We are now learning in much more detail the degree to which ways of thinking across cultures. Richard Nisbett in his wonderful book The Geography of Thought broadly discusses differences in Asian and Western thinking. He starts with Confucius and Aristotle and develops his arguments through considerations of historical and philosophical writings and finding from more recent behavioral science research including his own social psychological experiments. While he acknowledges the dangers surrounding generalizations about Japanese, Chinese, and Korean cultures, on the one hand, and European and American cultures on the other, many of his conclusions are consistent with our own work related to international negotiations cultural value and linguistic distance.
A good metaphor for his views involves going back to Confucius. Asians tend to see the whole picture and can report details about the background and foreground. Westerners alternatively focus on the foreground and can provide great detail about central figures, but see relatively little in the background. This difference in perception focus versus big picture is associated with a wide variety of difference in values, preferences, and expectations about future events. Nisbett’s book is essential reading for anyone marketing products and services internationally. His insights are pertinent to Japanese selling in Jacksonville or Belgians selling in Beijing.
Each of the five cultural elements must be evaluated in light of how they might affect a proposed marketing program. Newer products and services and more extensive programs involving the entire cycle from product development through promotion to final selling require greater consideration of cultural factors. Moreover, the separate origins and elements of culture we have presented interact, often in synergistic ways. Therefore, the marketer must also a step back and consider larger cultural consequences of marketing actions.
There are two kinds of knowledge about cultures. One is factual knowledge about a culture; it is usually obvious ad must be learned. Different meanings of colors, different tastes, and other traits indigenous to a culture are facts that a marketer can anticipate study and absorb. The other is interpretive knowledge an ability to understand and to appreciate fully the nuances of different cultural traits and patterns. For example, the meaning of time, attitudes towards other people and certain objects, the understanding of one’s role in society, and the meanings of life can differ considerably from one culture to another and may require more than factual knowledge to be fully appreciated. In this case, interpretive knowledge is also necessary.
Gaining Cultural Awareness in 17th and 18th century England — the Grand Tour:
Gaining cultural awareness has been centuries old need for anyone involved in international relations. The concept of the Grand Tour, a term first applied over 300 years ago in England, was, by 1706 firmly established as the ideal preparation for soldiers, diplomats and civil servants. It was seen as the best means of imparting to young men of fortune a modicum of taste and knowledge of other countries. By the summer of 1785, 40,000 English were estimated to be on the continent.
The grand Tourist was expected to conduct a systematic survey of each country’s language, history, geography clothes, food, customs, politics, and laws. In particular they have to study its most important buildings and their valuable contents, and he was encouraged to collect prints, paintings, drawings and sculpture. All this could not be achieved in a few weeks, and several years were to lapse before some tourists saw England’s shores again. Vast sums of money were spent. At times, touring was not the reactively secure affair of today. If the Grand Tourist managed to avoid the pirates of Dunkirk, the then had to run a gauntlet of highway men on Dutch roads, thieves in Italy and France, marauding packs of disbanded soldiery everywhere, and the inquisition in Spain, to say nothing of ravenous wolves and dogs.
He had to be self contained, he carried with him not only the obligatory sword and pistols but also a box of medicines as well as spices and condiments, a means of securing hotels rooms at night, and an overall to protect his clothes while in bed. At the end of these Grand Tours, many retuned with as many as 800 or 900 pieces of baggage. These collections of art, sculpture and writings can be seen today in many of the mansions throughout the British Isles.
Nowadays, more than 150,000 American college students go on their own international road trips in the form of study abroad programs. This is double the number of 10 years ago. And a like number of Chinese are now studying abroad as well.