Globalisation, aided by technology, has greatly enhanced interactions between people of different locations and cultures. People are now able to visit various destinations of the world where they interact with different cultures. Nevertheless, cultural differences still hamper intercultural communication in the hospitality industry. In particular, differences in language, value systems, and beliefs between different cultures influence interpersonal communication.
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Many differences exist between the Chinese and Argentine cultures. Identifying the main distinctions between these two cultures is important in understanding the impact of cultural differences in the hospitality industry. This paper will identify and analyse the differences between the Chinese and Argentine cultures using various theoretical models. It will also examine aspects of intercultural awareness and communication in the hospitality and tourism industries.
Identification and Analysis of Cultural Differences
Understanding the communication styles, language, and non-verbal cues of different countries will help in establishing good interpersonal relations with visitors and businesspeople from these regions. Argentina and China engage in trade with each other at a bilateral level. While these two countries have many common interests, beliefs, and values, subtle distinctions exist between these national cultures.
High and Low Context Cultures
In his study, Hall (1976) categorises global cultures into high and low context groups. The two cultures differ with regard to the level of association, interaction, communication styles, territoriality, temporality, and learning (Bloch & Whiteley 2009). In high context (HC) cultures, which include Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, among others, trust is essential in relationship building. In contrast, in low context (LC) cultures, such as American and German, relationships are built on mutual benefits or interests. Moreover, insider group mentality does not apply in LC cultures. Argentine value systems belong to the high context culture category. In HC cultures, messages are expressed in a clear and explicit manner. This means that nonverbal cues and symbol do not have much significance in HC cultures.
In contrast, in LC cultures, people rely on nonverbal cues, such as body language, to determine the exact meaning of a verbal communication. In other words, they read between the lines to understand the true meaning of a verbal communication (Guirdham 2005). Thus, the ‘cultural contexts’ can hamper communication in hospitality organisations. A person from an LC society may dislike the inquisitiveness of a person of the HC culture. This may lead to misunderstanding between the two individuals. Implied meanings can also be a source of misunderstanding between LC and HC cultures. Often, an HC individual requires elaborate details or procedures regarding a task before doing it. On the other hand, according to Solomon and Schell (2009), LC people only require the essential information for doing a particular task. Such differences in value systems also influence multicultural communication.
Communication styles also differ between LC and HC cultures. In LC cultures, people express their views and ideas openly and explicitly. In contrast, LC individuals communicate indirectly with fewer words. In other words, messages are communicated through nonverbal elements such as “gestures, body language, facial expressions, voice tone, and eye movements” (Adler 2002, p. 17). In this regard, a person from the HC culture may perceive the frankness, seen in many Western societies, as rude and antisocial. Gesteland (2002) writes that HC people do not like embarrassment or acts that may lead to dishonour and thus, tend to choose their words with a lot of care to avoid hurting the listener.
Their central aim is to build reliable and long-term relationships with their partners. Thus, in case a person from an HC culture wants to turn down an offer, he or she uses silence or gesture to register his disapproval. According to Shachaf (2008), HC individuals may reject a proposal by smiling, raising their eyebrows, or remaining silent.
There are also differences in the way HC and LC cultures convey sad or disturbing news. Weaver (2000) observes that HC people, such as Chinese, fear breaking sad news to another person. They delay such news or use indirect methods to communicate the message. LC people also tend to prefer personal privacy with regard to property ownership. In contrast, in HC cultures property is communally owned. LC people also tend to lay emphasis on procedures, legal contracts, and agreements when doing business. In contrast, in HC cultures, such as Chinese, business agreements are relationship oriented and are largely based on mutual trust.
Hoftstede’s Cultural Dimensions
The study by Geert Hofstede (2001) examined different cultures from over 60 countries. It surveyed employees and managers working in a multinational corporation (IBM) globally to determine how individual cultures affect organisational behaviour. The study established that certain behaviours and attitudes are characteristic of the national culture of each country (Mor-Barak 2005). Hofstede (2001) explains these cultural differences using six dimensions.
Power Distance (PD)
PD is defined as the “degree of inequality in power between the powerful and the less powerful individuals” within an organisation or society (Hofstede 2001, p. 84). Individuals from high power cultures or countries are more dependent on procedures and protocols when undertaking a particular task. In contrast, people from low power countries tend to have a democratic or a collaborative leadership style, where they consult all stakeholders before making a decision (Hofstede 2001). Thus, differences in power distance between cultures can affect how people collaborate within an organisation.
Argentina is ranked 49 on the power distance index (PDI) scale, which is higher than other nations in Latin America. This ranking can be attributed to the presence of European immigrants who settled in major cities such as Buenos Aires (Besterfield et al. 2003). Social status in Argentina is dependent on appearance, attire, and adornments, such as expensive watches, which indicate power. In contrast, China’s PDI, which stands at 80, is higher than that of Argentina. In the Chinese society, power distance is exhibited through age (elder members are recognised first), profession or academic qualification, and other titles.
Uncertainty Avoidance (UA)
Uncertainty avoidance refers to the “degree to which members of a particular culture feel uncertain about the future” (Hofstede 2001, p. 77). The feeling of uncertainty about the future is present in all individuals, but religion, culture, and law influence the tendency to avoid risks or uncertainties. Organisations that have strict decision-making processes tend to be managed by people from a culture with strong uncertainty avoidance. According to Hitt, Ireland, and Hoskisson (2003), such organisations avert uncertainty through short-run solutions to emerging problems. People with low uncertainty avoidance tend to be relationship-oriented, risk averse, and sceptical of innovations. In contrast, individuals with high uncertainty avoidance tend to embrace technology faster, prefer long-term solutions, and are often loyal to the organisation (Locker 1998).
Argentina has one of the highest UAI scores (86). Most Latin American nations have high uncertainty avoidance scores, which mean that people rely on rules and legislations when conducting business. In contrast, the Chinese UAI score stands at 60, which means that the society is, to a lesser extent, structured around social norms and rules. However, the Chinese individuals also rely on trust relationships when conducting business.
This dimension explains a person’s relationships with others within a society. Hofstede (2001) writes that social relationships are a product of day-to-day interactions. The way people relate within a society has implications for cultural values and behaviour (Hofstede 2001). In other words, individualism or collectivism influences the way people behave or relate within an organisation. In individualistic societies, individuals work towards achieving individual interests and goals (Triandis 1995). They perform their roles within an organisation as individuals and thus, lack a distinct group identity. In individualistic organisations, employee appraisal is based on individual performance. In contrast, in collectivist societies, people work as a group with no individual interests or goals.
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Argentina has a score of 45 on this dimension. As mentioned before, the arrival of immigrants from European countries in 1900s created a thriving middle class in major cities and thus, the Argentine culture is predominantly individualistic. Based on the rankings, Argentina tops the list of countries with individualistic tendencies in Latin America (Samovar & Porter 2001). Nevertheless, some aspects of collectivism, such as family orientation, are still evident. In contrast, China is collectivist society. Its individualism score is lower (20) compared to that of Argentina. Thus, the Chinese tend to place a high premium on family and relationships compared to Argentines.
This dimension describes how people from different cultures set and pursue goals. In masculine societies, success is tied to “career and money, and attitude” (Hofstede 2001, p. 81). In contrast, in feminine societies, interpersonal relationships and charity are valued over material success. People work in order to build relationships and improve the working conditions of those around them. In masculine societies, people are aggressive and firm because of the desire and drive to succeed in one’s career. Competition is common in masculine societies.
Argentina’s masculinity score stands at 56, which implies that the society is slightly masculine (Solomon & Schell 2009). It means that a large proportion of Argentines tend to be competitive, assertive, and achievement-oriented. In contrast, China has a masculinity score of 50. This means that both masculine and feminine elements exist in the Chinese society.
Long-term vs. Short-term Orientation
Hofstede (2001) identified this dimension in a study involving 23 countries. Long-term orientation refers to the “orientation towards future rewards” (Hofstede 2001, p. 78). It is characterised by perseverance and frugality in spending. On the other hand, people with short-term orientation emphasise on tradition and cultural values within a society. They endeavour to meet social obligations, honour, and standing (Kitchen & Daly 2002). Thus, in short-term orientation, horizontal cooperation and mutual respect underlie relationships. Argentina’s long-term orientation is low (20) compared to China’s 118. This implies that Argentines are less frugal, but more indulgent, compared to the Chinese.
Pragmatism describes people’s drive to explain everything around them (Hofstede 2001). In normative societies, people tend to give a reason for everything that happens around them. In contrast, in pragmatic societies, people believe that some events are beyond human understanding. Argentina has a pragmatic score of 20, which indicates that it is a less pragmatic society. In contrast, China is a pragmatic society, partly due to its religion.
Trampenaar’s 7-dimension Model
Trampenaars (1994) came up with a 7-dimensional model for analysing global cultures. In the first dimension, cultures can be oriented towards universalism or particularism (Trampenaars 1994). ‘Particularism’ is relationship oriented (e.g., Chinese and Argentine cultures), whereas universalism is guided by laws (e.g., American society). Societies can also be categorised into individualistic, where people prefer individual freedoms, or communitarian, where individuals function as a group (Hills 2002). The third dimension, the specific versus diffuse notion, defines how far individuals can be involved in a group activity. Both the Argentine and Chinese people tend to involve social relationships in their work lives.
Societies can also be neutral or emotional, depending on how individuals express their feelings. In neutral societies, unlike emotional ones, people try their best to hide their feelings and emotions. China is a neutral society while Argentina is an emotional one (Leung 1997). Cultures can also be evaluated based on whether they are oriented towards achievement or ascription, which defines how people perceive social status. The sixth dimension, sequential versus synchronous time, describes the people’s perception of time. This dimension is comparable to the “time orientation” described in the ‘Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck model’ (Hills 2002). Western societies emphasise on punctuality and proper scheduling, whereas Asian societies (Chinese) prefer flexible work plans (Leung 1997). Societies can also be grouped based on the ‘internal/outer direction’ dimension. According to Hills (2002), people’s actions depend on how they relate to nature. Some people tailor their needs and actions according to the environment (Chinese) while others believe that they can use the nature to meet their needs.
Examination of Intercultural awareness and communication skills
Globalisation has created a situation where people from different cultural backgrounds interact with one another (Yukl, Falbe, Youn 1993). According to Harris, Moran, and Moran (2004), effective intercultural communication determines the success of a business. In this section, the writer analyses the differences between his native culture (Chinese) and the Argentine one with regard to communication (language), team working, and conflict and negotiation.
Intercultural Communication (language)
In large hospitality organisations, communication must reflect their cultural diversity, as employees often interpret verbal and non-verbal messages differently. Thill and Bovee (2002) observe that cultural background affects how a person interprets a message. In relation to interpersonal relationships, the language barrier is a major barrier to effective communication. The native language of the Chinese is Mandarin, while most Argentines speak Spanish. This means that an Argentine travelling to a remote destination in Hong Kong may find it difficult to communicate with the hotel staff and tour guides. Moreover, seeking for directions may be a problem because of the language differences.
Intercultural communication can also be hampered when people interpret messages differently. China is considered a more HC culture than Argentina. The Chinese use bowing when greeting someone while the Argentines prefer to shake hands as a formal way of extending greetings. This means that, during business meetings, Argentines may consider the absence of formal handshakes as offensive. Another aspect of the Chinese society that may not be consistent with Latin cultures is the act of ‘saving face’ (avoiding embarrassment). The Chinese are often indirect communicators. This means they try as much as possible to avoid embarrassment, because their culture is oriented towards trust and harmony.
In the Latin culture, due to the Spanish influence, people tend to focus on personal goals and achievements. Organisations recognise and reward individual efforts, which encourage competition among people in the workplace (Sosik & Jung 2002). While this may lead to improved productivity and performance, it stifles teamwork spirit, since each person will be working towards individual goals. Individualistic societies value competition over teamwork. In the hospitality industry, each employee may focus on improving his/her customer service to receive a salary increment or promotion. This may motivate employees to improve the quality of their services so that their superiors can recognise and reward them accordingly.
In contrast, in collectivist cultures such as Chinese, individualism is highly discouraged. Instead, people are encouraged to cooperate and work as a group. In this regard, the level of interdependence and group harmony is high among the Chinese people (Aguinis 2002). The Chinese put a high value on group cohesion and devotion. They believe that an individual’s success is achieved through teamwork and collaboration. Moreover, promotions and other rewards depend on one’s interpersonal relationships and working experience. Thus, teamwork is more vibrant in the Chinese culture than the Argentine one.
Conflict and Negotiation
The conflict resolution approaches used by the Argentines and Chinese differ in many ways. The Chinese culture is strongly collectivist and feminine. This means that the Chinese emphasise on interpersonal harmony and thus, try as much as possible to avoid conflict situations (Graf et al. 1990). When confronted with a conflict, they call for a peaceful and private resolution to avoid embarrassments or protracted attention. In contrast, the medium individualistic societies, such as the Argentine culture, prefer to resolve problems openly to promote fairness and justice. People from such cultures prefer to give factual evidence to support their claims during negotiations. Overt disagreements are more common in the Argentine culture than the Chinese one. Thus, Argentine hotel managers would prefer to resolve employee or customer complaints publicly or in the full glare of the media due to the low power distance. In contrast, a Chinese hotel manager, when confronted with a conflict situation, would use covert tactics to avoid undesirable outcomes.
Moreover, Argentine managers, because of the individualistic cultural background, do not prefer to solicit for the services of an arbiter to help resolve a conflict. They tend to use their authority to resolve employee conflicts. However, the failure to include a third party (arbiter) can affect conflict negotiation and resolution. On the other hand, the collectivist nature of the Chinese culture coupled with uncertainty avoidance means that Chinese hotel managers would seek the assistance of another person to help with conflict resolution.
In addition, Chinese managers prefer indirect conflict resolution approaches when faced with a controversial or difficult situation. The aim is to ‘save their faces’ and protect their ‘guanxi’ (Aguinis 2002). In this view, an open conflict resolution approach, used by an Argentine manager, can cause embarrassment on the part of the Chinese employees. On the other hand, the indirect approaches used by Chinese managers to resolve conflicts may baffle Argentine staff. In general, moderately feminine cultures, such as the Argentine society, prefer negotiation, while the Chinese favour compromise as a way of resolving a conflict.
Personal Intercultural Development Plan
The comparison between the Argentine and Chinese cultures, using Hofstede’s cultural dimensions and the other models, has revealed many differences between the two cultures. The writer’s personal development plan will involve language improvement, cross-cultural training, and development of interpersonal skills to make him more adaptable, flexible, and culturally sensitive. The writer plans to enhance his language skills in three languages: Mandarin, English, and Spanish. Proficiency in these languages will allow him to communicate effectively with clients from many parts of the world. The writer will undertake formal training in the three languages and interact with students from these cultures to understand their communication styles and subtle meanings attached to verbal and nonverbal communication.
To improve his cultural competency, the writer intends to travel to countries whose citizens are native speakers of the three languages to experience their culture and values. This will help him refine his interpersonal skills and become more flexible, tolerant, and culturally sensitive. The experience will also help the writer to understand international business etiquette as it relates to the hospitality industry.
Besides cultural competency, the writer believes that mobility is essential in the hospitality industry. He plans to visit various destinations globally to grow his experience in international travels. Through regular travels, the writer will learn the behaviours, attitudes, and traditions of various cultures, sample different cuisines, and understand the value attached to relationships, work, and interpersonal interactions. Understanding the meaning of symbols will be another advantage of mobility. The writer believes that cultural competence can only be achieved through a personal experience of different cultures. Thus, by travelling to many destinations, the writer will improve his intercultural communication skills and cultural competency.
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