Traditionally, culture was understood and studied as a unique issue that belonged to a concrete area or region. It is from this conception, now outdated, that the commonplaces, stereotypes, and generalizations that we all know well were born: "the Germans are rigid", "the Spanish are disorganized", "the Italians are noisy", "the French are unpleasant "and many others.
This approach to culture is a partial and incomplete concept since it presupposes that based on our origins we assume certain characteristics that we cannot change.
However, in its most global and complete meaning, culture is the set of characteristics that distinguish different people individually. These characteristics are not only linked to the country in which one is born or raised but are configured starting from a series of heterogeneous factors ranging from the traits of one's personality to family, religion, friends, education, profession, and so on.
Furthermore, it is necessary to distinguish, on the one hand, between multiculturalism and interculturalism.
Multiculturalism refers to a situation of coexistence between different cultures, without these necessarily coming into contact with them.
On the contrary, interculturalism refers to how different cultures relate to each other, appreciating differences and seeking forms of communication that are fluid and without impositions, which often lead to change and enrichment of individuals.
On the other hand, cross-cultural is a concept that refers to a global vision of culture, which aims to seek harmony in intercultural relations by exploring how to exploit different cultural characteristics to join forces, in order to achieve concrete goals.
In a cross-cultural company, people of different nationalities know, accept and respect the cultures they live with, and interact accordingly. Many international projects fail to develop their full potential due to not having taken cross-cultural into consideration.
Cultural adaptation strategies are not developed that make it possible to face the problems originating from cultural clashes or to learn to blend talents between people with very different origins and to manage different skills in an increasingly international and increasingly global context.
Perhaps, in this age characterized by globalization, to the insistence on the need to develop our emotional intelligence we should add the learning of cultural intelligence. In this way, we can better understand other cultures and, consequently, get to know ourselves better.
1. The Masai and the spit of good wishes
The Masai, a people living in the heart of Africa, see in the act of spitting a sacred symbolism and a form of respect. Members of this tribe spit to greet their friends, validate the business, or wish good luck. When two friends meet, they spit on their hands before shaking them.
When a child is born, family members spit on the newborn as a wish for long and lucky life. On the day of her daughter's wedding, it is customary for her father to spit on her forehead, in the hope of a happy and lasting union.
2. The guest in Afghanistan
Regardless of who you are, whether you are enemy or friend, Christian or Muslim, poor or rich, remember that for Afghans the guest is sacred. If you receive an invitation from an Afghan family, refusing or offering to bring food as a gift is a great offense. For the Afghan family, even though they may find themselves in great economic difficulty, it is essential to do their best, even at the cost of a large economic expense, in order to make the guest feel at ease. He will be the object of the most absolute respect, such as not to be found in any country in the Western world. The only welcome gifts can be fruit, flowers, or a gift from your country of origin.
3. Yalda's night
Iranians celebrate this night as the longest night of the year.
It is the moment when the "new sun" is born which will shine with increasing intensity, shortening the hours of darkness, promising a lush spring which in Iran is celebrated with the feast of Shab-e Yalda. Every Persian of any religion or ethnicity feast on the night of December 21st either in Iran or in any other country they are in.
In ancient times, winter was considered a symbol of adversity: spending the darkest night of the year together as a way to face together the difficulties of life, waiting for the dawn to beat the darkness. Today they take this opportunity to be together and create good times.
4. The walking wedding
In the shadow of the Himalayan mountains, the Mosuo people live. Their complex social structure is said to follow the practice of "walking marriage". Women can choose and change partners as they please, a feature that favors female independence from men.
Although female dominance in the workplace is a rarity elsewhere, the most distinctive component of their culture is the Mosuo system of "traveling marriages". It consists in the fact that the partners of the Mosuo women visit them only at night and have nothing to do with raising children. The children of the Mosuo remain with the maternal family forever and therefore the women are at the head of the family unit.
In an age where women's emancipation remains a crucial issue, ironically, the culture in which women are truly prevalent is in steep decline.
5. Shoes yes or no?
In Indian culture, in addition to the hands, a lot of attention is given to the feet, which are considered impure. If you accidentally touch someone with your foot, the gesture is considered an offense and, to repair immediately, you first touch the person hit with your right hand, then touch your eyes - first the left and then the right - to apologize. Another habit to watch out for: never turn your feet to an elderly person sitting opposite. Shoes must be removed in places of worship, except in Catholic churches. It is not difficult to understand where to enter barefoot, thanks to the indications and the number of slippers and shoes present at the entrance of these places. Even when you enter someone's home, it is a good idea to take off your shoes, to prevent the host from getting annoyed and taking the gesture as disrespect.
6. Don't refuse the Gursha!
In some states of East Africa, such as Ethiopia and Eritrea, there is a tradition called "Gursha" which consists of feeding each other by wrapping a piece of injera - bread similar to crepes - with a piece of food taken from the serving dish. It is very intimate and it is an act of affection. The trick is to be able to swallow without touching the other person's fingers with your mouth and without dropping the food. Refusing the Gursha is considered an unforgivable insult to the person offering it!
7. Education in Thailand
Do not point your toes or touch a person with your feet as this is considered a sign of disrespect and rudeness. The feet are considered the least clean part of the body and symbolically, and physically, the lowest and therefore less noble. For this reason, Thais when they are in a place of worship sit with their legs bent to one side so that the toe and sole of the foot are not facing the Buddha.
Globalization is often presented today as a new form of colonization, aimed at establishing everywhere the same relationship or the same absence of a relationship with history and with men. But the reality is more complex. Globalization can be used honestly if what is shared is information, knowledge, progress, understanding of the other, sharing of values, and wealth.
The answer to the globalization of cultures is cultural diversity: a diversity founded on the belief that each person can enrich humanity with the contribution of his share of beauty, and truth.
Of no less importance is economic globalization, one of the driving forces behind cultural diversity in the workplace. The acceptance and management of cultural diversity have been promoted and touted as a positive tool in social and organizational engineering aimed at solving and preventing the problems of group dynamics both in business organizations and in society.
The positive attributes of cultural integration in business organizations have received fair and significant attention over the past two decades. Employers have realized that workforce diversity offers both tangible and intangible benefits, such as innovation, reputation, productivity, and recruitment: in fact, research shows that 67% of job seekers have stated that a company's diverse workforce is a key factor in evaluating job vacancies.
For the most part, the effects of cultural diversity in the workplace depend upon how well they are being managed by the organizational leaders.
With proper strategic planning, top management can enhance the positive effects and reduce the negative effects of cultural diversity in the workplace.