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East West Culture Differences Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 5134 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In today’s global business environment, with the increase in international business and in foreign investment, more and more of us are required to understand people coming from countries and cultures different from our own, so the impact of difference between Oriental and Occidental cultures on international trade becomes increasingly exposed. Therefore, this article makes multidimensional analyses of these matters arising out of cultural differences in transnational commerce. International trade is the exchange of goods and services among different countries. Owing to various socio-cultures, enormous differences exist in commercial culture of nations. The East and the West are the two mainstream cultures in the world; meanwhile, the gaps of them are obvious, appearing in values, conventions, languages, consumption patterns, social organizations and structures, etc. This paper aims at discussing the cultural differences that are faced in today’s commercial transaction in the world and evolving appropriate measures to deal with those.  

Key words: East-West cultural differences; international trade; international communication

1. Introduction

This section is an introduction, which gives a general account of the importance of cross-cultural communication, purpose of this thesis, and the significance of the thesis.

1.1 The importance of being aware of the East-West cultural differences

In our world of expanding technology and shrinking geography, people of different cultures have increasing frequency of contact and need for effective communication on a daily basis. Speaking a different language is an obvious obstacle to intercultural communication, but a greater and more difficult hurdle is to “speak” a different culture. Even though we may learn the words, the grammar, and the recognizable pronunciation of a language, we may still not know how to navigate around the greater obstacles to communication that are presented by cultural difference.

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The cultures of the East and the West really distinguish each other a lot. This is because the culture systems are two separate systems on the whole. Due to the far distance and the steep areas between the East and West, the two cultures seldom communicate until recent centuries. So they grew up totally in their own ways with almost no interference from the other. There are so many differences in culture between the East and West. However, there is a trend that the culture in both countries has been mixture.

There are problems may be caused by our failure to recognize cultural differences. Nowadays the world is becoming much more mobile than ever before. With the powerful modern transportation tools like airplane, people can travel to other counties just in a few hours. Under this circumstance, it is not uncommon to find some problems caused by the ignorance of cultural differences. Apart from different languages (and you will benefit greatly if you can learn to understand, speak or write some of them), each country has its own social systems and laws and ways of implementing them to resolve problems and disputes during international businesses. In addition, the diversity is reflected in management philosophy, operating procedure, marketing methods of merchants and the specific trading activities.

In conclusion, to be successful and skillful as an international trader it is important to recognize and accept that there are differences between the East and the West.

1.2 Purpose of the study

Entitled On the East-West Cultural Differences and the Influence on the International Trade, this thesis endeavors to probe into the nature and practical method to give a description of various kinds of cultural differences, their impact upon international commerce, and how to deal with the difficulties appearing in the business communication.

Eastern people often feel confident that they know quite a bit about western culture. In fact, they may have seen many western films, may eat at KFC regularly, may know more about the National Basketball Association or about current popular music than many Americans, may speak quite fluent English, but that does not necessarily mean that they know western culture the way a Westerner knows it. It doesn’t mean they know the cultural grammar or can swim in those cultural waters. It doesn’t mean they can avoid miscommunication or even conflict during communicating. Just as Wolfson points out, “In interacting with foreigners, native speakers tend to be rather tolerant of errors in pronunciation or syntax. In contrast, violations of rules of speaking are often interpreted as bad manners, since the native speaker is unlikely to be aware of sociolinguistic relating”. (Wolfson,1983: 62).

The thesis attempts to make out a system and makes comprehensive study of the pervasive culture by means of definitions, classifications to improve the culture awareness. From some researchers’ perspective, culture is like an iceberg in the ocean, what we see and feel such as artifacts, clothing, was the surface part of iceberg, this part is easily to be recognized, while the hidden part of iceberg such as values and beliefs which are not immediately observable and felt, rather, hidden behind the daily verbal and nonverbal communication, and directs and regulates people’s speech and behavior. The assumption of the identification of this category is that different areas in the world are characterized by different values and features.

1.3 Significance of the study

Knowledge about cultures, both general and specific, provides insight into the learned behaviors of a group. It helps the learner to gain awareness of what makes a people unique. The factors are its customs and traditions, values and beliefs, attitudes and concepts, hierarchies and roles, time and space relations, and verbal and non-verbal communication processes. Information gained in cross-culture studies will enable businessmen to become more cosmopolitan, to cope more effectively abroad, to reduce stress and resolve conflict more readily in the international area.

Now with the Open Policy, many enterprises are involved in international trade. Those engaged in the import-export trade, depending on their understanding and skills in cross-cultural relations, can either advance or hamper their sales and exchanges. Transcultural studies benefit businessmen as follows:

Foster interaction, good will and customer relations, as well as business and profits. In a competitive society, the global businessman should function like an intercultural researcher seeking various ways to establish good relationship with his partners whose behaviors are strongly affected by cultural, social, personal and psychological factors. But the cultural factors exert the broadest and deepest influence on them.

Offer better understanding of both domestic and international markets. To be successful in international business, a good market research project requires as much careful planning as a well-designed product. Market research must allow for cultural differences in a foreign market. For example, orange juice is not a breakfast drink in France; Middle Easterners prefer spicy toothpaste; the Japanese like rice and tuna for breakfast. These cultural differences will help one make a successful marketing decision.

Provide insight relative to organizational culture and personal behavior. Intercultural study offers us better understanding of the culture in which one is going to work. For example, one aspect of American culture is that people must work hard to accomplish their objectives. We can see this in the corporate culture of Microsoft, while Chinese tend to work together and accomplish a project step by step with explicit hierarchical relationship.

Help one to gain a better sense of self and cultural heritage for more effective intercultural interactions.

In order to create cultural synergistic solutions to problems lying in international business, a global businessman must know his culture and business practice to deal with different partners with different cultures.

In a word, cross-cultural study offers better international relationships, which are bound to be enhanced when management, sales, and technical personnel can deal with cultural differences within the world market place.

2. The difference between east culture and west culture

Success on international business journey depends significantly on understanding culture and appreciating how profoundly values, attitudes and behaviors are shaped by it. Unfortunately, culture is a complex phenomenon, “The understanding of which is aided neither by the diffuse use of the term in everyday conversation nor by the wealth of definitions in current use”. At the very outset, we face the challenge of developing an understanding of culture that both captures its essence and will serve as a practical guide to the broad spectrum of cultural diversity.

2.1 A brief introduction to culture

The word “culture” often brings up more problems than it involves. So far, culture has been defined in many ways by a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds. Culture, according to Robert Kohls, the former Director of Training and Development for the United States Information Agency, “is an integrated system of learned behavior patterns that are characteristic of the members of any given society, …the total way of life of particular groups of people. It includes everything that a group of people thinks, says, does, and makes-its customs, language, material artifacts and shared systems of attitudes and feelings. Culture is learned and transmitted from generation to generation.” It is not identical with the genetic heritage that may differentiate one group of people from another. These differences in shared systems of attitudes and feelings are one of those more subtle areas of difference that foreigners experience when they leave ‘home.’ Culture affects people’s ways of thinking and their views of the world. Every culture has its distinct characteristics that make it different from every other culture. Some differences are quite evident (e.g. language, religion, political organization, etc.). However, in a word, culture generally refers to the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws morals, customs, habits, and capabilities acquired by individuals who interact in a specific area of society. Others can be so subtle that while foreign visitors may be vaguely aware of them, making adjustments is a complex process and one may remain uncomfortable and off balance for quite some time.

2.2 Causes for culture differences

The cultures of the East and the West really distinguish each other by a lot. This is because the culture systems are two separate systems on the whole. The origin of the eastern cultures is mainly from two countries: China and India. Both of the two cultures are gestated by rivers: the Yellow River in China and the Hindu River in India. These two cultures were developed for several thousand years and formed their own styles. Then in Dang Dynasty of China, the Chinese culture gradually went overseas to Japan, mixed into the Japanese society and shaped the Japanese culture nowadays. Though a bit different from the Chinese one, it belongs to the same system.

When the two mother rivers gave birth to the eastern culture, another famous culture was brought up on the Mesopotamian Plain-the Mesopotamian Civilization. This civilization later on developed into the cultures of the Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. And these two are well-known as the base of the European culture. Like the Chinese culture, the European one also crossed waters. When the colonists of England settled down in America, their culture went with them over the Atlantic Ocean. So the American culture is similar to the European one. At the same time, the difference of the language systems adds to the cultural differences. In the East, most languages belong to the pictographic language while the Western languages are mostly based on the Latin system. Other factors like human race difference counts as well. But what’s more, due to the far distance and the steep areas between the East and West, the two cultures seldom communicate until recent centuries. So they grew up totally in their own ways with almost no interference from the other.

2.3 The Role of Culture in Business

With the development of globalization, cross-culture communication is indispensable to an open society in which we live today. Therefore, cultural differences are everywhere. The cultures between the East and the West are distinguished by a rather large scale. It means not only the opinions or ways of thinking are different, but how do people behave in daily life is also not the same, sometimes may even the opposite. This paper will first probe into the causes for cultural differences and then some of the typical examples to illustrate the cultural difference between east and west, finally, ways to fit in different cultures.

What role does culture play and can it be a positive one? A manager in a Swedish pharmaceutical firm described what happened when a multicultural team was put together.

“Product design was traditionally carried out at our Stockholm headquarters. Once, by accident or design, we brought in an international team to discuss the design of a new allergy product. Due to extreme differences of opinion on what constitutes good medical practice, the team designed the new product with maximum flexibility to suit the major demands of each country.

Later, we discovered this flexibility to be of great advantage in developing and marketing international competitive products.”

Regarding cultural differences as a challenge rather than a problem may mean a little more investment of time and funds, but it is more likely to produce international workable teams, systems and products. This general approach albeit with variances in each case, has helped Japanese, Germans and Scandinavians adapt successfully to international markets. It has also helped cultivate the deep awareness of quality and consumer-friendliness, which characterizes the products of these successful countries, and pervades business thinking and aspirations.

So if international companies are to tackle the challenge of culture where do they start? Let us look in more detail at the areas of business activity, which need to be culture-responsive. Steven Globerman discussed this issue as follows:

“Culture differences do not as a rule that prohibits doing business internationally, although they often oblige management to modify the way business is done from region to region. While modifications may be required, to a greater or lesser extent, in virtually all of the international firms’ activities, the particular areas that seem to be affected by cultural differences are the marketing and personnel relations’ functions.”

It points in the right direction and its implications are clear: managing and communicating with a culturally different or varied workforce requires new methods and techniques. Success in this first objective is needed so that the company may understand consumers whose behavior and tastes are different from that of the home country.

3. The basic content of business communication

3.1 Understanding Globalization

Although globalization has come to the world¼Œmost of the world’s businesses are not globalized¼Ž”Business globalization is the ability of a corporation to take a product and market in the entire civilized world¼Ž”International firms have subsidiaries or components in other countries¼›however, control of the foreign operations is maintained at the home country headquarters. Multinational firms allow their foreign operations to exist as domestic organizations¼ŽMost firms are international¼Œeither sourcing¼Œ producing¼Œor exporting¼ŽThus the personnel of an organization must have a global mindset in order for the firm to succeed in the international marketplace. Laurent (1986), in a study of multinational corporations, found that successful multinational corporations do not submerge the individuality of different cultures completely in the corporate culture, that intercultural contact can promote a determination not to adjust to other cultures, and that new management theory and practice can be presented only to individuals who are culturally able and willing to accept it¼ŽRhinesmith (l993) states “The corporate culture contains the values, norms of behavior, systems, policies¼Œand procedures through which the organization adapts to the complexity of the global arena¼ŽCompanies with franchises abroad have had to make certain adjustments to accommodate the taste and preferences of individual countries; for example. Tex-Mex cuisine is prepared kosher in Israel. According to Rhinesmith (1993), “Diversity-both domestic and international will be the engine that drives the creative energy of the corporation of the twenty¼Žfirst century¼ŽSuccessful global managers will be those who are able to manage this diversity for the innovative and competitive edge of their corporations”. Since globalization has become an irresistible trend pervading throughout the world, international businessmen should take it into consideration and try their best to better cross-cultural business communication in the course of their international business journeys.

3.2 Understanding Intercultural Communication

The term intercultural communication was first used by Edward T. Hall in 1959. Hall was one of the first researchers to differentiate cultures based on how communications are sent and received. Hall defined intercultural communication as “communication between persons of different cultures”. The subject of “intercultural communication” is beset by a major problem, since there is really very little agreement on what people mean by the idea of culture in the first place.

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Intercultural business communication is a relatively new term in the business world and is defined as communication within and between businesses that involves people from more than one culture. Intercultural business communication allows us to work on the procedural issues of country-to-country contacts, diplomacy, and legal contexts; it allows us to become involved with the substantive, cultural level and helps sensitize us to differences. It also allows us to gather information to make decisions when we are in an intercultural environment (Rohrlich, 1998).

3.3 The specific embodiment of business communication

Business communication refers to the exchange of information resources and the touch of each other for a set purpose to establish a commercial relationship based on mutual benefit promoting the business activities to succeed. Cross-culture Communication in commerce is either a sort of business proceedings, or procedures for culture dialogue and betting game. To make business communication more effective, honest social relation needs to be created. Business Communication: communication used to promote a product, service, or organization; relay information within the business; or deal with legal and similar issues. It is also a means of relaying between a supply chain, for example the consumer and manufacturer. Business communication is somewhat different and unique rather from other type of communication since the purpose of business is to get profit. Thus to make good way for profit the communicator should develop good communication skills. Everyone knows that in the present day trends the knowledge alone won’t be a fruitful one to have sustainable development. By knowing the importance of communication many organizations started training their employees in betterment of Communication techniques.

Essentially due to globalization the world has become a Global village. Thus here the importance of cross cultural communication plays a vital role. Since each and every nation has their own meaning for each and every non verbal actions.

The way we appear speaks a lot about us in business communication. A neat appearance is half done verbal communication. But developing communication is not a day work, it needs constant yearly practice. There are several ways to get trained in excelling business communication such 1. by our own, 2. by practicing from trainers, 3. by internet contents, 4. by books.

4. Cultural differences exhibited in international trade

Numerous studies have been done to identify specific characteristics that distinguish one culture from another. The cultural difference between east and west is no exception. Let’s sum up some of the typical examples to illustrate such differences.


How do we Chinese greet each other? Informally, if we meet a friend in the street, we are used to saying: “Hi, have you had your meal?” or “Where are you going?” When it is the case of two gentlemen, they tend to shake hands. 

However, in the western countries, the above questions are just questions, not greeting at all. They may think you’re inviting them to dinner if you ask about their meals. Usually, they’ll just give each other a smile or greet with a “Hi”. They’ll shake hands only in some formal situations. By the way, Westerners can leave a party or meeting halls without a formal conge, nor should they shake hands with every attendee like most of us will do here.

Showing Gratitude

Think of the situations below. Your mother is busy in the kitchen. She suddenly asks you to fetch a bowl for her. You do so. What’ll your mother’s response be? Probably she’ll just continue doing the cooking. After a while, the dinner is ready. Your mother hands you your bowl of rice. What’s your response? Probably just begin to eat.

Chinese rarely say “Thank you” to other family members for receiving help or service. Neither will we say so between good friends. It’s such an unpopular response that if you say it, the counterpart will think you are treating him as a stranger, otherwise you are lacking of intimacy.

But in the West, “thank you” is one of the most frequently used sentences. Teachers will thank a student for answering a question; husbands will thank his wife for making a coffee.

Table Manners

The ways people eat-the table manner, really distinguish a lot. Chinese use chopsticks or sometimes even grasp rice straightly with hands as Indians do. The thin and long chopsticks cannot be used to cut food, so we use teeth as knives. We hold our food, meat or vegetable, with the chopsticks, send them to the mouths, bite off a part and remain the other part on the chopsticks. That’s the usual way we eat. We are also used to holding up our bowls when having rice or soup. But all these are considered rude in the Western countries.

The etiquette in the West requests that when eating, bowls and plates cannot leave the tables. Food should be cut by knives to fit into the mouths. Your mouth cannot touch the plates or bowls. So the regular process is cut your steak on the plate with fork and knife, send the meat cube into the mouth with fork and nothing will be returned back but the fork alone. The reason for this is probably because of the different dining tools and menus.


Symbolization is how people imagine or regard something, which reflects the way of people thinking. 

We often attach different signicance to different colors, because we feel differently when facing different colors. On the last day in the APEC summit held in Shanghai several years ago, the presidents from all over the world wore the traditional Chinese Dang suits and took a photo together. The colors of the suits were chosen by themselves freely. However, it’s quite interesting to find that most Easterners chose red while most of the westerners preferred blue. To explain this, it’s easy to realize that what red means is almost opposite in the East and the West. Red means luck, fortune here. Chinese often use this color to decorate in festivals, such as red lanterns, red Chinese nodes, and red bangers. But red stands for blood, revolutions in the West. So the presidents avoided wearing the unlucky color.

In the East, dragons are imagined as something like snake and are flowing in the sky for most of the time. The dragon is said to have the face of the horse, the horns of the deer, the ears of the ox, the body of the snake, the claws of the eagle and squama of the fish. We regard dragon as God and view ourselves the offspring of the dragon. The God of Dragons of the four seas can charge the rainfalls. But in the West, people think dragons as dinosaurs, which can stand on the ground with feet and fly with huge wings. They lay eggs just like dinosaurs. The dragons of the West have the ability to erupt fire, instead of water. The fire can destroy everything so the dragons are not welcomed at all. They even become the symbol of the Devil.

Unfortunately, attempts to categorize cultural characteristics often end up in cultural stereotypes that are unfair and misleading. In adjusting to your study abroad environment, you will therefore have to deal not only with real cultural differences, and also with perceived cultural differences. Keep in mind that people of other cultures are just as adept at stereotyping we Chinese as we are at stereotyping them-and the results are not always complimentary. The following are a few examples of the qualities (some positive, some negative) that others frequently associate with the “typical” Chinese: hard working, being economical, reserved, and ignorant of other countries, generous, hospitable, and superstitious. While a stereotype might possess some grain of truth, it is obvious when we consider individual differences that not every Chinese fits the above description. Most Germans, Japanese, Italians, etc., have stereotyped perceptions of ‘the American,’ just as most Americans have stereotyped images of ‘Germans,’ ‘Japanese,’ ‘Italians,’ etc. In short, misperceptions may exist on all sides. Frequently, the stereotype of the American is far from complimentary: the boorish tourist who expects everyone to speak English, the arrogant patriot who thinks every country in the world should pattern itself after the United States, the drunken reveler who sees the anonymity of traveling abroad as an opportunity to drop all civilized inhibitions-all have contributed to the development of this unfortunate stereotype. It is up to you to behave in a manner that will convince your hosts that this is indeed an unjustified stereotype that cannot be applied arbitrarily, at least to yourself.

5. Conclusion

5.1 Research findings

With the globalization of the world economy, organizations, especially multinational corporations, are culturally diverse in their formation of the workforce and in handling al kinds of business activities. China has seen an increasing number of FIE (Foreign Individual Enterprise) entering the Chinese market, since the country adopted the policy of opening to the outside world more than twenty years ago.

The culturally diversified workforce has brought greater vitality to business, but business people today are facing many problems in their cross-cultural communication. More and more business people have become aware of the strong impact from culture, and they have come to realize the importance of understanding cross-cultural communication.

As all nations have their own cultures, it is not difficult to find that people bring along with them their cultures wherever they go and tend to cling to them.

As more and more Chinese business people are employed by FIEs, they are facing the same problem of learning and respecting foreign cultures as the Western business people do with the Chinese cultures.

In many cases, business people find that it is really nor easy to communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds. Sometimes, people may mistake someone as a culturally identical person, which often ends in troubles. In order to avoid misunderstandings in our cross-cultural communication, we should pay attention to the ways to decrease or eliminate the cultural conflicts.

5.2 Suggestions

Globalization, for better or worse, has changed the way the world does business. Though in its early stage, it is all but unstoppable. At the same time, it also provides for global businessmen a challenge as well as chance. To be triumphant in international business, one should learn how to live with it, manage it and take advantage of the benefit it offers. The globalization of economics has created a confluence of cultures when it comes to business practices. Meshing these cultures has proven difficult even as it has proven necessary. In many cases the quest for a “one-size-fits-all” set of standards for global business behavior has progressed quite far. Global business is moving toward a world standard.

In this sense, it is unpractical to accommodate stereotyping cultural theories to developing relationship in the course of international business that is developing all time along. With time going, more and more new problems and conflicts will occur when doing business internationally whatever in managing, negotiating or cooperating. Cultures will gradually melt with each other, but rooted values and norms will still cause the occurrence of clashes. Thus problems can only be solved in certain circumstance at certain time. Invariable solutions with shaped cultural ideas will only lead to prejudice and more conflicts; while adaptable solutions according to specific situation of intercultural communication is more valuable and worthy of being conserved.

Nothing can be unchangeable, thus is the same with the study of cultural differences in the course of international business. Therefore, dynamic research should be furthered and kept so as to keep up with the development of international business.


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