Do you wonder why Italians talk so much with their hands and Spanish talk so fast, or why Indians do nod their head when they speak? Is this real or simply stereotypes we have about these cultures?

That is a fact, we are all different, and we have different cultures, beliefs, religions and perceptions. Even in a same country you will find those differences, often described as people from the north and from the south.

In our global world, nowadays more than before, being culturally aware is a key to succeed in customer service. International tourist arrivals worldwide are expected to increase by 3.3% a year between 2010 and 2030 to reach 1.8 billion by 2030, according to UNWTO’s long-term forecast report Tourism Towards 2030 (source: UNWTO Tourism Highlights 2016 Edition).

Should you desire to deliver an excellent service to your guests, it starts by knowing your customers and their culture. Understanding of different culture help us communicate more effectively, avoiding communication “faux-pas” and surprise your client, showing your cultural sensitivity.

What is Culture? Culture is complex and more difficult than it appears. Culture is often described as an iceberg, only the minimal part is observable, consisting in the behaviors, words and actions which are apparent to the casual observer. Below the water, an immense part is remaining including our Core values. These are primarily learned ideas of what is good, right, desirable, and acceptable — as well as what is bad, wrong, undesirable, and unacceptable. Our core values are influenced by our religion, history, media, educational systems and family. Ultimately, our Interpretations are the translations of our core values in our personal and professional lives.

In your work experience, what has been the most “challenging” culture you had to deal with? The way we feel close or distant to another culture depends on the discrepancies of our core values. These differences are expressed through our common perception of time, space, fate and personal responsibility, importance we give to the non-verbal communication towards the verbal communication and our behavior with regards to hierarchy. Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. He defined six dimensions of national culture based on extensive research from more than 70 countries. The six dimensions are: (source: https://geert-hofstede.com)

  • Power Distance Index: How cultures accept hierarchy.
  • Individualism vs Collectivism: Self-image defined in terms of “I” or “We”.
  • Masculinity vs Femininity: Masculinity being the preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success—“Tough”. Femininity, being the cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life—“Tender”.
  • Uncertainty Avoidance index: How a society feels comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. Controlling the future or letting it happen.
  • Long-term vs short-term orientation: Short-term more normative society preferring maintaining traditions, whereas long-term society are more pragmatic and encourage thrift and efforts in modern education to prepare the future.
  • Indulgence vs Restraint: Indulgent society enjoys life and having fun; Restraint society suppresses gratification and regulates it by means of strict social norms.

As an application of the above model, we can evaluate China and Switzerland on 2 dimensions, the power distance and the uncertainty avoidance (source: https://geert-hofstede.com/china.html)

  1. Power distance: China rates much higher than Switzerland. As Chinese culture believe that inequalities amongst people are acceptable and individuals are influenced by formal authority and sanctions. Thus, understanding that hierarchy is important for Chinese people can help you in managing the client relationship and apprehend who is making the final decision in a business encounter.
  2. Uncertainty avoidance: China has a low score on Uncertainty Avoidance.  This meaning, that Chinese are comfortable with ambiguity. The Chinese language is full of ambiguous meanings that can be difficult for Western people to follow.

Grasping the variances in a culture core values is key while mastering the non-verbal communication with hand signals could be very useful in the day to day life. You may know that hand signals in a country may be perceived in a totally different manner in another culture. When traveling, I love to identify those differences that could break a communication if used inappropriately.  As an example the victory sign in Europe is positive. However, if you turn your hand and show the front of your two fingers, it is perceived as an insult in the United Kingdom. This comes actually from history when English archers had their fingers cut to prevent them to bow their arch. Or the okay sign, which is considered as good in most cultures and in Latin America is considered as an insult.

How could you become more culturally sensitive? Just pay attention to other cultures, be curious and observe behaviors. Being culturally aware will definitely connect you emotionally with your clients and create a deeper relationship, in order to develop a customer loyalty or attract new ones to your business.

Would you like to know more and develop your sensitivity towards other cultures, Join our Cultural Awareness module taking place from 27 to 28 February 2017, at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. http://www.lhcconsulting.com/cdp

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Linda Papasidero Consultant at Lausanne Hospitality Consulting

Prior to joining LHC in August 2009, she handled several project development portfolios in international cooperation and executive education for the city of Lausanne. She then joined EHL in the Academic Department where she coordinated communication and academic advice activities.

Her responsibilities at LHC include the quality maintenance of EHL certified schools through marketing and academic consulting support, development of learning centres around the world and delivery of executive education courses.

Linda holds a Master of Arts, International Relations, from the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Marketing Management from HEC Lausanne.

Though she grew up in Lausanne, Linda has Mediterranean blood as she is originally from Spain and Italy. Thanks to her cultural diversity and interest in languages, she speaks French, Italian, Spanish, English and basic German. She is currently learning Arabic.

After work and during weekends, she practices martial arts, snowboarding, roller skating and taking long walks in the forest. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, especially around good food and extra-large servings of chocolate desserts!