Singapore is the smallest country in Southeast Asia with an amalgamation of 63 islands (Economy Watch, 2010). The distance between Singapore and Italy is approximately 9365.5km apart (Bosrock, 2006). Despite the distance, there are a lot of Italian firms setting up their flagships and perform other business functions in Singapore. Based on the Straits Times article on 22nd April 2009 on ‘Singapore, Italy region deal’, it states that both countries are looking at R&D to boost their economic prosperity and are trying to work together to find new patents and products that can be commercialized. As per Lombardy’s President Roberto Formigoni in the article, said that “Singapore is strategic for Italy, especially in leveraging on Singapore’s knowledge of, and relations with, China and Vietnam”. This shows an example of a strong bilateral relationship between both countries. (Prime Minister Office, 2009)
However, being said that, there are still problems occurring during day-to-day operations in terms of communication between Singaporean and Italians. This paper will focus on the inter-relationship communication barriers faced by both Singaporeans and Italians in a particular organization.
Overview of Singapore
Singapore and Europe had great history links since 1869 when Singapore was still a major trading and shipping port. (Hanson and Curtis, 2010)
After nearly 150 years under the British Colony, Singapore emerged as a Nation in 1965. (Rogger, Year not stated) Thus, this may portray a deceptive imagine of Singaporeans as appearing more ‘westernized’. However, on the other hand, younger generations of business people in Singapore are usually more experience in interacting with people and are more flexible and open-minded to perform business with foreigners. (Katz, 2007)
Singapore is a cosmopolitan society where people live harmoniously and interactions among different races are commonly seen. Singapore holds a diverse population due to immigrants of the past has given the place a mixture of 3 major racial groups consisting of Chinese, Malay and Indians who does not process a single dominant national identity (Warnstam, 2007).
In order to do business successfully in a multicultural country like Singapore, it is important for all to understand the different cultural traditions, customs, as well as background of each race groups. This will prevent unnecessary conflicts.
Languages Used in Singapore
English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil are the four official languages that are commonly used in Singapore. Singapore also has its own brand of spoken English, which is known as Singlish. It is quite different from English in its speaking accents and grammar.
Religion in Singapore
Although religious groups are subject to government scrutiny and some religious sects are restricted or banned, Singapore is still a country which generally allows religious freedom (U.S. Department of State, 2010). The religion diversity in Singapore consists of Chinese temples (Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and ancestor worship), Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and others which comprises of Jews and Sikhs, etc (Lepoer, 1989).
Culture and Society of Singapore
The common traits of Singaporeans are that the concepts of harmony, mutual security and working in groups are more important than that of acting as an individual. The family represents the center of the social structures which strongly emphasizes in unity, loyalty and respect for the elderly (Kwintessential, Year not stated).
Kiasu is a term often used by Singaporean to describe the social attitude of Singaporeans who are often afraid of losing in anything or in any situation (Warnstam, 2007). According to Warnstam (2007), the term Kaisu refers to both positive and negative connotation; some suggest the attitude of being Kiasu reflects the strong work ethics and competitiveness within each Singaporean. Whereas, others might feel that being Kiasu leads to a graceless society.
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Concept of Face
‘Maintaining face’ plays an important part of the Singapore culture. As per Craig (2004), the concept of face is being measured as of one’s internal quality, status, good name, and good character. To prevent from losing face, Singaporeans tends to control their temper and behavior in public and will not criticize people directly on the face (Warnstam, 2009). Thus, communication is conducted indirectly. In Singapore, face does not involve purely on personal pride but involves the country and its whole population as it promotes group harmony and solidarity.
Singapore values the diversity of its people and often stresses the importance of accepting difference amongst its diverse population of people from different races such as Chinese, Malay and Indians. Despite the evitable separation of some groups, Singapore serves as an ‘umbrella’ culture creates a sense of belonging among all Singaporeans (Warnstam, 2007).
Singapore Education System
Singapore used to implement traditional British based education system (Pakir, 1993). Presently, the education system in Singapore has evolved to a broader based education with more flexibility and diversity. The distinctive feature of the Singapore education system is based on the bilingual policy which was implemented in 1966 (Pakir, 1993). Main median language, also known as English is made compulsory for students to take up in order to be able to communicate with other races and especially with foreigners (Pakir, 1993). This had provided a lot of help to Singaporeans to communicate effectively with fellow Singaporeans that will prevent any unnecessary conflicts due to miscommunication. As English is a widely used language internationally it also allows Singaporeans to communicate well with foreigners around the world. Another language commonly introduced to the education system, based on the race of the student, the mother tongue language which includes Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. This helps to maintain the values of the respective racial groups locally.
Students will attend basic education for 6 years after pre-school which normal last for 2 years and following on into secondary school, etc.(Singapore expats, Year not stated). However, education does not just end after graduating. Singaporeans have many opportunities for further trainings as the government in Singapore focuses on developing its workforce so as to increase productivity as well as creating a skilled workforce to increase global competitiveness.
Singapore had her first elections in 1959 after being granted full internal self-governance (Singapore elections, Year not Stated). The dominating party in the country is the People’s Actions Party (PAP) that is lead by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. He is also the present minister mentor, a position created by his son, Lee Hsien Long when he became Singapore’s third prime minister. There are 4 opposition parties in Singapore. They are namely the workers’ party (WP), Singapore Democratic Alliance Party (SDA), Singapore Democratic Party (SDA), Democratic Party (SDP) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Singapore was recognized internationally through joining the United Nations, followed by the Commonwealth in 1965. (CIA; World fact book, 2009)
The unicameral Parliament currently consists of 84 members elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage, and up to nine “nominated” members of Parliament. A constitutional provision assures at least three opposition members, even if fewer than three actually are elected. Since 1997, under this provision, a “non-constituency” seat held by the opposition was filled till the last election held on May 6, 2006. In May 2006, during the general election, the governing party, People’s Action Party (PAP) won 82 out of the 84 seats. The president appointed nominated members of Parliament from amongst those nominees by a specially selected committee. Nominated members of the Parliament (NMPs) enjoy the same privileges as members of the Parliament but are unable to vote on any constitutional matters or expenditures of funds. The maximum term of the Parliament is 5 years whereas the NMPs serve for a two-and-a-half-year term. Voting has been made compulsory since 1959. (Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affair, 2010)
Singapore is a democratic society but some sees Singapore as a “hybrid” country comprises of both authoritarianism and democracy. The present Singapore enjoys political stability which attracts many investors and foreign talents to work and invest in Singapore.
Overview of Singapore Economy
Despite the small geographic size of the nation and small domestic market, Singapore not only has strong international trade links with many countries. Singapore Economy is also one of the most prosperous countries globally. Singapore was ranked third in 2009 as being the most competitive economy in the world by the world economic forum (Perris and Wong, 2010).
According to the World Bank “Doing Business 2010 Report,” Singapore economy is considered to be the easiest to do business in. Some favorable findings about Singapore stated in the report (Economy Watch, Year Not Stated):
Ranked No.1 for having the most open and liberal economy for international trade
Ranked No.2 as the economy with the best investment potential
Ranked #1 in Asia and #4 in the world for having low levels of corruption in the economy
Singapore does not have any natural resources. However, due to its strategic location and government policies, it had become a hub of foreign investments. The local government practices a pro-foreign investment and export-orientated economic policy which helps to attract a large scale of foreign investments despite a high operating cost. For example, United States have invested about $106.5billion worth assets in the service and manufacturing sectors (Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affair, 2010).
Other factor that attracts the foreign investors to invest in Singapore is for its skilled workers, advanced infrastructure, political stability and corruption free government (Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affair, 2010).
Hierarchy and Structure of Singapore Companies
In Singapore, companies operate in a top-down structure whereby the senior management in the company does all major decision-makings. Respect is given prior to the senior members of the group and is always being introduced first. As practiced in Singapore, it is always polite to stand when a higher-ranking official arrives at a venue and to be seated after the important personnel is seated.
Unlike other countries, women also play an important role in the work field and are given chances to hold managerial positions in the organizations. Under the fair employment law in Singapore, there is no prejudice against gender, age and race during employment.
Singapore Business Practices
In Singapore business culture, building of personal relationships is considered more important that the company that you represents (ASAG-biotech network, Year unknown). During business situations, a light handshake is used (Warnstam, 2007). Singaporeans love to bargain and haggle during negotiations. (Katz, 2007) Whilst in business discussion, Singaporeans appears to be calm and hardly reveals their emotions. It is also considered very rude to speak loudly or interrupt during a conversation.
It is important that business cards are being inspected carefully before putting them away as it represents a form of respect and recognition of the person. Name cards should be held with both hands and present to the recipient with the correct print facing to him / her. Name cards should be placed on the table instead of shoving into pockets or bags as a form of respect. It is also important to wait and be introduced by the host. Intensive eye contact with a senior management or an elderly is considered a sign of disrespect. In order to show a form of respect, it is important to know how to greet a person name based on his / her race. For example, greeting via surnames is necessary during the first meeting with Singaporean Chinese. Gifts are acceptable in most organizations. However, gifts to government employees may be considered as bribery and is prohibited in Singapore (Warnstam, 2007).
Singapore Working Practices
In Singapore Business society, punctuality is extremely important and efforts should be made to arrive early or on time. Appointments should be made in advance. Should there be any late arrivals, it is of basic courtesy to inform the other party and also to advise the latest arrival time. The typical office hours are normally between 9:00a.m. to 5:00 pm from Mondays to Fridays that consists of an hour lunch break in between. Some offices will also operate on Saturdays especially in the morning.
Overview of Italy
Italy used to be diverse culturally, economically and politically. However, today, the Italians are largely homogeneous linguistically and religiously. Italy has the fifth-highest population density in Europe, with an approximate population of 60 million people (Iexplore, Year not stated). Minority groups are small. The largest group belongs to the German-speaking people of Bolzano Province and the Slovenes around Trieste. There are also small communities of Albanian, Greek, Ladino, and French origin. Although immigration has been increasing in recent years, the Italian population is still declining due to low birth rates. (US department of State, 2010)
Brief history of Italy
Through the ensuing years, numerous rulers from beyond the Alps, with or without the consent of the papacy, failed to impose their authority. Throughout the fourteen and fifteenth centuries of campanilismo (local patriotism), only a minority of people would have heard the word “Italia.” Loyalties were predominantly provincial. However, there were elements that made a strong contrast to the world beyond the Alps that is a common legal culture, high levels of lay education and urban literacy, a close relationship between town and country, and nobility who frequently engaged in trade. (Anonymous, Year not stated)
There are three features, in particular, from this period that solidified the notion of a unified culture. First, it was the maturing of the economic development that was originated in the early centuries. With increasing urbanization, the northern and central Italian trade, manufacture, and financial capitalism continued with extraordinary vigor and have remarkable influence throughout majority of the Mediterranean areas and Europe as a whole. It was a development that served as the necessary preliminary for the expansion of Europe beyond its ancient bounds at the end of the fifteenth century. Second, the extension of de facto independent city-states, which, whether as republics or as powers ruled by one person or family, created a powerful impression upon contemporaries and posterity. Finally, allied to the movements stated above, it was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that civilization of the ‘Italian Renaissance” was born from this society, which was to be exported to the rest of Europe. (Anonymous, Year not stated)
Many countries and peoples have conquered and occupied Italy over the centuries, and thus, causing the Italians to resent each of these conquerors. Even so, they intermarried with them and accepted a number of their customs. (Salamone)
Culture of Italians
Ethnic Italians make up about 95% of the population, and the largest ethnics minority of the Romanians (officially 1%, however maybe double that). There is an increaseing wave of immigration from the EU countries of Eastern Europe and illegal immigration from the south-eastern Europe and northern Africa are increasing.
Appearances matters in Italy and having a good image ‘bella figure’ is very important. And you will likely be judged not only by the smartness of your clothes and accessories, but also by the general style and demeanour. Social etiquette is generally energetic but also somewhat formal. (Italy)
Economy of Italy
Italy started to industrialize rapidly after 1945, moving away from the traditional agriculture, until a point where less than 5% of the population is engaged in agriculture. The majority of these populations live in the south of Italy, which is substantially poorer than the rest of the country. Their main crops are sugar beet, wheat, tomatoes and fruit (especially grapes. Majority of the grapes are used for wine, which Italy is a leading producer).
Italy continues to rely heavily on the export of manufactured goods, although the tourism industry is enjoying a major position alongside other service industries such as financial services, along with most western European economies. Their strengths are particularly in advanced manufacturing techniques and systems, high-quality design and precision engineering.
Most of the industrial raw materials and more than 75% of energy requirements are imported. The Italian’s economy has been sluggish since 2000 with growth in 2009 of 5% and is expected to drop further. The inflation in 2009 was just under 1% and the unemployment rate is 7.5%.
Despite doubts about the size of its growing budget deficit (public debt is 105% of GDP) in Europe, Italy was among the founding members of the Euro-zone in 1999. The current government has enacted some reforms to improve competitiveness and growth. (Italy Travel Guide)
The official language in Italy is Italian, and majority of the population (about 93%) are native Italian speakers and about 50% of population speaks a regional dialect as mother tongue. As many of the dialects are mutually unintelligible and are considered by linguists as a separate language, thus it is not officially recog
90% of the populations are Roman Catholic, and the remaining of the populations comprises mainly of Jews, the growing population of Muslims, Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics.
The type of government in Italy is parliamentary democratic republic. The major political parties: People of Freedom (Popolo della Libertà), Democratic Party (Partito Democratico), Northern League (Lega Nord), Italy of Values (Italia dei Valori), Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (Unione dei Democratici Cristiani e di Centro), Communist Refoundation Party (Partito della Rifondazione Comunista). (_)
There is different types of political philosophy that existed in Italy are mainly egalitarian socialism / communism and nationalistic fascism.
One of the examples is Benito Mussolini. He ruled as a dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943 and his political philosophy, which he called fascism, was based on the total domination of the government in all spheres of political, social, economic, and cultural life. The Italians regards him as a hero in the initial stage until he was driven by the government before the end of World War II. (Benito Mussolini)
At present the Italian school system is divided into four levels:
Kindergarten / Preschool (Scuola Materna)
For children aged three to five, the scuola materna provides optional education for children and every child is entitled to a place. It is not compulsory for a child to attend preschool but most parents enrol their children in a scuola materna. Preschool in Italy is free except in private schools.
Primary school (scuole elementare)
School in Italy is compulsory from the age of six onwards. Recent legislation changes means that children may start scuola primaria from the age of five and a half onwards (this is to bring Italian schools in line with European schools regarding school leaving ages). Primary school lasts for five years. Student had to pass an exam at the end of fifth year before they could progress to secondary school.
Lower secondary (scuola media)
Attendance at lower secondary school (scuola media) is compulosry for all children between the ages of 11 to 14. Students are required to attend 30 hours of classes per week, though some schools may offer additional classes if there is demand (up to 40 hours).
Every term, each student receives a teacher’s report outlining their aptitude, behavior and achievement. At the end of the third year, pupils sit a standard examination consisting of written papers in Italian, as well as exams in mathematics, science and a foreign language.
An oral exam is also administered in all subjects except religion. Successful students are awarded their lower secondary school diploma (diploma di licenza media) and move on to upper secondary school.
Upper secondary school (scuola superiore)
Upper Secondary School (scuola superiore) involves between three and five years of attendance. Students do an obligatory two years (biennio) of general studies follow by an optional three years (triennio) of specialised education. Students have to choose at this time which type of course they want to study, depending on whether they are thinking of going on to university afterwards, or if they are looking at obtaining a vocational qualification. State school in Italy is free until the end of primary education. School in Italy is compulsory until the age of 16. (Italian Education & Schooling in Italy)
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Introduction of Organisation ABC
In 1912, founded in Italy, Florence, Organisation ABC is one of the world’s leading and well-established luxury brands. The brand designs, manufactures and distributes highly desirable leather goods (handbags, small leather goods, and luggage) shoes, ready to wear, silks, watches and jewelry. The company distributes through a network of carefully selected and directly operated stores in major markets throughout the world and offers wholesale product through franchise stores, duty-free boutiques, leading department and specialty stores.
In 2009, there are a total of 283 directly operated stores all over the world.
Organisation ABC in Singapore
In Singapore, ABC has two direct operated stores and is one of the smallest regions among the Asia Pacific. Within the office and retail stores, there are a total of 200 employees. Cross-Cultural Issues faced between Singapore and Italy (Florence)
As introduced, since ABC organisation is a multi-national organisation, the employees within the organisation have to work with people around the world very frequently. The employees mostly communicate to the foreign partners through emailing and phone calls to pass down information’s from head office to distribute to the rest of the regions.
One of the problems Singaporean employees working in ABC organisation faced while working with the Italians (Target country: Singapore and Italy) is the time zone differences between the two countries. Between Singapore and Florence, Singapore is six hours ahead of Florence. (http://www.happyzebra.com/timezones-worldclock/difference-between-Singapore-and-Florence.php)
As the employees within the organisation are required to communicate to Italy frequently, Singaporeans will always have to accommodate to the Italians’ timing (which is six hours later) to complete any project assigned. For example, department XYZ received a shipment from Italy and had found that the props inside were damaged and some parts were missing.
Based on the organisation’s corporate guidelines, the Singaporean team was supposed to set up the props within the week to launch the campaign together with the rest of the world. Therefore, without any delay, the Singaporean team immediately contacted the Italians through phones to further discussed on the replacement on the damaged parts and the missing props.
The whole process of getting the Italians to replace the missing props and damaged parts took almost a week through emails and phone calls. In frequent cases like this, the Singaporean team finds it hard to communicate with the Italians through the emails as it leads to business delays, misunderstandings and damages to commercial and personal relationships. They feel that the business decisions are frequently delayed due to a lack of response to emails resulting from the time differences for both countries and especially during summer breaks in Europe.
During summer breaks, it is very difficult for Singaporeans to in contact with someone who is the only in-charge in a category whom had gone for summer break. Despite having holiday seasons, there will be no replacements to help out the employee (who is off for summer vacation), to access any enquires from the rest of outlets stationed overseas. As such, problems are often not being able to solve immediately and thus, in this scenario, the simple requirement of replacing the missing props and damaged parts are delayed for a week and not able to meet the required time for installation. With supporting article, “Email culture may harm business” clearly explained that quality of the content of some emails sent is often at fault as many important emails contains no means of drawing the recipients’ attention to their significance.
When the Singaporean team communicates to the Italians over the phone, they will also face problems of communication barriers between both countries. During conversations, most Singaporeans usually speak in English while most Italians are too used to, speaking in their first language, which is Italian.
With the difference in accents and pronunciation, Singaporeans often faced problems such as trying to understand what the Italians are conveying with the difference in pronouncing vowels. This highlights the inability of Italians to differentiate words distinguished in English solely by the vowels (e.g., sheep – ship, beg – bag, etc). This in turn, leads to intelligibility problems as their tendency to have a little epenthetic vowels at the end of every English words, especially those ending with a stop consonant (e.g., in did, big, etc.).
This is a feature is often typically emphasized in stereotyping of the Italian accent in English. (http://www.openstarts.units.it/dspace/bitstream/10077/3228/1/06Busà.pdf). Thus, this creates a problem to the Singaporean team as they often mistaken what the Italians are conveying during the phone conversation. They will only understand the actual meaning of what they were referring to, after a supporting email had been sent by the Italian team consisting of better clarification and understanding on what is being emphasized through the phone conversation.
Next, we will be making cultural differences comparison on Italy and Singapore using Geert Hofstede model.
Geert Hofsted Cultural Dimensions
Power Distance Index (PDI) is the extent to which the less powerful members of organisations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. It suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders. Power and inequality are fundamental facts of any society and anyone with certain working experience or interaction will be aware that ‘all societies are unequal.
Individualism (IDV) is the opposite of collectivism. Ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him or herself and his or her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are usually cohesive in groups and often extended families members continue in protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. The word ‘collectivism’ may have no political meaning but it is referring to the group, but not the state. Again, the issue addressed is fundamental, regarding all societies in the world.
Masculinity (MAS) is the opposite of femininity and it refers to the distribution of roles between the genders which is also a fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. Studies revealed that women’s values differ from men’s values which men’s values from one country to another contain assertiveness, competitiveness whereas women’s values on the one other side tend to be modest and caring. The assertiveness and competitiveness pole has commonly been referred as masculine while modest and caring is commonly referred as feminine.
Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man’s search for Truth. Uncertain situations are novel, unknown, surprising, and different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures. People in countries which face uncertainty are also more emotional while people whom are receptive of uncertainty are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to. There are few rules to adhere to and people within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative.
Long-Term Orientation (LTO) versus short-term orientation: this fifth dimension was found in a study among students in 23 countries around the world, using a questionnaire designed by Chinese scholars it can be said to deal with Virtue regardless of Truth. Values usually associated with Long Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance while values associated with Short Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and saving one from embarrassment. Both the positively and the negatively rated values of this dimension are found in the teachings of Confucius, the most influential Chinese philosopher; however, the dimension also applies to countries without a Confucian heritage.
Geert Hofstedeâ„¢ Cultural Dimensions
The World Factbook 2002
The Buddhist-Shinto societies also have an additional Dimension, that of Long Term Orientation (LTO). Geert Hofstede added this Dimension after the original study, and it was applied to twenty-three of the fifty original countries in his study. The Buddhist/Shinto Countries of Taiwan and Japan have LTO as the most closely correlating Dimension.
Differences between Singapore and Italy: Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions:
Based on the statistics above, there are several differences between Singapore and Italy which will be discussed in as of the following.
Power Distance Index (PDI)
Based on the PDI, Singapore has a higher PDI than that of Italy. Even though, Singapore and Italy shares the same aspects of hierarchy and a common trait of downward communication, Singaporeans tends to be more respectful to the senior management and elders. On the other hand, Italians are more outspoken in their speech and they love to ridicule authority and with people who are in positions of power (http://students.depaul.edu/~jborger/#Individualism). To Italians, breaking petty rules are a form of entertainment. However, breakings of rules are uncommon in Singapore.
As individualism is being defined as societies connecting people are considered loose, individuals in Italy are only responsible for themselves and their immediate family members (http://students.depaul.edu/~jborger/#Individualism). However, Italians have also minimum views on collecti
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