Cross- cultural communication occurs when a person in one culture converse or sends a message to another person in a different culture. Cross-cultural communication can cause miscommunications when the message or the receiver misinterprets the content being passed across.
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For example, when a person from one culture fails to receive the meaning of the intended message, it can result in miscommunication. Thus, the higher the differences present between the sender and the recipient’s cultures, the higher chances for cross-cultural miscommunication occurring.
Cross-cultural communication can also involve issues of misunderstanding. These issues are created through misinterpretation and misperception. Various authors on cross-cultural communications have proved that communication style, language and perception among others influence the way different cultures communicate and relate to each other.
Switzerland is a country which has succeeded in cross-cultural communication. This is because it is endowed with diverse cultures. Although, this is viewed by most people as a success, other underlying issues been cited as a result caused by diverse cultures. For example, the French speaking population is a dominant group and Germany forms the majority group in Switzerland. They both seem to lead distinct lives.
French is the second official language in Switzerland mostly spoken in Jura, the cantons of Geneva, Vaus, neuchatel and in Valais, Bern and Fribourg (Brodbeck and Frese, 2000). On the hand, German is the majority language in the region. The German language has an enduring tradition of being associated rural and urban areas with a plethora of distinctive Alemannic dialect. These differences in languages constitute the underlying issues in cross-cultural communication among these societies.
However, despite the differences in language, the two societies has managed to succeed in fostering cross- cultural communication through channels such as media channels, schools, places of worship and in their daily interactions. Besides, working life has also influenced the cross-cultural communication between the two cultures.
This paper examines the cross-cultural communication between the French and German communities residing in Switzerland. The author illustrates the two cultures, overtime, have embraced each other’s cultures. This is demonstrated by elevating their languages to form part of the country’s national language. Besides, the wider spread and distribution of the two cultures has harmonized the Swiss society guaranteeing national diversity. It is through language, religion and unique characteristics of each culture that has fostered the Swiss identity the country embraces presently
Switzerland is a comparatively small country. It comprises of physical features such as the mountains, rivers and beautiful sceneries. It is a decentralized country and embraces high living standards (Brodbeck and Frese, 2000). Also, the country is endowed with four national languages namely; the Romansh, Italian, French and German.
Despite its smallness, the four cardinal languages have remained part of Switzerland heritage for several centuries. On the distribution of cultures, the North-East part comprises of German Speaking population. It makes about sixty four percent of the total Switzerland population (Osland and Bird, 2000). On the other hand, French-speaking population accounts for about twenty percent of the entire Swiss total population.
Swiss-Germans embrace different set of dialects in their language. That is the high-level and low-level German dialect. High- level German dialect has regional variation especially the vocabulary. The High-level and low-level set forms a basis of both written and spoken language in schools in Switzerland besides being widely used in everyday interaction.
Swiss-French who understands high-level German language experiences problems in understanding low-level Swiss-German. This is because of accent, complexity of vocabulary and grammar (Brodbeck and Frese, 2000). This has created a complicated problem in achieving cross-cultural-communication.
For example, a French speaker studying German in a school is taught basic or standard German. When he/she encounters a real life situation, he/she faces a challenge of not fully communicating with other people speaking in a similar style (Osland and Bird, 2000). Similarly, the Swiss- German languages and other local peculiarities for instance, the traditions, often impede connection within Swiss dialect based regions.
French-speaking population accounts for about twenty percent of the whole Swiss total population. According to Treffers-Daller and Willemyns (2002) the Latin region is composed of French and Italian-speaking Switzerland. The northern territory is occupied by the Germans.
Predominantly, Swiss-German culture is primarily focused in the villages and cantons surrounding it. These distributions of the population provide an independent understanding and encourage a decentralized society encouraging cross-cultural communication (Neuliep, 2000). Although Switzerland has several cultures, four most influential cultures and their linguistic orientation are embraced nationally.
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Hence, when a different language is learned apart from the four official languages, is often English. This inclination has elicited problems, as some cultures feels alienated from the rest of the society. According to Smith and Bond (1993) one problem of encouraging learning a particular language apart from the national languages is that, most people fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of the language (Treffers-Daller and Willemyns, 2002).
Most of the Swiss languages apart from the Ramonsh are embraced by Germans and French cantons. Perhaps, this is credited to being official languages in their own native lands (House et al., 2002). By legitimizing the two languages, the Swiss government has granted cultural and political interaction in accessing programs, televisions, films, newspapers and books among others. These elements are necessity. As they contribute to multiculturalism that support use of different languages (Osland and Bird, 2000).
Swiss-German and Swiss- French Culture
The increasing influence of German and French culture is seen as a magnet of a ‘counter action’ that has fixed the notion of ‘Latin Switzerland’ (Rash, 1998). Overtime, the French and German cultures, have kept the Swiss unity of integration. According to Treffers-Daller and Willemyns (2002) these communities in the nineteenth century were anchored on a common will.
Hence, the collective will came to stay compelling the long-standing traditions reflected in the four elements of ethno-linguistic groups. According to Rash (1998) the Switzerland local culture and availability of Germans and French cultures perceive a culturally homogeneous nation that to some, fosters a national Swiss culture.
This claim is also asserted by Rash (1998) who claims the Swiss -German speakers are perceived as a representative of Swiss culture. However, Massey (2006) alleges that apart from the common concern to live together, the Germans do not reflect the Swiss identity or culture. Massey (2006) gives reason for this argument.
He admits that German closeness to Austria and their homeland robs full harmonization of Swiss- German culture in Switzerland. Similarly, Swiss- Germany being part of the strongest economy in Switzerland, embraces the decision delivered from Bern or Zurich (House et al., 2002).
Many Swiss- German corporations perceive it is favorable for them to have head offices in Zurich than in Geneva. Whereas, this is important for regional integration, the corporation owned by Swiss-French views this as a form of alienation thwarting culture pluralism and affecting cross-cultural communication between the two societies. Hence, this grants broad hostilities between the French-German cultures.
Swiss-French and Swiss-German Characteristics
According to Massey (2006) French uniqueness in Switzerland is anchored in tradition found in the home countries. France tradition is compared to wine, where composition, purity, classification, suitability and maturation process depicts an enological allegory.
This makes Swiss-French to stake emphasis on future orientation and greatness. The Germans, on the other hand, are likened to symphony, where characteristics such as synchronicity, efficiency, harmony, unity, conformity, precision, leadership and love of music contribute to molding the cultural symphony Treffers-Daller and Willemyns (2002).
French and Germans cultures view each other on a anecdotal perspective. This is prompted by the underlying cultural attitudes, assumptions and values. Analysis, groups and leaders agrees, the regions of these two cultures should be considered as a homogenous culture (Jehn, 1999).
This is because of the economic differentials and the tendency to exhibit a sense of negativity amongst them. For instance; the Germans lack patience, are stringent than Swiss-French. Swiss- French has the tendency to simulate the role of the subdued minority. Hence, having a homogenous region will promote cross-cultural communication and enhance the Swiss identity.
This is also supported by a survey carried on Swiss- French and Swiss- German speaking regions. Jehn noted the Swiss-Germans had differing characteristics compared to Swiss-French (1999). They are perceived as risk takers, courageous, enterprising, sensitive to environmental, encourage pride in their work and stereotype against other cultures. Hence, because of courageousness, Swiss-German business life is organized and efficient.
Treffers-Daller and Willemyns (2002) explains that when a Swiss-German says something, he/she must succeed it on time. On the other hand, the Swiss-French encompasses traits such as creativity, optimistic and confidence in the future, daring and risk takers, flexibility and change orienteer’s and open to international issues.
These characteristics permit a broader picture about Swiss-French and Swiss-Germans and their matching subcultures in Switzerland. The illustration proves these cultures have differences as perceived to their identities in Switzerland.
The Swiss- German is divided along religious lines. According to Javidan and House, 2002) the Protestant comprises of about forty four percent. On the other hand, the Catholics makes 48 percent as the assessment data gathered in 1980. Religion divisions within the Swiss-German mirror the divisions in Switzerland as a whole.
Also, according to Tayeb (2001) the Bern and canton comprises of seventy five percent protestant. In the Alpine zone, catholic is predominant. Religion has contributed in enhancing cross-cultural communication between the two communities. Religions establish an environment where these cultures interact at a more personal level. Besides, it has helped counter the linguistic pluralism in Switzerland and society as a whole (Javidan and House, 2002).
Though, this is true, the religion has also as elicited painful antagonism between various religion groups. For example, rife between the Catholics and the Swiss-Germans protestants is prevalent than between the Swiss-French and Swiss-Germans respectively. However, the political inclinations have pacified these dimensions and balanced the religious differences encouraging cultural harmony.
Various cultures have different long held traditions which they uphold. Hence, this is not unique to Swiss-German. According to Tayeb the Alpine region of Swiss-German speaking posses’ customs that encompasses supernatural beliefs (2001). These traditions are practiced by the Swiss-Germans inhabiting the region of the Alps Mountains.
These traditions manifest themselves in different forms such as through mists and storms. Similarly, Osland and Bird (2000) alleges the Forn, which is a gusty, warm breeze that blows from the Alps and creates an immediate temperature alteration, is linked with these traditions. However, this approach is vanishing in the Alps presently fixing a common coexistence among these two cultures.
Stereotypes and Common Misconception
Murata affirm that Swiss-French, and Swiss-Germans have varied stereotype and delusion in the manner they relate to one another (1994). According to Murata Swiss-French depicts a harsh and aggressive attitude when communicating among themselves and foreigners (1994).
In Swiss- French dialogue, consensus is regarded or stressed in a conversation. The reason behind this is consensus illustrates a person’s objection. It can either be concealed or kept within them. According to Wierzbicka (1991) openness to ideas or opinions and attitudes is embraced by French while communicating. Although, it establishes conflicts, it grants a basis for an affirmative exchange of naive ideas, which is regarded as a significant constituent in the Swiss-French.
As noted by Wierzbicka (1991) compared to Swiss-French communication, the German communication system value controversy and emotions. It regards the unequivocal expression of both affirmative and pessimistic thoughts. Opinions are expressed emphatically and a difference connecting fact and independent judgment is apparent to be no-existent. Wierzbicka (1991) demonstrate this need of open expression at the expense of being detrimental to someone is a key advantage of Swiss-German communication (Neuliep, 2000).
The perception of Swiss-French and Germany culture in Switzerland varies. Although both cultures resulted from migration to the new land, the way they relate to each other varies. These variations are prompted by the characteristics of these cultures. As discussed in the paper, Swiss-France demonstrates characteristics linked to their native land.
Because historically, they are associated with wine, with which its composition determines its final purity and effectiveness, Swiss-France have endeavored this concept to coin their cultural characteristics.
Hence, they are perceived to be oriented towards greatness. On the other hand, Swiss-German tradition is anchored on work. Hence, work orientation characteristics such as efficiency, harmony, unity, precision and leadership has formed part of their cultural identity in Switzerland.
The Swiss-French and Swiss-German has embraced cross-cultural communication to a larger extend. This has molded the way the manner they relate to each other. Their languages are part of the mainstream languages spoken in Switzerland. However, the level of their individual languages, grammar and vocabulary among others has hindered full utilization by either culture. Similarly, difference in perception and stereotyping among other issues as challenged cultural unity amongst themselves.
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