Culture shock is real!

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What is culture shock and how does it occur?

Culture shock occurs when people experience an unfamiliar way of life when they visit to a new country. The experience of culture shock comes from not knowing what to do or what is appropriate or inappropriate in particular situations.

Culture shock is real and I have experienced this myself. I’m from Bangkok, Thailand and I just moved to New York three and a half months ago. The first two months were a roller coaster of culture shock; I hate that, love this, and cry for no reason!

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Picture credit

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First stage: Honeymoon stage

When you first arrive in your new home city, your feeling is full of excitement, and enjoyment. Everything is so perfect! This time is called the “honeymoon” stage.

The moment I arrived here, I felt like New York is one of the best places in the world. There are many things to do and many nice restaurants to go to.

The second stage: withdrawal/rejection

In this stage, people experience more cultural differences and start to find things strange and frustrating. You will feel tired, sad, angry, irritable and even depressed. In this stage people find the behavior of others unusual and begin to criticize. My second month here was quite depressing. I felt homesick. I got frustrated at the little things. I almost lost all of my confidence. People talking loudly in the subway could make me scream. From where I came, people tend to speak quietly and walk slowly. In New York, everyone is in a hurry. You see businessmen walking fast and they don’t look at anyone. At that time there was a moment I told myself that “I don’t think I belong here!”

Third stage: Adjustment

At this stage, people tend to get used to their lives in a new city. For myself, I feel more settled and I have my confident back. I started to understand people’s behavior and I accepted the way they are without judging.

Fourth stage: Enthusiasm/Adaptation

People start to enjoy being in the new culture. They feel like they are at home. For myself, I begin to see the advantages of living here again. I quite enjoy living in New York now!

How to deal with culture shock?

You need to know that you are not the only one feeling this way! Millions of people who are adapting themselves to a new culture feel the same way. You have to be open-minded and try not to judge anything that different from where you are from. I know it will be very frustrating at first, but as the time goes by, you will get used to the environment around you. Stay positive during culture shock. Try to relax and take everything easy. Another tactic that I found very useful is not to compare things here to things at your home because you will feel disappointed. Have faith in your self that you will survive. At the end of the day, you will feel grateful that you had a chance to explore in another culture. Make new friend. Use your time abroad wisely and make the most of this experience. Wherever you are in the world, enjoy!

Related content:

How to Overcome Culture Shock in a Foreign Country

Expatriating: Culture Shock

Coming to America

Cross-cultural misunderstanding

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman

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Picture credit: BlueStream Marketing

What is a cross-cultural misunderstanding?

Cross-cultural misunderstanding happens when people from different cultures communicate or interact with one another. People from one culture act according to their norms and values, but the other does not understand the message the way it was conveyed and might interpret differently due to the cultural differences. Cultural misunderstanding also occurs when a word, gestures or social context have different meanings in different cultures.

In this case, I will focus on Thai culture in particular. I do believe that people travelling to other countries having a basic understanding of what is acceptable and what is frowned upon can be a big advantage for them. I am not saying or expecting that people have to act like the way the Thai do, it is just good to be mindful of how things in Thailand are.

Here are some tips to help you understand more about Thai culture and avoid cultural misunderstandings.

  • Thai greeting– The Wai- The wai is the common form of greeting and adheres to strict rules of protocol. It consists of a slight bow, with the palms pressed together. Generally, a younger person wais an elder, who returns it
  • Confrontation– Thai people generally speak softly and avoid confrontation at all costs. Please do not shout or raise your voice. Moreover, losing your temper, or showing strong negative emotions in public is considered a negative behaviorImage
  • Touching other’s head– In Thailand, your head is considered high; it is the most sacred part of the body, so touching someone’s head is considered rude, impolite and disrespectful.
  • Eating– it is inappropriate to lick you fingers while eating
  • No shoes inside– it is essential in Thai culture for people to remove their shoes before entering to someone’s house or a temple.
  • Pointing with your feet– the foot is considered the lowest part of the body.Image Pointing your feet to someone or something or raising your feet higher than someone’s head, using your feet to move anything or touch anyone or simply put your feet on the table is considered extremely rude in Thai culture.
  • Bend your body– As I mentioned above the head is the most scared part of the body. Therefore, Thai people will bend a little if they have to walk and everybody else sits, especially when the ones who sit are older than you. This is the way we show respect to the belief that having your head higher than someone else means that you are in a superior position to others.
  • Don’t step over people– If everyone else is sitting and you need to walk by; do not step over a person or any part of their body. Instead please walk around.
  • Keep your voice down when you are in closed public spaces– Thai people speak quietly when they are in closed public places such as in a train, bus, and elevator.

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Learn more about Thai culture:

Do’s and Don’t’s in Thai culture

Thai culture, customs and etiquette 

10 Thai customs to know before visiting Thailand

How powerful are bosses in different cultures?

Have you ever wondered why people from different cultures have different ways of acting with their bosses?

Power distance is a way to explain the differences between groups in a system. It reflects a culture’s attitude in human inequality.

Low Power Distance

People in a low power distance cultures seem to have an egalitarian relationship with one another. They expect and accept power relations that are more democratic. Supervisors/leaders and subordinates/citizens have almost equal levels of power regardless of their social status. For example, bosses are much closer to their employees. Also, instructions can be challenged; subordinates can criticize and give opinion about a supervisor’s works.

High Power Distance

In contrast with low power distance, people in high power distance cultures seem to have a hierarchical relationship with others. For instance, subordinates would let their bosses make decision and decide who is responsible for what. Also, ordinary citizens would let the leaders make decisions and orders are often unquestioned.

It seems that in Thai culture, people tend to accept a higher degree of unequally distributed power than people in American culture. Basically, every relationship among Thai people has a different status. In Thai culture, subordinates will comply with their supervisor rather than challenge him or her. They will not try to come up with their own solutions in dealing with conflict. They will be assigned to do a job and hardly question or criticize their managers.

Power Distance Index

Geert Hofstede, Dutch sociologist , proposed the Power Distance Index to measure the distribution of power and wealth between people in a nation, business or culture. Clearly Cultural blog says that “Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally”. Hierarchical societies tend to accept more power distance than egalitarian societies.

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Power Distance Index (PDI)

Some high power index countries are:

Malaysia: 104

Philippines: 94

Indonesia: 78

Thailand: 64

Some low power index countries are:

United States: 40

United Kingdom: 35

New Zealand: 22

Austria: 11

Related content:

Power Distance

The Hofstede Center

Read about Hofstede’s other intercultural dimensions:

Individualism

Masculinity

Uncertainty Avoidance 

Thai Culture vs American Culture!

Understanding Thai culture and American culture

Individualism VS Collectivism

Individualism-Collectivism is a major measurement of cultural variability used to explain cultural differences in communication across cultures. People in individualistic society are more self-centered and emphasize personal achievement rather than the group harmony. They tend to put rights and privacy first. On the other hand, collectivist cultures require people to fit into a group; they value their relationship and group harmony over individual’s goals. They view themselves as a member of a group (family, tribe, work unit). People in collectivist cultures are more willing to cooperate and they tend to avoid conflict. Furthermore, collectivist cultures value social obligation, which make them avoid conflict to maintain a positive social relationship.

Hierarchical vs Egalitarian societies

Hierarchical refers to societies that have a formality. It is organized into various successive layers depending on several factors such as status and power. People’s social status is determined by social power; some people have more power than others and it is widely acceptable from people in the society. People will give more respect to others who are a senior by age and by social status. Conversely, egalitarian society is a community where everyone is treated the same way regardless of their social status. It holds the belief that all people are equal and should have the same rights and opportunities.

Thailand, in particular, is an example of a hierarchical culture. Social relationships are defined in terms of one person’s superiority to another.  Teachers are superior to their students, bosses to their subordinates, parents to their children and elders to the younger generation. Even in language, we use different kinds of words with people depending on their social status. For instance, we use different words when talking to a friend, parent, boss, teacher, or monk or when we speak to the Royal family or have a conversation that refers to them. We even use different names for ourselves depending on whom we have a conversation with.

How Thai and American see the boss!

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Concept of Self between Thai and American

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graphics copyright of Yang Liu

Tightness vs Looseness

In a ‘tight’ society, such as China, Japan or Thailand, parents and teachers emphasis rule abidance. They monitor children’s behavior; a good child or a good student is the one who abides the rules. In Thai culture, people have been taught to follow the rules and the patterns of behavior that their ancestors have passed down to their children. It is something that people have been doing for generations.

On the other hand, parents and teachers in a ‘loose’ society, such as America, tend to encourage children to explore the world more. Parents and teachers in a loose society are more permissive than those in tight society.

 

Thai Culture American Culture
Social system Collectivism  Individualism
Social relationship Hierarchical Egalitarian
Nature of culture Tightness Looseness
Conflict style Indirect/ avoidance Direct/ confrontation
Social status Characteristics such as age, gender, and family determines social status People’s status is based mainly on their own achievements, including education obtained and level of success realized in their line of work.
Emotional expression Emotional control Emotion is openly expressed
Communication Indirect Direct

 

Related content:

Cultural Tightness-Loosness

Negotiating Globally by Jeanne M. Brett

The Journal of Values Based Leadership

Why is it essential to know about cultural conflict?

 

“Cultures are merely different, not deficient, and each culture’s norms and practices should be assed only from the perspective of the culture itself, not by standards embraced by another culture. It is the idea that one cannot make judgments about a culture just because they are not a part of that it. Outsiders should be able to see the cultural from a neutral perspective and not judge the culture before understanding it. Each culture should be viewed with respect and as an equal because no one culture is better than any other. They should be allowed to practice their own beliefs, what a cultures believes to be true, and values, a shared view about is right.”

source: Cultural communication

What is the relationship between culture and conflict? How do cultural differences play an important role in conflict? Why does all this matter?

Conflict is part of most interpersonal relationships. Misunderstandings can arise because of cultural differences. Culture seems to make a distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and people usually favor ‘us’ over ‘them’. This distinction generally leads to bias and prejudice that one’s own culture is superior to other cultures. In other words, people tend to favor of one’s in-group and discrimination against out-group, thereby leading to cultural conflict. Cultures are embedded in almost every conflict. It affects the way we frame a relationship with others and also identifies how people in a different culture see and deal with conflict in a different ways. For example, conflict between a teenager and parents is influenced by the generational culture, and conflict between religions occurs when one race feels superior to the other.

Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism occurs when the groups tend to be ethnically centered and hold the belief of superiority of one’s own ethnic group; they believe that their own culture or group is better and more important than others. Ethnocentric individuals judge a so-called out-group only by cultural differences such as behavior, language, religion and customs based on their own values, attitudes and standards.

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picture credit: bhmschool Blog

These two maps below give examples of how some people think American see the world and Asia.

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picture credit: The Big Picture blog

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picture credit: Asiapundits Blog

What is culture and how is it defined?

What is culture?

Culture is everywhere. It is the characteristics of a particular group of people. Culture forms beliefs, perceptions, values, norms and knowledge, as well as attitude, behavior and language. It also determines what is right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable in each society.  People from different cultures have different ways to follow the rules and the patterns of behavior that their ancestors have passed down to their society. To put it another way, culture determines who the person is.

Culture is like an iceberg!

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When we see an iceberg, the visible portion that we can see above the waterline, is very small compared to the whole. Like an iceberg, the majority of culture lies beneath the surface. People often think that they can examine other cultures from observable characteristics such as languages, arts, foods, music and appearances. However, in reality, there are many cultural components that are invisible and lie below surface.

What is cultural conflict?

Cultural conflict occurs when values, norms, expectations and belief of one culture clash with one another. It also refers to disagreements between people in different cultures caused by misinterpretation of other’s behavior.

Welcome to Cultural Conflict blog!

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So…what is this blog going to talk about?

This blog will focus on conflict that arises from cultural difference and how conflict occurs from the misinterpretation of people in different cultures. The aim of this blog is to give people a sense of awareness of how culture affects our view of the world. Also, I hope that this blog will help the readers have a better understanding of why culture is an essential part of conflict and conflict resolution. Understanding cultural differences is a first step in resolving conflict rationally and effectively. If people understand and are more aware about cultural differences, they will be able to manage or change their perceptions toward others. I think culture plays an important role in conflict. It is another layer that intensifies many conflicts, and at the same time, understanding cultural differences can mitigate conflict and help people with different cultures to live happily together in a multicultural society. The content in the blog will be drawn from books, academic papers, articles, pictures, videos and more that describe how conflict arises from cultural differences and why culture is an essential part of conflict and conflict resolution.

As I am Thai, so I will also discuss about Thai culture, including how words, gestures or social context from different cultures could cause a conflict.

Any suggestions about how to make this blog more effective are very welcomed and appreciated.