A cultural elective in one country may be an imperative in another. For example, in some cultures one can accept tactfully and politely reject an offer of a beverage, whereas in other cases the offer of a beverage is a special ritual and to refuse it is an insult. In the Czech Republic an aperitif or other liqueur offered at the beginning of a business meeting, even in the morning is a way to establish goodwill and trust. It is a sign that you are being welcomed as a friend. It is imperative that you accept unless you make it clear to your Czech counterpart that the refusal is because of health or religion. Chinese business negotiations often include banquets at which large quantities of alcohol are consumed in an endless series of toasts. It is imperative that you participate in the toasts with a raised glass of the offered beverage, but to drink is optional. Your Arab business associates will offer coffee as part of the important ritual of establishing a level of friendship and trust; you should accept even if you only take a ceremonial sip. Cultural electives are the most visibly different customs and thus more obvious. Often, it is compliance with the less obvious imperatives and exclusives that is more critical.
Cultural Exclusives: cultural exclusives are those customs or behaviors patterns reserved exclusively for the locals and from which the foreigner is barred. For example a Christian attempting to act like a Muslim would be repugnant to a follower or Mohammed. Equally offensive is a foreigner criticizing or joking about a country’s politics and peculiarities (that is, peculiar to the foreigner) even though locals may, among themselves criticize such issues. There is truth in the old adage, I’ll curse my brother but if you curse him, you’ll have a fight. Few cultural traits are reserved exclusively for locals, but a foreigner must carefully refrain from participating in those that are reserved.
Foreign managers need to be perceptive enough to know when they are dealing with an imperative and elective, or an exclusive and have the adaptability to respond to each. There are not many imperatives or exclusives, but most offensive behaviors result from not recognizing them. It is not necessary to obsess over committing a faux pas. Most sensible business people will make allowances for the occasional misstep. But the fewer you make the smoother the relationship will be. By the way, you can ask for help. That is, if you have good relationship with your foreign counterparts you can always ask them to tell you when and how you have misbehaved.
There are at least three reasons to briefly focus on American culture and management style. First, for American readers it is important to be aware of the elements of culture influencing decisions and behaviors. Such a self awareness will help American readers adapt to working with associates in other cultures. Second, for readers new to American culture, it is useful to better understand your business associates from the States. The US market is the biggest export market in the world. And, hopefully this knowledge will help everyone be more patient while conducting business across borders. Third, since the late 1990s American business culture has been exported around the old, just as in the 1980s Japanese management practices were imitated almost everywhere. Management practices developed in the US environment will not be appropriate and useful everywhere. That is clear. So understanding their bases will help everyone make decisions about applying adapting or rejecting American practices. Indeed, most often Peter Drucker’s advice will apply: Different people have to be managed differently.
There are many divergent views regarding the most ideas on which normative US cultural concepts are based. Those that occur most frequently in discussions of cross cultural evaluations are represented by the following:
1) Master of destiny viewpoint
2) Independent enterprise as the instrument of social action.
3) Personnel election and reward based on merit
4) Decisions based on objective analysis
5) Wide sharing in decision making
6) Never ending quest for improvement
7) Competition producing efficiency
The master of destiny philosophy is fundamental to US management thought. Simply stated, people can substantially influence the future; they are in control of their own destinies. This view point also reflects the attitude that although luck may influence an individual’s future, on balance persistence hard work a commitment to fulfill expectations, and effective use of time give people cannot of their destines. In contrast, many cultures have a more fatalistic approach to life. They believe individual destiny is determined by a higher order and that what happens cannot be controlled.