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Inside the Company and Outside the Country

ArLyne Diamond, Ph.D.

Culture Inside the Company and Outside the Country

Copyright © 2017 by ArLyne Diamond, Ph.D.

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopies, recording or otherwise, without the prior written consent of the author.


There are many people to thank for the production of this book and the information that’s enabled me to write it.

I owe my gratitude primarily to Bernie Silver, my editor and friend; to my niece Gabrielle for the illustrations; and to Alicia Robertson, my wonderfully supportive and helpful publisher.

Also, thanks so much to those of you who took the time to read drafts of this book and contribute your ideas. A special thanks to David Cowan, E.J. Dieterle, Dr. Arlene Simmonds and Todd Snyder, Ph.D.

As for the information I’ve acquired, I learned much from many guest lecturers when I taught an MBA course on International Business.

And while I counseled at ProMatch, numerous people shared their views of the companies and cultures in which they’d worked.

The many books I’ve read about different cultures, companies and countries contributed to my desire to write on this subject in the first place.

And the three courses I created on company and country culture for Illumeo form the basis of this book.

Finally, my own travels have taught me much about how to observe, understand and respect the values and behaviors of those who are different from me.

List of Illustrations

The “Kitty”

Professional Dress

Standing too close – too far away



Ok sign

Crossing fingers

Rubbing fingers together

Thumbs Up


V for Victory

Talking with your hands

Pictures from Safari

Bowing and giving a business card




Company Culture

What it is in short (with a little repetition)

Who creates the culture?

One size doesn’t fit all

The acquisition factor

Why does it matter?

Vision and Mission

Creating the vision statement

Creating the mission statement


So, again, why does it matter?

Types of cultures

A great company culture

Country Culture—General

Some definitions

Other customs and habits to be aware of




Other areas of difference

Nonverbal communication

Verbal communication


Other things to know

No right or wrong

Country Culture—Specific

Some undiplomatic facts


Romance Cultures



Latin America


Muslim Countries







The Congo



South Africa

On Safari to Kenya and Tanzania














Czech Republic



The Netherlands





Their view

Our view

Some Final Thoughts, Plus a Few Tips and Reminders



Questions, questions

Some tips and reminders

One Final Thought (No, Really)


About the Author


So why write a book about company and country culture? Answer: because culture dictates how we behave and think; thus understanding culture, both within and outside the company, is critical to an organization’s success.

The culture within helps determine who a company will attract, to what degree those people will thrive, and therefore whether the company will succeed.

The critical nature of understanding cultures outside the company becomes clear when we consider that Globalization is the norm today.

Not only are we trading with people from other countries, we’re working with people who come to us from all over the world, and we’re living beside people who have been raised quite differently from us. For our sake and the company’s, we don’t want the biases we’ve probably developed living in our own “neighborhood” to affect how we treat people from other cultures.

Trading with others was the start of getting to know people who were different from each other. Perhaps it started with people rowing bravely to another island to meet and trade with its inhabitants. Today trade is the norm. It is international and frequent.

Think about the car you drive. Where did the parts get manufactured? Where did they get assembled? What about the clothing you are wearing as you read this, or the computer you use? As you can see, so much of what we take for granted today comes about because of the interaction of people from all over the world.

Since trade takes place worldwide, it is sometimes used as a weapon in what are commonly referred to as “trade wars.” Instead of using guns and grenades, governments often impose tariffs, or duties, on imports and exports. This is done either in retaliation against tariffs imposed by another country or to apply pressure on a nation to conform to international law or opinion. Or a government might levy a tariff to gain a trade advantage or bring in more income.

Some governments create rules that make it difficult for someone from another country to do business – to – business. The government must be involved.

In the past, most of our interactions were with people just like us. They grew up in the same village or town, went to the same schools and the same churches. Understanding each other was so much easier because of the similarities in the way we were taught to think and behave. But people from far away were raised somewhat differently from us, and because of those differences we often misunderstand and misevaluate each other. The dissimilarities lead to confusion.

Learning about other cultures helps alleviate the misapprehension and bewilderment.

Take how people nod or shake their heads when talking with you. In the USA, we typically nod to mean “yes” or “we’re still paying attention.” In India, people shake their heads to acknowledge they’re paying attention and we often interpret that, mistakenly, to mean they’re saying “no.”

Not only do we sometimes have difficulty working with people from other lands, but also with people from our own country because of age, gender and regional differences, as well as upbringing, all of which can make it difficult to communicate with each other.

It’s these differences that confuse what we’ve been taught as the “right” way to behave. That’s part of what we mean when we talk about culture.

This book is about culture. People differences, regional differences, country differences and differences in companies based here in Silicon Valley – which is where I live.

So, let’s try to define our terms!

Culture is an interesting word. We use it and its derivatives in several different ways, each of them only one element of what we call “culture.”

Let me give you a funny example of an expansion and tortured use of the word:

When she was in her teens, one of my sister’s friends remarked one day: “Trudy, how come you are so acculturated?” Of course, what her friend meant to ask was how was it that my sister, growing up in the Bronx (like me), was well-mannered and socially comfortable.

We also think someone is cultured if they like music and the arts. People often assume that if someone is rich, that makes them cultured.

So on the one hand, we are using the term “culture” to apply to a level above the ordinary. On the other hand, we are describing a way of being, a way of life among a relatively large and identifiable group of people, and how it shapes the behaviors and beliefs of individuals in that group.

Our culture teaches us how to behave, how to think, what to believe and what is right and wrong. If the only thing we know is what we’ve been taught, then whatever our unique culture teaches is the “right way” and anything different from it is the “wrong way” by definition.

In this book I’d like to leave my readers with the belief that their way is just different, not right or wrong. Our way is only one of many ways.

The belief that one’s own view of reality is the only reality is the most dangerous of all delusions.”

—Paul Warzlawick

Let me give you another example. In England, right-handed people hold their fork in their left hand and their knife in their right. They cut with their right hand and eat with their left. They don’t keep switching back and forth, as we do here in the USA. Here, we hold our fork in our left hand and our knife in our right to cut, but then we switch so our fork is in our right hand for eating. Neither way is wrong. In fact, each is correct within its own culture.

So then, what is the culture of a community, a clan, a country and even a company? In addition to being a way of life among a group of people, it is something that shapes a group’s behavior and it’s a system of shared values, customs, beliefs, attitudes, norms and ideas. It is a patterned way of thinking, feeling and reacting.

Culture serves the basic need for a predictable world in which a person can make sense of his or her surroundings. Those sharing a common culture can be expected to behave predictably and—according to the specifics of that culture—correctly.

Here’s another example. In New York City where I grew up, the workplace was highly competitive, and we knew if we didn’t consistently perform at our best we could easily be replaced. If we needed to take a break, we did so after completing an assignment or after finishing a business-related phone conversation. When I started working in Los Angeles, I was horrified to discover that when the bell rang at 10 a.m. and again at 3 p.m., my coworkers would tell the person on the phone they’d call them back in ten minutes because they had to go on their break, which apparently was more important than the customer. I later learned this rigidity stemmed from California laws governing break times being more stringent than my experiences in New York.

Culture defines the rules. The rules define culture. Thus, culture protects us from too much uncertainty by informing us how to behave and what to expect from others. We absorb our culture’s customs and traditions through learning and observation, and then practice until we habituate them and don’t even realize how we’ve picked them up.

The earlier in life we learn something, the more unconscious it becomes and the harder it is to see that what we’ve learned is an option, not an absolute. We pass this learning on to the next generation, which passes it on to the next, which passes it on to the next, and on and on it goes.

As we said previously, a culture is a group of people that defines and lives by specific cultural norms. That group could live in a particular location (such as a village, town or neighborhood), belong to a particular religion (such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, or Islam) or have certain innate traits (such as age, race or gender).

It’s also true that we work in organizations, each of which is a community with its own defined culture. Think about the question you’re bound to ask an employee of a company for which you’re considering working: “What’s it like to work here?” That is really asking, “What’s the culture of this company like?”

A company’s culture is its values, code of behavior, ideology and norms. It is “the way we do things around here.”

So, in this book we are exploring many different customs and cultures throughout the world, and the differences in organizational cultures.

Why do that?

Why bother to investigate and write about these different cultures? The answer is simple but important.

We are living and working with people from all over the world. Our next door neighbor might have immigrated from India, China, Indiana or Chicago. The woman working in the next cubicle might come from a very strict and religious background in which it is totally inappropriate to tell “dirty” jokes, and we need to be more conscious of our casual behavior. She may have been raised in the Philippines and taught behavior that someone from the Bronx might consider excessively polite.

And, of course our corporate headquarters might be in Germany, Spain or Thailand.

Whether we are the ones traveling to other countries, or our bosses, coworkers, clients and friends have traveled to where we currently reside and work, we need to learn to understand them and to accept the differences in the way people behave and what they expect.

In order to write about these different cultures we need to make generalizations about groups of people. It is important to remember that we are merely talking in generalizations. We ‘e not saying that all people of a particular culture are the same.

Here is the important distinction, one that will be repeated elsewhere in this book.

A generalization refers to a statistical norm. We are saying that, generally speaking, most people of this group look, act or behave in a certain way.

Let me give you an example. We say the height of American women is between five-foot-four and five-foot-nine. But I have a friend who is under five feet tall. And former Attorney General Janet Reno was about six feet tall. Both of these people fall in the outer extremes of the statistics. They’re women; they just aren’t covered by the generalization.

Generalizations are useful. Clothing manufacturers, for example, base their patterns on normative data. Insurance companies do the same.

A stereotype is an assumption that all people in a particular group look and behave the same way. To be prejudiced is to act on that assumption.

So, I repeat: we will be making generalizations because that’s really the only way to talk about the uniqueness and differences in other groups of people.

Knowledge is powerful. It enables us to communicate better, to negotiate more effectively and to deal successfully with those who are “different” from us.

Let me give you a few examples of how lack of knowledge created bad feelings and problems.

An American woman of Chinese ancestry was working in one of the big high-tech companies here in Silicon Valley. Because she spoke Chinese, her company sent her to China to work with her Chinese counterparts to change processes in their manufacturing plant. I met with her just before she left for this assignment and again shortly after she returned.

In the beginning she was excited. Not only did she feel honored to have been selected for this assignment, she was thrilled at the prospect of visiting China. When she returned, though, she was angry and frustrated. Upon seeing me she barked, “You cannot trust those Chinese. They make promises they don’t keep and they lie to your face.”

What happened? Lack of knowledge!

First, she clearly didn’t understand the culture and mistook nods for agreement, when people were merely politely acknowledging they were listening.

The woman’s next error was trying to build a consensus at meetings with people who were strangers to her, and knew her only as an emissary from their parent company. They would have considered it horribly rude to disagree with her in public because she was their superior, or at least represented people who were.

And finally, because she lacked knowledge, she didn’t know you must work with a company’s internal leadership to get anything accomplished. And this internal leadership is not necessarily higher-ranking officers but higher-ranking people in the family or clan.

In other words, she failed to understand the culture.

Let me offer you another example of how important it is to have knowledge of a culture before making decisions that prove awkward and insulting.

A program manager responsible for many engineers and other high-tech folk was frustrated because one member of his creative team, an Asian engineer, never spoke up at meetings. This manager believed an effective brainstorming session was one in which all team members spoke up equally, or at least almost equally. So he and his buddies came up with what they considered a brilliant solution to the problem. They would penalize those who did not speak out at these meetings by creating a kitty, into which anyone who did not contribute to the discussion had to throw a dollar.

I have to digress for a minute. When I use the word “kitty,” I am referring to the money usually thrown onto the center of the table during a poker game. I feel compelled to write this because once when I was giving a speech on this topic to an audience, many of whom were not American-born, some actually thought I was referring to a baby cat.

Illustration 1, The “Kitty”

Back to my main example. Forcing people to pay a fine certainly didn’t work to encourage this Asian engineer to speak up during meetings. What the manager didn’t realize was that this normally creative employee considered him the superior at these meetings, and so he couldn’t openly disagree with him.

My Kung Fu sensei (instructor) once told me that in Japan a student couldn’t even ask for clarification, or for something to be repeated, because it would question the instructor’s authority while implying he didn’t do a good enough job.

So, what should this group’s manager have done? Clearly he needed to conduct one-on-ones with those who didn’t speak up at meetings, and/or allow them to submit ideas on paper, perhaps even anonymously.

Different standards of polite behavior are important examples of how cultural differences really affect how we get work done.

A Korean CEO with whom I worked told me it was impossible for him to conduct a creative brainstorming session in Korea because his staff would think it rude to offer him, the company’s chief executive, their “humble” suggestions. He would deliberately bring Americans with him on his trips, hoping they would serve as role models and thereby stimulate the discussions he so desperately wanted to have with his staff. But this strategy proved ineffective.

I offer you these examples as “coming attractions,” or samples, of what this book is all about, as well as to remake the point that it is really useful to acquire the knowledge needed to interact effectively with people from other cultures.

The language of culture is different, depending on whether we’re talking about the culture of a company – a business organization – or that of a country or region. So I’ve divided this book into sections. The first two cover company culture and country culture, and the language used to describe both, while the third discusses the cultures of more than 30 countries and the ramifications of doing business with them.

Company Culture

Every village, town, city, country, neighborhood and organization has a culture, as does every company. Culture exists whether formalized or not, whether we can define it or not. In organizations, we have the opportunity to create the kind of culture we want. If we don’t consciously create our organizational culture and work hard to preserve it, we’ll get one by default.

So, in this section we’ll concentrate on organizational culture—what it is, and how to shape it rather than let it mold the company

What it is in short (with a little repetition)

Just what is culture? Simply put, it’s a way of life among a relatively large and identifiable group of people—it’s something which shapes that group’s behavior. More specifically, it’s a system of shared values, customs, beliefs, attitudes, norms and ideas. It’s a patterned way of thinking, feeling and reacting.

Culture is predictable. It serves the basic need for a predictable world in which a person can make sense of his or her surroundings. Those sharing a common culture can be expected to behave predictably; also, correctly within that culture.

Culture protects us from too much uncertainty by informing us how to behave and what to expect from others. We absorb our culture’s customs and traditions through learning and observation, and then by practicing and habituating them. Sometimes we learn and practice subconsciously, but we almost always pass the lessons on to the next generation.

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