Factual versus Interpretive knowledge

Frequently, factual knowledge has meaning as a straight forward fact a culture but assumes additional significance when interpreted within the context of the culture. For example, Mexico is 98 per cent, Roman Catholic is an important bit of factual knowledge. But equally important is the meaning of being a Catholic within Mexican culture versus being catholic in Spain or Italy. Each culture practices Catholicism in a slightly different way. For example, All Souls day is an important celebration among some Catholic countries. In Mexico, however, the celebration receives special emphasis. The Mexican observance is a unique combination of pagan (mostly Indian) influence and Catholic tradition. On the Day of the Dead as All Souls’ Day is called by many in Mexico, it is believed that the dead return to feast. Hence many Mexicans visit the graves of their departed, taking the dead’s favorite foods to place on the graves for them to enjoy. Prior to All Souls’ Day, bakeries pile their shelves with bread shaped like bones and coffins and candy stores sell sugar skulls and other special treats to commemorate the day. As the souls feast on the food, so do the living celebrants. Although the prayers, candles, and the idea pf the soul are Catholic the idea of the dead feasting is pre-Christian Mexican. Thus a Catholic in Mexico observes All Souls day quite differently from a Catholic in Spain. The interpretive as well as factual knowledge about religion in Mexico is necessary to fully understand this part of Mexican culture.

Interpretive knowledge requires a degree of insight that may best be described as a feeling. It is the kind of knowledge most dependent on past experience for interpretation and most frequently prone to misinterpretation if one’s home country fame of reference (SRC) is used. Ideally, the foreign marketer should possess both kinds of knowledge about a market. Many facts about a particular culture can be learned through research in published materials. This effort can also transmit a small degree of empathy, but to appreciate the culture fully it is necessary to live with the people for some time. Because this ideal solution is not practical for a marketer, other solutions must be sought. Consultations and cooperation with bilingual natives with marketing backgrounds is the most effective answer to the problem. This has the further advantage of helping the marketer acquire an increasing degree of empathy through association the people who understand the culture best locals.

Cultural Sensitivity and Tolerance:

Successful foreign marketing begins with cultural sensitivity being attuned to the nuances of culture so that a new culture can be viewed objectively, evaluated and appreciated. Cultural sensitivity, or cultural empathy, must be carefully cultivated. Perhaps the most important step is the recognition that cultures are not right or wrong, better or worse; they are simply different. As mentioned previously for every amusing annoying peculiar or repulsive cultural trait we find in a country, others see a similarly amusing annoying or repulsive trait in our culture. For example, we bathe, perfume, and deodorize our bodies in a daily ritual that is seen in many cultures as compulsive while we often become annoyed with those cultures less concerned with natural body odor.

Just because a culture is different does not make it wrong. Marketers must understand how their own cultures influence their assumptions about another culture. The more exotic the situation, the more sensitive, tolerant and flexible one needs to be. Being culturally sensitive will conflict and improve communications and thereby increase success in collaborative relationships.

Besides knowledge of the origins and elements of cultures, the international marketer also should have appreciation of how cultures change and accept or reject new ideas. Because the marketer usually is trying to introduce something completely new (such as e-trading) or to improve what is already in use, how cultures change and the manner in which resistance to change occurs should be thoroughly understood.

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