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Do expats in Myanmar have their Achilles heel? Read the “astonishing story” of intercultural mistakes that nearly cost an expat’s job!

Article by Hana Bui in Today Tourism Magazine, Nov, 2019.

 

How to overcome expats’ Achilles heel in Myanmar?

The ancient Greek mythology has it that Achilles was made invulnerable. His mother dipped him into the river Styx in the Underworld containing special power. Yes, he became invulnerable everywhere, but at his heel where his mother held him. An Achilles heel is a weakness in spite of overall strength, which can lead to downfall.
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Do expats in Myanmar have their Achilles heel?
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No one has only strengths without weakness. Expats in Myanmar are not exceptions. They have actually lots of strengths when working in a newly open country where things are mostly in the beginning phase of development like Myanmar. Their strengths include advanced education and knowledge, extensive international experience and vision, multiple networks, etc. They therefore usually bring with them great expectations about reaping fabulous success in the Golden Land.
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So what is their Achilles heel?
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Nonetheless, they have often found lots of oddities, quirks, idiosyncrasies, and challenges working here. These challenges tend to occur when working with Burmese people due to cultural differences. “Cross-cultural leadership” is the biggest management challenge of expats working overseas, according to The Economist.
Thus their Achilles heel lies in the cultural conflicts – for many cases the cultural shock is inevitable!. “What is Different is Dangerous”, states Geert Hofstede(the leading scholar in Intercultural Theories).
———————————————-
The intercultural mistakes nearly cost an expat’s job!
———————————————-
A European veteran hotelier who has lead lots of 5-star hotels setting up and operations shared the story which nearly cost his job (his words). In order to foster a relationship with his local business partner, he once eagerly invited him to the kitchen at a Michelin-starred restaurant in a 5-star hotel. It would be a great honor for his guest at home to be treated that way!

However, it turned out to be a painful experience! For his Myanmar guest felt displ-eased, even angry and then became distant to the expat. Their relationships grew weird and bad.
Trying hard to find out the causes of these sudden negative changes in his local partner’s behaviors, eventually, after lots of struggles and efforts, he discovered the truth. His local business partner felt offended, if not insulted, to be invited to have food in a kitchen. It is not the way a high profile person is honored in Myanmar! Not sure how much reputable Michelin restaurant is perceived by him, but he felt very bad and even humiliated.

“The intercultural mistakes nearly cost me my job!” (He commented)
———————————————-
How to overcome the expats’ Achilles heel?
———————————————-
There are various ways to work it out. But the first significant step is to be aware of their own cultural background. (Knowing thyself is the beginning of all wisdom – Aristotle and Lao Dzu). The second awareness is of Myanmar culture. The cultural conflict – their biggest challenge or their Achilles heel, thus, is the third crucial awareness. For example, if an expat comes from a country of low hierarchy level, he would expect his subordinates to give honest feedback once being asked. Then in Myanmar, a country with hierarchy culture, subordinates are not comfortable to give feedbacks to his supervisors being afraid of considering “disrespectful” to his superior. Then, cultural conflict is possible while they work together.

Understanding this would lead to finding effective solutions to minimize this dreadful challenge of cultural conflicts. For example, analyzing from one’s own experience, learning from others’ expats’ experience, talking with HR Managers, attending intercultural seminars, workshops, reading books of Myanmar working culture, etc. The decisive factor lies in the outcome versus the expense in term of time and money. Which option would be the optimum – the one that can be learned fast and applied effectively, at a reasonable cost?

In many cases, decent intercultural training is a practical and saving solution. But it also depends on how long an expat has worked in Myanmar. The newcomer expats get the best benefits from intercultural workshop though. As one is fresh, professional intercultural training can help him save months and years of making intercultural mistakes that diminish his performance, without knowing it!. At the same time, his company or organization saves lots of money and time, too. They have in fact invested hugely in order to afford hiring an expat.

For expats who have lived in Myanmar for years, the other ways may be helpful as well.
In any cases, do not fall because of your Achilles heel! It is curable!

Hana Bui is an intercultural trainer and best-selling author. Her book “When Global Meets Local – How Expatriates Can Succeed in Myanmar” is the first-time guidebook for expats on how to work well with local colleagues. Hana can be contacted at hana@interculturemyanmar.com.

Copyright by Dr. Daniele Trevisani. Article extracted with author’s permission from the book “Ascolto attivo ed Empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace” (translated title: “Active Listening and Empathy: The Secretes of Effective Communication”. The book’s rights are on sale in any language. Please contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani for information at the website www.danieletrevisani.com

Mental Presence: Knowing how to pick up signals, and what best coaches do

There is an urgent need to return to our ancestral sensibilities. We urgently need to restore our ability to increase our mental presence to perceive correctly, even before logically evaluating data alone. To do this, we must apply mental presence in conversations and know how to use listening in a special way, making it an “augmented perception” of any signal that enters our sphere:

  1. Verbal auditory signals. What did Tom just say at the other table?
  2. Paralinguistic auditory signals. Can I hear a person’s vocal stress?
  3. Tactile-tactile signals (did someone just sit in this chair? Is it warm?), or “what does this handshake tell me about you?
  4. Kinaesthetic-visual signals: how is the team today? Understand it in stride, in posture. Understand it even in the locker room. Do they seem calm or agitated? Demotivated or motivated?
  5. Olfactory Signals: What is this new smell I smell in my newly purchased car, have I ever paid attention to it? Am I aware that it is an engineered smell, or do I think it is a result of chance?
  6. Emotional Signals: how am I in the moment, how is my anxiety, my joy, my heart, my dreaming, my living in relationship with others and myself? E... How is the person in front of me? How is he/she breathing, what is he/she feeling?
  7. Body signs: what job might the second from the right on that table be doing, based on the type of muscles and how he is dressed and the marks I notice on his skin?
  8. Holistic signals: who is the most dangerous or dissonant person in this train car or bar, is there someone who might be dangerous? Based on what do I notice?

The signals are many. Signs of love, signs of hate, signs of indifference, signs of fear, signs of disgust, signs of friendship. If only we knew how to catch them all….

But as soon as we realize that the discourse does not touch our vital interests, we turn around and continue in our distracted way.

Distraction is an evil of the age.

The “rage of the times” and the rush have brought listening to absolute lows in the history of Western civilization.

Smartphones and other electronic devices have replaced people, and so we have become good at “listening” to the signals of electronic devices, recognizing a beep from a different beep, manipulating a phone or a touchscreen, but less good at looking into the eyes of a person who is speaking to us live and grasping their nuances, micro expressions, tone of voice, gaze, head nods, and understanding what they are feeling, and whether or not they are lying.

Throughout the book there will be dozens and dozens of useful tools to re-learn the art and technique of “reading people” – which means practicing a “listening beyond words”. The important thing is that the spark is ignited in us. The spark of ancestral DNA. The spark of curiosity.

The fury of the times has accustomed students to quizzes, multiple-choice tests, computerized exams, and the oral exam is slowly disappearing from the landscape of academic training because it “takes too long”. Thus, we no longer learn to “tune in to the Professor and his interests that we may have heard in class,” because it has become unnecessary.

Even in groups of boys and girls, sitting at a table in a restaurant, one can notice a constant “doing” but with one’s smartphone, and an almost physical absence of where people really are, with rare, very rare conversations between participants, often superficial.

It’s never easy to listen. Sometimes it’s more comfortable to act deaf, turn on the Walkman, and isolate yourself from everyone. It is so easy to replace listening with emails, texts and chats, and in this way we deprive ourselves of faces, glances and hugs.

(Pope Francis)

______

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

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Copyright by Dr. Daniele Trevisani. Article extracted with author’s permission from the book “Ascolto attivo ed Empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace” (translated title: “Active Listening and Empathy: The Secretes of Effective Communication”. The book’s rights are on sale in any language. Please contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani for information at the website www.danieletrevisani.com

Knowing how to ‘read’ people. A return to our ancestral sensibilities

In our DNA there is an inherent part of us that is interested in what others say, how they look, how they move, even how they smell.

There are several reasons for that. One is human curiosity, the other is connected to personal interest and self-preservation.

One of our main ancestral preoccupations is to understand whether or not a person is dangerous to us, based on the communication signals we receive. Another very concrete preoccupation of a more everyday nature is to understand whether or not a person is credible, whether or not we can give them credit, based on how he/she communicates, the communication channels he/she uses, the signs and signals he/she emits[1].

Knowing how to read a person in an instant, means grasping what – in that ‘frame’ of time, a second, or a few minutes – the person is ’emitting’ about him/herself. And so we will be able to capture words, but also and above all emotional states, states of mind, by reading faces, reading the body, listening to the paralinguistic messages, the timbre, the vocality, even before the words.

Even from a photo you can tell something. You can also ‘listen’ to a photo, yes. Or a painting, or a piece of music, or a landscape, or a car..

Of a person, at work, we might trust what is written on his or her business card, but we insist on looking also at his or her posture, straight or curved back, chin, shoulders, and sad or proud eyes, to understand if he or she is proud of that card is handing to you, or if it is a burden for him or her.

Let’s even say that we are curious by nature, because survival requires knowing things, understanding who is hostile or friendly, and knowing how to do it in a fraction of a second, like the real hunters/gatherers we were, by looking, observing eyes, movements, intentions.

Instinctively smelling situations comes before ‘understanding them rationally’.

This is part of that Unconscious Intelligence, a form of intelligence that in this book we are adding to the many Multiple Intelligences we have, mental and bodily resources so well exposed by Howard Gardner[2].

Freud has already spoken of unconscious intelligence (calling it ‘Unbewussten Verständnis‘, or ‘unconscious understanding’), but without highlighting it as a resource available to all of us, and the philosopher Schelling (1775-1854) speaks of it even earlier,[3] identifying it as an ‘intelligence of nature’, but once again without considering it for what it may be, our most precious resource. But we want to do it.

Gardner showed how the phenomenon of ‘intelligence’ can be broken down into a varied series of distinct human abilities, therefore of different intelligences: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, personal and interpersonal[4], adding later, the intra-personal level of intelligence, related to knowing oneself.

Close to Inter-personal Intelligence, we add in this volume the category of Unconscious Intelligence, which we consider here as a real skill, a trainable competence for active listening, deriving from a stronger connection and training in the dialogue between the Neocortex (a recent part of the brain development), and other ancient areas such as the reptilian brain and the pre-mammalian brain, areas very able to pick up subtle and instinctive information.

And here we are: on the animal side of man, on his ‘reading the gaze’, on his ‘listening also to the unspoken’.

Knowing how to read people, their purposes, requires a return to ancestral skills, when attraction was signalled with eyes to other eyes, and not with a social profile. Now, more than ever, it is time to learn how to read people again. Because, on the one hand, we are losing the ability to recognise ‘bad guys’ or enemies, and on the other hand, we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater and perhaps we say NO to someone who can do us no harm and may even bring us value.

Coaching listening skills becomes of the highest value, since it trains people in “perceiving more” and this can bring an extra-value to any situation, including:

  • Negotiations
  • Dating
  • Parenting
  • Friendship
  • Business
  • Social life
  • Sports
  • Performance

… and any other field of life.

[1] Weigold, Michael & Trevisani, Daniele (1993). Mass Media, image and persuasion: The indirect effect of communication channels on source credibility and message acceptance. Paper presented at the Annual meeting of the Association For Education In Journalism And Mass Communication, Kansas City, MO, USA, (1993, August).

[2] Howard Gardner (1983), Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Edition Hachette UK, 2011.

[3] Friedrich Schelling, Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie oder über das Unbedingte im menschlichen Wissen (The self as the principle of Philosophy or the foundation of human knowledge), 1795

Friedrich Schelling, Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur (Ideas for a philosophy of nature), 1797

[4] Howard Gardner (2010), Formae mentis. Saggio sulla pluralità dell’intelligenza. Feltrinelli, Milano.

____

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

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Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

__________

Today’s article will be about culture shock and its consequences. Since I experienced it too, I will start with a general description of this phenomena, presenting my personal experience at the end.  

What is culture shock?

Let’s use Wikipedia’s concise definition to explain the term:

“Culture shock is an experience a person may have when one moves to a cultural environment which is different from one’s own; it is also the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply transition to another type of life. One of the most common causes of culture shock involves individuals in a foreign environment. Common problems include: information overload, language barrier, generation gap, technology gap, skill interdependence, formulation dependency, homesickness (cultural), boredom (job dependency), response ability (cultural skill set).” (1)

In other words, when you move to a culturally different place, you may be overwhelmed by a multitude of feelings, such as anxiety, loneliness, confusion, etc., because this new place feels far away from what you normally experience in your daily life. Everything is strange and unfamiliar and dealing with this feeling of unfamiliarity brings you anguish and inner stress.

In some cases, this psychological disorder can turn into a physical problem: it is not uncommon that after some time you start to suffer from stomach pain, insomnia or, in my case, kidney pain, etc.

The process of culture shock is divided in 4 stages:

  • Honeymoon: in this first stage everything seems new and beautiful and you feel euphoric for very little detail in your new life, but unfortunately this initial happiness is bound to end.
  • Negotiation: this is the worst part, in which nothing seems right anymore. You are angry, because you begin to realize that things are not going as you thought, you are sad because you feel lonely and you miss your family and friends, you feel anxious and uncomfortable, because you start comparing your new life with the old one and you realize that your old life had good points too. Fortunately, this stage will also come to an end.
  • Adjustment: after 6 or more months you will finally adjust to the new routine, the difficulties no longer seem so difficult to overcome, as in the previous phase, and everything is going back to normal.
  • Adaptation: you have now adapted to your new life and are experiencing a sense of belonging, feeling at home in what was a new environment at first.

When you finally reach the 4th stage, a re-entry culture shock may arise when you go back to your old place, forcing you to reexperience the process of culture shock all over again.

Now, explaining what a culture shock is and experiencing it are two completely different things and I know what I’m talking about, because it happened to me too.

When I first arrived in Japan, I couldn’t believe how happy I was to be there. I was fascinated by every little thing, from road signs and buildings shapes, to restaurants and shops. I remember my first calls to family and friends, full of excitement and hope for a bright future in Japan. If I’m not mistaken, I also remember telling them that I wanted to live there forever, or something like that.

All that lasted only 2 months and my negotiation phase started when I came back to Japan after spending my Christmas holidays at home in Italy.

I was devastated: I continuously thought about Italy and all its positive aspects. I missed everyone back at home and I couldn’t believe I was so exited at first, because I couldn’t think about any pros of being in Japan anymore: people looked unfriendly, road signs were too strange, fruits and vegetables costed too much, the room I rented was too small, etc.

In brief, I felt like I was living in the wrong place, a place in which I could never belong even if I tried and that feeling of uneasiness didn’t help me sleep (yes, I also suffered from insomnia).

After a while, when my boyfriend came to Japan for a month, I started being happy again and I was trying to adjust to my new life, when my study and work experience came to an end and I had to return to Italy.

Since I didn’t have the time to adjust completely I didn’t have to suffer from a re-entry shock, but I couldn’t go through all the stages, so, right now, I feel like retrying that same experience to prove myself that I can finally find a new home.

I don’t know if I will do it, but be sure that, as soon as this pandemic end, I’ll be back to Japan.

To conclude, if you really want to move to a culturally different country, be aware that all the inner and outer things you will experience are normal and that if you are very determined to build a new like a completely new environment, you can do it, because you will always adjust to it in the end.

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

__________

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_shock

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Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.danieletrevisani.com

__________

I wasn’t really sure about the topic of today’s article, because there are actually too many things to say about being a foreigner in Japan, but I decided to list some pros and cons that had a special impact in my daily life there.  

The first thing I must underline is the fact that I’m Italian, so please note that my point of view may be different from yours if you do not come from the same culture as mine. Furthermore, everything is based on my personal experience as a working student, so be aware that my list of advantages and disadvantages can be considered incomplete by those how had a different experience.  

Being Accepted   

First of all, I would like to start with a negative issue: being accepted in Japan can be very difficult.  

This doesn’t mean that people make you feel unwelcomed, maybe some people do, but there are very few of them. What I mean is that they will always see you as a foreigner, even though you speak their language perfectly or you own a house and car and have lived there for more than 20 years.  

The worst thing is that there is nothing you can do to be fully accepted, because it is impossible to have the requirements: being born and raised in Japan by Japanese parents, or, in other words, being a pure blood Japanese.  

The good thing about all of this is that, since you will never be considered a real Japanese, you won’t have to put up with social pressure, trying to live up to the expectations of Japanese society, which are very high.  

Feeling Safe  

As it is well known, Italy is one of those countries with a high level of petty crime. When I have to go the station or when I have to go out alone during night hours, I’m always scared of bumping into some pickpocket, that wants to steal my bag. When I was in Japan, I always felt safe when walking down the street, even when I had to head home from work at midnight.  

Another example to explain this incredible fact is the following: when I went for the first time in a food court inside a shopping centre, I noticed that people left their bags on the tables to occupy them without anyone to check on them.  

That really surprised me, because I couldn’t believe they weren’t afraid of someone stealing them, but that’s how Japan is and it’s great.  

Human Relationships

Here comes my Italian side. People in Italy are usually very direct: we are used to openly express our emotions and ideas, without fear, while Japan is totally the opposite: people do not speak their mind and interpreting their thoughts is a hard task.    

Creating long-lasting relationships was the most difficult part of my experience. The truth is I made many friends, but no one was Japanese. I had Chinese friends, Korean friends, Italian and American friends, but I couldn’t make a single true Japanese friend.  

But as I explained before, maybe that is something related only to my personal experience and nothing more. 

Cleanliness and Punctuality  

This is probably something you have heard more than one time about Japan. The Japanese have enormous respect for society and social harmony. For this reason, it is unacceptable to leave a place dirty or to fail one’s word, failing their duties by arriving late.  

This is why everything is always clean and punctual.  

It may happen that, for example, a train arrives late, but usually it is due to some major problem, like accidents or poor weather conditions.  

During my stay in Japan there was only a time when my train was late and that was when a big snowfall created some damages on the trainline. I remember that I took the train at 11 p.m. after finishing my work and I arrived at home at 2:30 a.m… I was devastated, but fortunately I didn’t have to repeat that experience for a second time!  

The Japanese Language  

This is the last, but not least part. As I said before I was a working student in Japan, so I was there to work and learn the language. I must say that at first, I couldn’t speak Japanese quite well and for that reason, many things appeared more difficult than it actually were.  

If I have to use one of my experiences again, I would choose the first time I went to an hospital, 2 days after my arrival in Japan.  

I wasn’t very lucky, that’s true, because I contracted a kidney infection during the flight, that caused me many problems.  

I clearly remember it was Sunday and hospitals were closed, so I had to call an ambulance to have an immediate complete check-up. The people on the ambulance didn’t speak English, so I couldn’t well explain how I was feeling and, at the same time, they couldn’t understand what my emergency was.  

Fortunately, my Italian flatmate, who later became my friend, helped me, coming with me to the hospital to mediate. This way, I could overcome the language gap and cure the infection.  

After improving my language skills there were no more problems like that, so, for those who decide to go to Japan, please remember that you may be lucky and find someone who speaks English, but usually if you do not know the language, you may encounter many more obstacles, than necessary.  

To conclude, being a foreigner in Japan is not easy, but if you begin your experience with an open mind, ready to find a different world made of different values and a different language, you will be able to overcome all obstacles and maybe find a new place to call home. 

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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Today’s article will be about Germany and its immigration history, past and present. By observing what happened during the last 70 years, we will try to understand if people are really able to learn from their mistakes. 

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country at the intersection of Central and Western Europe, situated between the Baltic and North seas to the north, and the Alps to the south; covering an area of 357,022 square kilometres, with a population of over 83 million within its 16 constituent states. 

Germany is a great power with a strong economy. As a global leader in several industrial, scientific and technological sectors, it is both the world’s third-largest exporter and importer of goods. As a developed country, which ranks very high on the Human Development Index, it offers social security and a universal health care system, environmental protections, and a tuition-free university education. (1)

But what about immigration? 

In 2011, Germany had 80.3 million residents. Of those residents, 15.96 million – almost 19% of the entire population – had a migration background. 

Incessant wars, religious conflicts, famines, political grievances and a lack of prospects forced many people to leave Germany over the centuries. The land’s relative population loss was enormous. An estimated six million emigrants left Germany between 1820 and 1920. The tide of emigration only began to ebb, beginning in 1890, as the industrial era brought economic success to the German Empire. From that point on, the number of individuals immigrating to Germany surpassed the number of Germans who left. Foreign laborers found employment, above all, in the booming centres of the coal and steel industries. 

During the national socialist dictatorship the camps and the daily sight of forced laborers were simply part of everyday life for the local population.  

The years after 1945 were shaped by people in motion as well. The forced mobility of diverse groups of people (refugees, people expelled from their homes through territorial exchange and other so-called displaced persons) altered the structure of the German population, giving rise to tensions and conflicts with local residents. The number of refugees and expellees only first began to decline at the end of the 1940s. Simultaneously, the growing demand for labour soon outstripped the capacity of the labour force.  

In order to offset labour shortages, the federal government turned to a traditional model of recruiting and temporarily employing foreign workers, who took on jobs that German laborers considered unattractive. After the 1966-7 economic crisis, the immigration process decelerated until the early 1990s, when the numbers rapidly grew again and are continuing to grow even now. (2)

As a result of immigration, people with different cultures and traditions and greater religious diversity are now living together.  

Attitudes about successful coexistence in an immigration society differ significantly across generations: the younger the person, the less the wish for adaptation. While 66 percent of the population over 70 years of age express the opinion that immigrants should culturally adapt, this proportion gradually declines among younger groups, to 22 percent among respondents under 25 years of age.  (3)

There are still many prejudices and stereotypes about foreigners, but, in the end, the truth is that Germany profits from the immigrants. They boost the economy, contribute towards the welfare system and help reduce the lack of professionals. (2)

This doesn’t happen to Germany alone: immigration remains a profitable asset for all countries, even though many people haven’t understood that yet, and continue to regard this phenomenon as a destructive cancer. 

To those who think that I can only say that if you look at your family tree and go back to centuries, you will surely find that your ancestors migrated from a place to another. The fact is that we are all children of migrations and we must never forget it. 

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germany

(2) https://domid.org/en/service/essays/essay-migration-history-in-germany/

(3) https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/en/our-projects/religion-monitor/projektnachrichten/how-do-germans-deal-with-cultural-diversity/

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Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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Today I would like to talk about the cultural differences that can be found in the Chinese area, starting with a brief explanation of China’s History.

China is one of the biggest countries of the world and the most populated one. Understanding its history is very important to understand the global development, because some of the most decisive discoveries and inventions took place precisely in this area (e.g.: paper, printing, gunpowder, compass, etc.)

One of the most important elements of Chinese history is the Dynasties.  Emperors and Empresses from the same bloodline ruled China from 150 BCE to 1911 CE. When a dynasty was overthrown, a new one would take its place or China would be divided into different states.  These Dynasties were held together by one of the most influential ideas of though, known as Confucianism. (1)

Confucianism was developed in China by Master Kong in 551-479 BC, who was given the name Confucius by Jesuit missionaries who were visiting there. However, the fundamental principles of Confucianism began before his birth, during the Zhou Dynasty.

At that time, the ideas of respect and the well-being of others were prevalent, but there was also an emphasis on spiritual matters – specifically, the goodness of the divine and the mandate to rule given to those in power. These ideas were meant to unite the people, create stability and prevent rebellion.

Confucius believed his philosophy was also a route toward a civil society. However, he shifted attention away from ruling authorities, the divine or one’s future after death, focusing instead on the importance of daily life and human interactions. This new, refined version of the philosophy did not completely take root until the next dynasty, the Han (140-87 BC). The foundation of Confucianism is an appreciation for one’s character and the well-being of others. 

This doctrine has a complete system of moral, social, political, and religious thought, and has had a large influence on the history of Chinese civilization. (2)

In 1911, China overthrew the Qing Dynasty to form a democracy, however in 1916 the government fell apart.  This caused a great chaos leading to China being divided up into several smaller states.  Eventually, two major parties tried to reunify them: the Nationalist party, that sought for democracy, and the Communist party lead by Mao Zedong, that took control of the country after the 1949 revolution.

Mao Zedong lead multiple cultural and industrial revolutions with varying degrees of success, turning this country into a mix of Communism and Capitalism. (3)

Even though it recently got reunited, china’s cultural differences still live. Due to the many barbaric invasions that got different ethnic groups mixed up, to the different geographical features that can be found in this vast land, to constant political and economic divisions and reunifications, etc. China possesses an incredible variety of cultures.

For example China legally recognizes 56 distinct ethnic groups and 292 living languages. All these languages could communicate thanks to Chinese characters, that could be well understood all over the country.

Concerning religion, the government of the People’s Republic of China officially espouses state atheism, but over the millennia, Chinese civilization has been influenced by various religious movements, such as Taoism and Buddhism, that were combined with the doctrine of Confucianism.

Diversity can be found also in Chinese cusine. In China we have the “Eight Major Cuisines”, including Sichuan, Cantonese, Jiangsu, Shandong, Fujian, Hunan, Anhui, and Zhejiang cuisines. All of them are featured by the precise skills of shaping, heating, colorway and flavoring. Generally, China’s staple food is rice in the south, wheat-based breads and noodles in the north. Furthermore, southern cuisine, due to the area’s proximity to the ocean and milder climate, has a wide variety of seafood and vegetables, that the northern cusine do not possess. (4)

There are many other cultural differences that can be mentioned, but there is not enough space to list them all.

So, to conclude, China is an example that cultural differences do not exist only among different countries, but also inside one country. To negotiate effectively, we must be aware that even our closest neighbour, culturally speaking, can be the exact opposite of us, even though we both share the same place of origin.

Chinese Regions

(1) http://goayc.org/blog/2018/5/17/a-brief-overview-of-chinese-history

(2) https://study.com/academy/lesson/confucianism-definition-beliefs-history.html

(3) http://goayc.org/blog/2018/5/17/a-brief-overview-of-chinese-history

(4) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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