2 Internet Web Pages

Titel: Intercultural Communication: G. Hofstede;

URL:http://www2.soc.hawaii.edu/css/com/resources/intercultural/Hofstede.html, Date of view: 18.01.2002, Time: 03:00

Titel: None

URL:http://www.cyborlink.com/besite/hofstede.htm, Date of view 18.01.2002, Time: 03:30

5.3 Appendix

Questionnaire attached

Wolfgang Ebenbeck

Questionnaire: USA

Personal Information:

- Name

- Age

- Employer / Position / Job Title

- Nationality

- Place of Stay

- Length of stay abroad (from - to)

General Information:

- Differences in bureaucracy: Germany vs. USA

- Has the process of settlement been made easier by politeness, openness, helpfulness or social manners/behaviour?

- Have prejudices been proved? If answer yes, then specify.

- Did your perceptions become true or not?

- Which typical behaviour could you observe? Which one was negative / positive?

- National pride

- Distribution of income / social differences in income (lower-, middle-, upper class)

- Security (sense, feelings)

- Infrastructure (e.g. transportation)

- Restrictive age limits positive or negative (e.g. night life, drinking)

- Comparison of the “American Way of Life” and German way of living (conservative, straight-line)

- Range of services / Service in general in daily life (e.g. restaurants, shopping, authorities)

- Language barriers

Vocational Aspects

- Problems being accepted in teams?

- Integration into daily work life?

- Typical behaviours at work? (Breaks, attitude, ethics)

- Social differences and differences by law in the work life (e.g. vacation, working times, employment)

- Relationship between employer and employee

- Were any social benefits offered at or off work? (sports, any other leisure activities)

- Training / Coaching?

- Career opportunities / opportunities for advancement

- Labour turnover rates at your employer? (high/low/industry average)

- Layout of office space?

- Workstation conditions?

Other Information

- Personal opinion? More positive or negative aspects of your stay?

- Personal Conclusion

- Comments

- What can be “exported” to your home country? (e.g. attitude, mentality, behaviour, service, etc.)

- How / In what way did the stay abroad change you?

- What did you adopt and what did you “bring” back to your home country?

Questionnaire: US-Citizens in Germany

Personal Information:

- Name:

_________________________________________________________________

- Age:

_________________________________________________________________

- Employer / Position / Job Title:

_________________________________________________________________

- Nationality:

_________________________________________________________________

- Place of Stay:

_________________________________________________________________

- Length of stay abroad (from - to):

_________________________________________________________________

Critical Incidents:

- Do you have gained experience in your occupational environment with critical

incidents?

Positive:

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________

Negative:

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________

- Do you have gained experience in your private environment with critical incidents?

Positive:

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________

Negative:

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________

- In your personal opinion, what are the most important reasons for these critical incidents?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________

- How / In what way did the stay in Germany change your behaviour?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________

[...]


1http://www2.soc.hawaii.edu/css/dept/com/resources/intercultural/Hofstede.html

2Compare: Hofstede (1997), Cultures and Organizations, p.4-7

3Compare: http://www.cyborlink.com/besite/hofstede.htm

4 Compare: http://www2.soc.hawaii.edu/css/com/resources/intercultural/Hofstede.html

5Compare: Hofstede (1997), Cultures and Organizations, p.79-81

6 Hofstede (1997), Cultures and Organizations, p.113

7 Compare: Hofstede, Geert (2001): Lokales Denken, globales Handeln, p.19-20

8Compare: Hofstede (1997), Cultures and Organizations, p. 103

9 Compare: Hofstede (1997), Cultures and Organizations, p. 103

15 of 16 pages

Details

Title
USA - American Citizens in Germany - A closer look on critical incidents and their explanations
College
University of Applied Sciences Deggendorf
Course
Cross Cultural Management
Author
Year
2002
Pages
16
Catalog Number
V105713
File size
457 KB
Language
English
Notes
Tags
American, Citizens, Germany, Cross, Cultural, Management
Quote paper
Wolfgang Ebenbeck (Author), 2002, USA - American Citizens in Germany - A closer look on critical incidents and their explanations, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/105713

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