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Factsheet:

International culture

Resource summary

This factsheet was last updated in July 2016.

Understanding national cultures

Culture is a distinct way of life with common values, attitudes and behaviours that are adopted by a society. It’s the ‘way we do things round here’. In understanding cultures, an important starting point is a high level of self-awareness and one’s own cultural assumptions. Although there are varying definitions of culture, a common theme of these definitions is that it is a way that a society is shaped.

Although it's generally accepted that the increase in travel and technology has led to a blurring of some distinctions, there are still clearly definable differences between different countries and ethnic groups which national culture is often seen to help to explain. National culture has been defined by Hofstede as the collective programming of the mind that differentiates members of one social group from another. Despite the popularity and accessibility of cultural frameworks, in particular Hofstede’s work and the more recent studies by the GLOBE network, this is a complex area. Cultural differences are typically manifest in areas such as food, customs, language, housing and entertainment. It is important that those working on an international basis also understand that culture impacts on the ways in which people work, and behave when working. Although the outward signs of work (such as dress and technology) might be increasingly similar regardless of the country of operation, there are ways in which people can be offended, and business propositions damaged, if there is no understanding of the national culture of the people involved.

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  • Understanding national cultures
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