updated 2015 May 25
Social - Cultural 
This web page has audio clips - just click on the icon (like the one to the left) and you can hear Prof. Richardson's voice adding additional information to topics on the page. turn on your speakers to hear audio clips
INTRODUCTION In this section of the course we will study the Cultural Forces. It is critical to understand the effects of the cultural environment on International Business.

Even if you do not have the resources to "know", in detail, each culture, you need to know the effects.

"Because international business includes people from different cultures, every business ... is subject to cultural challenges"

The cultural environment has influences on some of the other environments:

  • the cultural environment strongly influences the labour environment
  • and the socio-economic environment
  • and the politics of the populace 
    • which effects the Political / Regulatory / Legal Environment..
The cultural environment is in turn influenced by some of the other environments:
  • the economic evironment
    • is the standard of living comfortable, or stressed
  • the technological environment
    • how people are able to do things
    • do they walk to work, drive
    • can they use a phone, access the internet
  • the geographic environment
    • effects weather
    • growing food
    • housing and living conditions


http://www.witiger.com/resume/Hillbook.jpg In the Cdn Edition of the book Global Business Today, authors Hill & McKaig maintain that cultural factors are so important they can sometimes raise the cost of doing business.

Hill & McKaig explain with an example from the U.K.
"Historically, class divisions were an important aspect of British Culture, and for a long time, firms operating in Great Britain found it difficult to achieve cooperation between management and labour. Class divisions led to a high level of industrial disputes... and raised the costs of doing business in Great Britain relative to the costs in other European countries..."

Japanese companies sometimes cited Canada's official bilingualism policy as one of the reasons they didn't want to set up operations in Canada in the 1980's and instead went to the U.S. where they could operate in English - however, interestingly, as the demographic of the U.S. changed in the 1990's, many companies realize that in the 2000's, to operate in the U.S. is to operate in English and Spanish !!


Cultural   Awareness
            • consumer product
            • industrial product
Cultural Awareness

Knowing about the cultural circumstances of your target country can either help you save money, or prevent making mistakes - and no consumer products company can afford to make mistakes in a intensely competitive market.

The degree to which you must be culturally aware in marketing international business products and services depends, to some extent, on whether the product/service is a consumer product or an industrial product.

Consumer Products, by virtue of their marketing process 
  o Mass advertising
  o Sales Promotion
  o Personal Selling
tend to require a strong degree of Cultural Awareness since this knowledge relates to the human communication in the selling process.

Industrial Products have less requirements, for cultural awareness, (in some instances), since the negotiation is based on a situation of which there is little debate about any required cultural adaptations. For example, the technical specifications for an industrial ceramic automotive component might be the same in New York as they are in Tokyo or Moscow. What is important, to make this sale, is the price of the component and how it fits the specifications required by the component.

Other industrial products, which end up being part of a package which is evaluated by consumers, do have to incorporate Cultural Awareness, eg. components of clothing products and food products.



Some textbooks say "the nation provides a workable definition of culture for international business ..."
In reality, there are many exceptions to this in 2015.
These exceptions are the result of many political boundries breaking down as former conquered countries leave aggregated nations and identify their own independence. Examples include the break-up of Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union, the turmoil in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine, and the recent events inside Afghanistan.

It is the opinion of this world traveller that in the millenium, many nations in the world cannot be strictly defined by their political boundaries, and the political boundaries of many places are increasingly irrelevant to the mix of cultures contained by that boundary.


Cultural Imperialism 
  • Egyptian
  • Roman
  • French
  • English
  • Dutch
  • Spanish
  • Chinese
screen shot from an old Powerpoint slide on Culture in Int'l Business


Language as a Cultural Stabilizer
A common language can bring people together within a defined boundary
Key Points
for Understanding
One of the great strengths of the Roman Empire was the fact that all Roman citizens spoke Latin, or learned to speak it.

One of the reasons, some say, that the United States became the largest economy in the world was because it is the only place on the planet were over 200 million people all speak the same language across many times zones.


Language as one of the three ingredients of a world power
# 3 Linguistic Spread

  • the Greeks and the Romans had it
  • the Spanish, French and English did it
  • the Chinese did it to some extent
(# 1 is economic power, # 2 is military strength)
What languages are most spoken in the world? "Including alternate (second language) as well as primary (mother-tongue) speakers, two languages reached approximately one billion (1,000,000,000) speakers by the end of the 20th century.  These are Putonghua or "Mandarin" Chinese, official language of the most populous nation on earth, and English, now the most widely used and studied language of the world. The title of "the most spoken language on earth" presently alternates between Chinese and English within each twenty-four hour cycle.  When the sun is over the western Pacific, the most spoken language is Chinese.  When the sun is over the Atlantic and China sleeps, the most spoken language is English."

 from www.linguasphere.org/language.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pmb_dDQ-h6o 2011 4th week of January

WTGR made a video "voice over screen capture" of the following segments discussing
Rules for Doing Business across Cultures

Rules for Doing Business across Cultures

   o be prepared

Don't use slang expression and metaphors when speaking English to non-English speakers - think carefully about your vocabulary and prepare simple words to explain jargon and slang that might be common in your business sector. If you say something is "a piece of cake", you might think it means easy, but a person using a foreign language-English dictionary might interpret this as meaning "a portion of a pastry". Canadians might not think we use a lot of slang, but as a result of our multi-cultural influences we do use many many slang expressions and metaphors. For example from the younger generation we have "my bad" to the older generations "beg your pardon". Also, keep in mind that  we don't speak the same language across Canada, there are some regional accents that can be slightly difficult to understand
click on the flag click to hear  to hear an example of what I mean
So - part of being prepared is to look at the vocabulary in your marketing promotions material and think about the words in your presentations and consider substituting any phrases or terms that might be difficult for people to understand if they did not know the cultural references of some expressions.
   o slow down
click to hear when people are listening to you in a language other than their birth language, it takes several seconds longer to hear and understand the meaning of phrases, even for long-time speakers of second-languages

listen to an example

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ps9HRDPtDQc&list=UUAtk_NQTEd9jP4hEI6lPUHA In January 2012, Richardson was interviewed by The Toronto Star for a story about R.I.M.'s new graphics and imagery for marketing their new Blackberry models. Featured at http://rimblogs.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/be-bold-infographic.jpg 
Richardson commented saying "this is not Obama's Blackberry"
and explained the perils of straying too far from your original "target  market segment" saying you should "dance with the girl that brought you", which was misquoted as "dance with the girl that  bought you"  thestar.com/news/article/1123857
In retrospect this mistake of missing the "r" in "brought" probably happened because Richardson was speaking too quickly, and the listener was unfamiliar with the slag expression, which is used mostly by older people, or people that might have a rural background.
   o establish trust
this is one of those pieces of advice that is easy to say but difficult to explain "how to do" clearly
- the personal experience of Prof. Richardson has revealed two little things that can help establish trust in the very beginning
1. be precise and accurate about directions to a meeting location - make it easy to say after "See, right where I said it was, trust me"
2. be reliable and trustworthy about time - if the meetings start at a particular time, always be early, even if the culture of the host country is casual about time
   o understand importance of language
some languages are very "old" and the saying of certain words carries a meaning far beyond the dictionary meaning - depending on the context
- this means do not be too eager to say words in a new language unless your translator has advised you of the proper context and accompanying body language
   o respect the culture
"De gustibus non est disputandum" - Latin: About taste there is no argument"
- don't be overly-familiar - many cultures have quite formal rules for meetings, meals and conversations
- North Americans tend to be overly eager to touch other people and to address people without using titles and rank - this is uncomfortable to some culture, particularly some cultures in Asia
"Beyonce" recently (Oct 2007) made headlines when she decided NOT to do some concerts in Malaysia in response to Malaysia's restrictions on what performers can "reveal" in their clothing on stage.

CBC reported that "Malaysian authorities are warning once again that music performers should follow strict government policies if they want to stage concerts". The Ministry introduced a "compulsory dress code and other rules for performers in 2005."

Entertainment is "big business" and "international business" and is an obvious situation where clashes in the "social-cultural environment" meet with rules and regulations of the "political environment"

   o understand surface culture and deep culture
some subjects are taboo, unless you are from that culture
- as a non-Japanese, it would be very difficult to phrase a question about Nagasaki or Hiroshima without offending someone in Japan, so don't
   o be sensitive to different body language and different meanings of gestures
click to hear In some cultures, some parts of the body might be considered offensive if you touch them, or cause them to be shown.

listen to an example

   o keep the appropriate physical space/distance and eye contact in conversations
click to hear listen to an example
   o understand that within each culture there may be strong differences based on
click to hear o gender, - some culture have very different rules for interaction among men and women
o education, - some societies have a small % of college and university grads
o religion, - some cultures have extremist groups which have objectives much different than the majority of the mainstream adherents to the religion
This list is a combination of some existing points from Traditional IB Textbooks + some additional recommendations based on the personal international travel experience of Prof. Richardson
Translation Considerations across Cultures
EDC - Export Development Canada is a federal government that provides services to Canadian companies exporting. As part of its activities, it has an informative web site that provides information to assist people in export development planning
One section on the EDC site deals with translation considerations
"Today, most companies have their own web site and an increasing number make it a point to include a section in one or more foreign languages to respond to the needs of their current clients or prospects. Including text, or even audio-sound, in other languages is a fairly inexpensive add-on to an already existing site and can have business benefits.

Some companies are opting for multilingual multimedia presentations to attract international buyers. These are easy to store and transport on diskette, and can be displayed on laptops or projection screens. Also, information, data, specifications and price lists can be easily and rapidly modified or updated at little cost.

Corporate videos dubbed in foreign languages are another handy vehicle to promote products or services. While videos are certainly more expensive to produce than a web site, video players are a less expensive technology for play-back and are more commonly used overseas than computers. Also, internet access may not be available in certain countries because of government controls or because the service is expensive due to monopoly providers."
written by Hassan Eltaher, president of East & West Communications, a multilingual communications and video production company - for the EDC

Sociocultural   Forces
http://www.sob.cencol.on.ca/faculty/trichard/INTL220/Chpt6/sld001.htm Powerpoint Presentation on culture from
an old text -
click to hear
culture is learned, it is not innate click to hear


Sociocultural   Forces

Aesthetics - a culture's sense of beauty and good taste
Attitudes and Beliefs
  • attitudes towards time
  • attitudes towards direct speaking and shyness
  • attitudes towards value of silence vs. boldness
  • attitudes towards achievment and work ethic
  • attitudes towards change, and history
  • attitudes towards importance of religion and its role
  • Protestant work ethic, Confucian work ethic
  • Religion as a political stabilizer p. 54, text
  • Religion as a disruptive force
    • Northern Ireland
    • Israel / Palestine
Class and Castes
  • India
  • England
Material Culture / Role of Technology
  • brain drain 
  • adult literacy
  • language families of the world, map 
  • non-verbal communication, body language 
    • Silent language 
    • Kinesics
Gift giving, bribes, inducements, "considerations"
attitudes towards respect for government and authority figures
Cultural and Economics "Language Extinction"
Cultural and Economics


Student Edison J. in C44 at UTSC in May 2009, emailed some interesting comments after we had gone through most of the material on this page in class.

from an article he had read at www.china.org, Edison summarized that culture is influenced by the economic environment, and in turn the economic environment is influenced by culture; using the example of the decline of the number of speakers of the Manchu language.

Edison wrote
"Economic Environment INFLUENCES Cultural Environment:
This is because some see it as an economic disadvantage to maintain the Manchu language because the main language has changed to Chinese [Mandarin]. In some ways people would see learning Chinese (standard language) over learning Manchu because it provides an economic advantage since it is the main language taught in schools or done in business.  Thus, this shows how the economic environment can influence people's choice of language."

"Cultural Environment INFLUENCES Economic Environment:
Since Chinese [Mandarin] language has been seen as the more advantageous and more standard to learn and acquire, other cultural aspects as changes alongside.  For example, Manchu food, clothing, housing, decorations,and traditional rituals have all been abandoned.  Thus because of this cultural change, this drastically changes the economic situation for the market of Manchu products."

The original article explains
"As the official language of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Manchu is of great significance to China's culture and history.....Although the current population of Manchu in China is nearly 10 million, fewer than 100 people can speak Manchu...."

from  www.china.org.cn/english/culture/167537.htm

Cultural conflicts effecting Canadian companies 
Cultural conflicts As the "Technological Environment" through airplane travel, cell phones, the internet etc. facilitates the interaction of an increasing number of people in the world, it is reasonable to expect that there will be some situations of harmony, and conflict.

The following situations are based on "real life" circumstances where a Canadian company became (willingly or unwillingly) involved in some aspect of cultural conflict

1. A Canadian of Sikh background complained to the Ontario Human Rights Commission that a Canadian airline did not allow him to board their aircraft and that he was discriminated against. The airline, Canada 3000, claimed that the passenger was wearing a ceremonial dagger that was of a size that violated their safety regulations.
you can read the ruling online here
the ruling is interesting to read because it provides information, to non-Sikhs as to some of the circumstances involved in their religious practices - including court testimony by experts in the Sikh religion

Cultural conflicts 2. A UTSC student comments on how a Canadian company felt pressured in to providing facilities and time for one particular religilous community.

Student A.K. in March 2010 emailed me to say 

"Hi Professor,

This is just a comment in regards to what you spoke about in class on Wednesday night. You asked an  interesting question about which is more important religion or school? Well what about if religion more important than your job? 

I work at the Loblaw head office and recently just because 50 out of 3000 people signed a petition stating they need a room for daily prayers, they got one. Now they are trying to fight to get Friday's off to go to the mosque. I realized that once you give in to one demand people will continue to push for more and more because they know a company won't want to tarnish their reputation. As a Muslim I am pleased with the changes but at the same time don't feel it is fair to the non-muslims."

Cultural conflicts
click to view larger
Prof. WTGR's 2009 
Christmas Tree
3. A UTSC student comments on how religious holiday hours seem to satisfy nobody.

Student Natalie S. in May 2010 emailed me to say 

"When you mentioned how the cultural environment influences other  environments, whereby "the cultural environment strongly influences the labour environment and the socio-economic environment,"  the whole debate about whether malls should be open on Christmas Day came to mind. There was an article on April 23th [2010] in the Toronto Star about the ramifications or opportunities retail businesses could face if  "Toronto City Council allows wide-open shopping on public holidays."  Evidently, a general manager at Yorkdale stated very clearly that "there's always a debate with respect to extended hours, but the reason retailers are open those hours is because there's a market that  appreciates it. If there is a market and there is a feasibility financially, than any good retailer will ensure that that happens.
What this all comes down to is the reality that not all cultures celebrate Christmas Day. Working at a gym, I have come to the observation that human-beings are never satisfied. Although our gym is opened on Christmas Day, people from other cultures seem to always question why our gym is not opened for longer.  Thus, what you said about bringing to the surface our similarities or commonalities as a way of integrating society is useful. If not, our world would be in chaos."

click to see larger Natalie's comments about other cultural's responses to Christmas prompted me [WTGR] to express my personal opinion. IMHO, this fussy political correctness that Canadians seem to torture themselves about is mostly a Toronto/Vancouver urban thing.

It doesn't happen in the rest of Canada.

the pic above is the little Christmas village that we have on display every year for "small relatives" and grand-children visiting.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNYY4mc7vC8 Some comments Witiger posted on YouTube May 2010 about how white "Anglo Canadians" seem to be forever making extreme efforts to avoid "offending" other cultures and that this is, for the most part, a Toronto/urban Canada thing