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Cross-cultural analysis provides valuable information about differences and similarities between the cultures. The results of this approach can be used in diplomacy, business, tourism, and other spheres, which involve international relations. India and the USA cooperate in many areas, and have to search possible contacts in order to establish successful and mutually satisfying relations. Both countries are democratic and culturally diverse; moreover, they both use English as an official language. However, Trompenaar’s and Hampden-Turner’s model of seven cultural dimensions show different and sometimes polar nature of these cultures. American culture is highly universal, individualistic, specific, and neutral; it values achievements, perceives time as sequential, and is inner-directed, i.e. seeks control over the surrounding areas. Indian culture is particular, communitarian, moderately diffuse, and emotional; it is defined by ascription, perceives time as synchronous, and is outer-directed, i.e. searches harmony with the world. Understanding these differences will help to establish successful and mutually beneficial relations between these nations.
Keywords: India, the USA, cross-cultural research, Trompenaar and Hampden-Turner, seven cultural dimensions
The variety of races, nations and peoples in the world provide the researchers with immense material for studies, comparison, and analysis. If there are many varieties within a nation, they are more obvious between different nations. Cultural diversity is fascinating in the way it makes the world infinitely exciting. However, the interest to other cultures is not merely theoretical. Moreover, the respectful approach helps to understand them and find areas of contact that are practically applicable in diplomacy, business, tourism, and any cross-cultural activity. Cross-cultural research analyses similarities and differences between cultures. Scientific approach liberates the research from personal biases and provides the necessary level of abstraction, generalization, and categorization. The present paper is an attempt to provide the cross-cultural research about deep close cooperation of India and the United States, the country of great interest and the country I naturally associate myself with. These two countries have been chosen because the cultural differences between them are obvious and polar in many aspects.
India has always evoked the interest of westerners as a mysterious and magic country. This interest never fails despite the centuries of research connected with this country. If will not be an exaggeration to say that each tourist, writer, or researcher perceives India differently as well as render their own attitude to the country. Every particular experience is interesting and unique. Personally I have always been interested in Indian culture, and tried to make up single image of India from those facets of impressions, which seemed to be attempts to embrace the unembraceable. Therefore, it is necessary to use the structured approach that could explain these particular aspects.
Indian culture belongs to the Eastern cultures and exhibits characteristics which are particular in the region. Indian culture is defined as hot-climate (Lanier, 2010) and high-context (Nishimura, Nevgi, & Tella, 2008). Nishimura, Nevgi, & Tella describe Indians as “highly collectivist in their local group, but individualistic when dealing with outsiders” (2008). In Geert Hofstede’s scale of individualism, India takes a middle position (LeFebvre, 2011)
The theoretical characteristic of Indian culture would not be complete without explaining its historical, religious and social background. Its civilization started about 4,500 years ago (Zimmermann, 2015b); moreover, it is one of the oldest in the world. India has a vast territory with diverse landscape; it comprises 28 states and seven territories. It is home to over 1.2 billion people of different nationalities (Zimmermann, 2015b). Each state has distinctive cultural differences. There are 22 recognized official languages in India; Hindi has the largest number of speakers while 59% of the population speaks other languages; English is used in governmental documents and for international communication (Zimmermann, 2015b; Nishimura, Nevgi, & Tella, 2008).
Hinduism is the religion for 84% of Indians; there are 13% of Muslims; Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, and Jains who make a small percentage of believers (Zimmermann, 2015b). Politically, India is a democracy with an elected parliament and prime-minister. For many centuries British rule has left its imprint on the Indian culture, mentality, economy, infrastructure, institutions, language, and government. The British influence shaped the national business culture to a great extent (Overgaard, 2010). Today, India is one of the most rapidly developing economies in the world; it permanently integrates into global economy. The speedy economic development and globalization accompanied by technical progress increase economic and cultural gap between urban and rural India as well as the gap between the generations.
The most unique and famous feature of Indian culture is its caste system. It has existed since 1200 BC. 82% of Indians are divided in castes. The system stipulates social division of the society according to its occupation. There are around 3,000 castes that fall into 25,000 sub-castes (Overgaard, 2010). All castes belong to four varnas: Brahmins, Kshatryas, Vaishyas, Shudras. Traditionally, Brahmins are priests and scientists while Kshatryas are rulers and warriors, Vaishyas are merchants and landlords while Shudras are craftsmen and peasants. The varnas have different social positions as well as corresponding rights and privileges. Only Brahmins and Kshatryas may study the Vedas, namely sacred texts of Hinduism. The hierarchy of castes is distinct, and the contacts between different castes are limited.
Additionally, there is the lowest social group called the Dalits or the Untouchables. The Dalits comprise the most numerous part of Indian population. They perform the dirtiest jobs; moreover, these people do not gain any respect in the society and almost do not have social rights. As it is clear from their name, even their presence is considered impure for the higher castes (Overgaard, 2015). The caste system roots in Hinduism, it is static and does not allow upward social mobility. Religion teaches that a person is born to a lower caste due to the sinful previous life; righteous actions will ensure better caste in a future life. There are numerous restrictions concerning food, clothes, social contacts, and behavior to support the caste system. Intercaste marriages were not allowed until recently, and the society still disapproves marriages between different castes. Indian parliament abolished the caste system in 1950 (Overgaard, 2015), but the tradition persists nowadays, especially in rural districts.
According to the popular perception, Indian culture is associated with specific clothes, cuisine, multiple Gods, colorful festivals, and Bollywood movies with dances and music. Indian women wear sari and men wear kurta (a long shirt) or sherwani (a long buttoned coat), although young generation prefers international style. Indian cuisine becomes increasingly popular in the world. It is characterized by the generous use of spices, rice and vegetable base, as well as unusual harmonious taste combinations. However, American fast food brand Dunkin’ Donuts has found a large and sensitive market for its production after it had embraced some local peculiarities, followed by other American franchises (Bhagat, 2011).
According to the various facts, the key word, which may be applied to characterize India is diversity. The country has different districts, nationalities, languages, religions. The differences between urban and rural India are so great that they seem to belong to the various countries. While large cities tend to be business-like, seek economic advance and develop progressive social relations, villages keep millennial traditions and ostracize those who dare step forward. Consequently, these differences make any generalization difficult.
It is worth noting that I associate myself with American culture. This is the country that shaped my mentality and way of life. American culture is young, diverse, and dynamic. America’s influence on the world community is immense not only due to its economic and military power but also due to its culture. The brands of American culture that are known in the whole world are jeans, fast food, skyscrapers, Hollywood and movie industry, Disneyland, music, pop-art and American smile.
American culture belongs to Western one. According toHofstede’s classification, it is highly individualistic (LeFebvre, 2011). Lanier defines it as a cold-climate culture (2010). According to Hall’s categorization, it is a low-context one (as cited in Beer, n.d.)
The USA is a relatively young country. Though the vast territory of North America had been populated by Native Americans, they did not create a distinctive state structure, and their cultural heritage was crushed and neglected for a long time. It is a famous fact that America started with the arrival of first European colonists of English, Dutch, French, Irish, and German origin. However, the formation of the American nation occurred only in the course of American Revolution during 1765-1783, when the representatives of different nationalities realized their unity and separated from the Old World politically, economically, and mentally.
Since then, the USA became a country of immigrants, a “melting pot” that merged various traditions and cultures. The immigrants from other European countries arrived in the USA because they searched a better life; the Chinese comprised a strong community in the USA as well as expatriates from other Asian nations. Moreover, black people were brought from Africa as slaves, but nowadays, they form a powerful and numerous Afro-American community with their specific culture. Different groups of immigrants merged into American society in different ways.
Some of them, like Irish Catholics, preserve their religion; others, like the Hispanic people, preserve their language. However, being multiple and multicultural country, America is a nation. Anthropologist Cristina DeRossi from Barnet and Southgate College in London states that the immigrants can preserve their cultural identity, language, traditions, but they “are integrated in the urban community and have embraced the American way of life in many other ways” (as cited in Zimmermann, 2015a).
In addition to the cultural differences due to the diverse national composition, there are certain geographical differences in the American culture. Thus, there are cultural distinctions between the Northeast, Southeast, South, Midwest, and Western parts of the country (Zimmermann, 2015a).
The USA is a democratic country, and it is also important in order to understand the American culture. Just as “melting pot” is a popular logo of America that reflects its diversity, the “American dream” is another label explaining the peculiarities, which keep the American society together. According to the simplified perception, it is a dream of becoming rich from poor, which happened to many immigrants. In the broader sense, it is the hope to change the life, to achieve something better, to become a part of something greater. For that reason most immigrants are ready to abandon their previous lifestyle and embrace the American culture. The aim of the “American dream” is the pursuit of freedom and equal opportunities, and the USA is often called “the Land of Opportunities.”
Due to its diversity, the USA does not have official language, though over 90% of its population speaks English. English is the language of government, most of the businesses, and education. Spanish, German, Chinese, and French count a considerable number of speakers in the USA. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are over 300 languages, which are in use throughout the country (as cited in Zimmermann, 2015a).
For the same reason, the USA has no official religion. ABC Poll of 2012 showed that 83% of Americans identified themselves as Christian (as cited in Zimmermann, 2015a). These include Roman Catholic Church, numerous Protestant churches, Orthodox Church, as well as many other Christian churches and denominations. 13% of the interviewees reported to be atheists, 1.7% Judaists, and 0.6% Muslims (Zimmermann, 2015a). It is also worth noting that American citizens enjoy religious freedom.
While comparing the USA and India it is possible to provide few points of contact. Even those features that seem to be common have different reasons and manifestations when analyzed. For example, cultural and ethnic diversity is a common feature. Diversity within a country means that it is tolerant to the foreigners and manifestations of the foreign culture. However, in the USA, the diversity was formed by the immigrants arriving from different countries and integrating their culture. Multiculturalism in India is due to the diversity of local tribes and ethnicities. They can be tolerant to the foreigners, but foreigners will not become members of the community.
In addition, language can be considered as a uniting power. English is the most widely spoken language in the USA and an additional language of the government in India. However, Indian English and American English differ in vocabulary, pronunciation as well as the choice of words and locutions. Moreover, communication culture is also different; it reflects mentality of the nation. It is straightforward in the USA, even if it is diplomatic; in India, the communicative act aims at harmonization of relations and not mere exchange of information. “Indian English is formal and poetic, including elegant and imposing forms of speech. It is very polite with expressions of humility, honorifics and respect terminology” (Nishimura, Nevgi, & Tella, 2008).
American style is very informal; office clerks, managers, and even company directors can introduce themselves by their first name; moreover, it is acceptable to address them in the same manner. Indians do not call even their elder brothers and sisters by their given names. While it is normal and desirable for an American to start business conversation directly, Indians exchange long greetings and passages in order to show their politeness before they discuss the business issues. Nishimura, Nevgi, and Tella (2008) cite the study of communication styles of American Caucasian and Indian students conducted by Kapor et al. in 2003 that report “more indirect communication and more positive perception of conversational silence” with Indians than with Americans; at the same time, Indian communication is more verbose and dramatic.
Time orientation is also different. Americans consider that “time is money”. Business is built on timely deliveries and meeting deadlines. Americans are also famous for their punctuality. In India, delivery can take a couple of days longer, an appointment can be postponed by a week, and a business partner can be late for the meeting. Indians believe in trust and good relations more than in the clause of a contract. Americans like to plan in advance; it gives them the feeling of control and security. However, Indians live in the present moment and appreciate spontaneity.
Physical and mental conditions are inseparably connected for Indians. Purity of soul is a necessary condition of physical health. At the same time, physical exercises (e.g. yoga) and appropriate meals (many Indians are vegetarians) purify soul and are beneficial for the body. American paradigm recognizes connection between the physical and mental constituents of health but traditionally considers them separately.
American culture is highly individualistic. Americans appreciate privacy and independence. The parents teach children to rely on themselves from the early age, to be independent from the surrounding community, including parents and family. In India, people are more devoted to their families; they think and live in terms of the family. Therefore, family honor is highly valued and protected.
Americans link intelligence to the school progress. Studying well equals to being intelligent. In India, as well as in most Asian countries, intelligence is not what a person is but what a person does. Education is a tool and not a measure of intelligence. From another point of view, success is American measure of intellect. Traditionally, American culture is regarded as mundane and practical, while Indian is considered spiritual. However, Indians pursue “pursue material wellbeing, appreciate success in business, and admire creativity, especially in technology” similarly to Americans (Nishimura, Nevgi, & Tella, 2008).
There are several theories that effectively describe cultural differences. These are hot- and cold cultural theories based on the assumptions of Levi-Strauss, Hall’s theory of high- and low-context cultures, Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimension, Lewis’s theory of cultural categories of communication, or Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s model of seven cultural dimensions. The present cross-cultural research applies Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s model as the most comprehensive one.
Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (2000) proposed a comparative analysis of cultures based on seven dimensions (cited in Overgaard 2010; Reis, Ferreira & Santos 2011). They include universalism versus particularism, individualism vs. communitarism, specificity vs. diffuseness, affective vs. neutral, achievement vs. ascription, sequential vs. synchronic time, and inner vs. outer directed culture.
In order to compare India and the USA according to Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s model, the paper will consider manifestations of each cultural dimension in both cultures.
Universalism vs. particularism. Universalists follow the rules without distinction of the situation, they seek a fair solution in all cases, and disputes are often regulated by the court. They observe laws, appreciate values and constantly fulfill their obligations. The USA is a culture of expressed universalism; it is a country of declared equal opportunities and the supremacy of the law. For a particularistic society, the relations play a primary role; each person and each situation are unique. There is no universal rule suitable for all the cases, and each separate situation requires unique response. Indian culture is highly particularistic and focused on the relationships (Overgaard 2010; Tools Team, n.d.).
“A universalist will say of the particularist, “they cannot be trusted because they will always help their friends”; a particularist, conversely, will say of universalists, “you cannot trust them; they would not even help a friend” (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner 2001, cited in Overgaard 2010).For that reason, Americans consider Indian moral corrupt. For Indians, a contract is not binding, but personal relationship is. The law, even if pronounced equal, applies to a different extent depending on the social status of the offender. Indian entrance to the global stage urges to change this situation at least in business and legal practice.
Individualism vs. communitarism. In an individualist society, people make decisions based on their desires and interests, and the community ties are not very strong. On the nuclear level, such individualism can be observed in the American families. In a communitarian society, a person is a part of the group, and group interests prevail over individual opinions. The group provides support and assistance in response to loyalty of its members (Tools Team, n.d.). Individualist societies value “competition, self-reliance, self-interest, personal growth and fulfilment,” while communitarians appreciate polar qualities, such as “cooperation, social concern, altruism, public service and societal legacy” (Overgaard 2010).
Indian and American cultures show polarity in this aspect. Americans are individualists, while Indians are family- and community-oriented. Americans identify themselves as separate “selves”; Indians exist and identify themselves within family or community. American working ethics approves reporting colleagues’ misconduct to the management (in 94% of cases); anonymous reporting occurs in 88% of cases. In India, reporting percentage is very low, 22% and 6% respectively (LeFebvre, 2011). It is worth noting that though Indians are sensitive to gender issues, the rate of harassment or discrimination in the workplace is considerably lower. Sexual harassment and discrimination occurred in 44% of Indian companies against 88% of American companies (LeFebvre, 2011).
Specificity vs. diffuseness. These dimensions reflect people’s opinion concerning the things and processes as whole or separate parts. In other words, it reflects the degree of involvement into the processes. Specificity and diffuseness correspond to high- and low-context cultures. The characteristic feature of a specific culture is an analytical approach to the separate items (Tools Team, n.d.). Diffuse cultures view things as the interrelated and interconnected elements of a whole. India is a “relatively diffuse” country (Overgaard 2010). Private life is inseparable from the business for an Indian, and for this reason business is based on the personal relations. In the same way, Indians practice a holistic approach to health. American culture is highly specific and does not tend to mix private life with the professional one; private relations start after the work is completed. Indians eagerly spend time with colleagues and clients outside work.
Achievement vs. ascription. This dimension describes the acquisition of personal status. Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner (2001) claim that “While achieved status refers to doing, ascribed status refers to being” (cited in Overgaard 2010). In the USA, personal merits and achievements are solid reasons for promotion or increase of one’s status. In India, social status depends on gender, age, race, education, or belonging to a caste. Thus, American managerial structure confronts traditional Indian values. Traditionally, Indian women enjoy fewer rights than men; today, there is a tendency to employing educated women on managerial and government positions.
Though it is true for urban areas only, it is a sign of the coming changes. The same can be said about the castes. Indian caste system, though abolished in 1950, still penetrates the lifestyle, and higher castes usually receive more prestigious and highly-paid jobs as well as better positions in the organizations. Americans regard such practice as unfair and dangerous for the economy. However, India is still one of the most rapidly developing countries in the world, and the new generation seeks social equality. The Dalits and the lower castes view new laws, business and economic relations as a chance for upward social mobility, gaining respectability and welfare.
Neutral vs. emotional dimension shows how people deal with their feelings. American culture is neutrally oriented. It is not acceptable to overtly express emotions in the public. Reason prevails over feelings while guiding people’s actions. Reserved behavior, hidden thoughts and emotions are the characteristic of the neutral cultures (Tools Team, n.d.). This dimension correlates with individualism. American can think the interlocutor is obtrusive if asked “What’s on your mind?” In an emotionally-oriented culture like India, people demonstrate their feelings more openly and spontaneously. Their emotional expressions may be considered exaggerated by Americans, while Indians can perceive Americans as cold and detached.
Inner direction vs. outer direction. This dimension describes the people’s attitude to the environment and their place in it. In other words, it refers to the internal or external locus of control (Tools Team, n.d.). Inner-directed cultures tend to control nature, while outer-directed ones live in harmony with it. Western civilization connects success with controlling, struggling, and overcoming. Eastern cultures coexist with the surrounding world in harmony and practice adaptation. This approach reveals itself not only in interaction with the nature but also with people, in the team work and management. India is more outer-directed country than the USA, but not in extreme terms. Indians let inner-directed persons control the situation and avoid direct answers in the conversation in order not to offend the interlocutor and be involved in a conflict (Overgaard 2010). Indirect answers can be a problem in the intercultural business communication; usually, inner-directed persons do not recognize refusal or reluctance until given a direct answer.
Sequential vs. synchronous time. Considering the cultures with sequential approach to time, their events are linear, following one another in a sequence. Synchronous time presupposes cycles and repetitions of events. In the USA, the perception of time is very structured; hence, there is planning and attachment to the schedules. Unlike Americans, Indians perceive time in a synchronous manner. They enjoy moments and do not hurry. Hence, it is considered as normal to arrive half an hour later for a business lunch, talk about personal matters for a long time, and deliver orders late. This attitude to time may ruin the schedule of a punctual American.
As any theory, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s model has certain limitations. First, it does not take account the differences in sub-cultures while both India and the USA have numerous and diverse sub-cultures. Second, the model cannot consider individual preferences. Therefore, it cannot be regarded as a universal guide in cross-cultural communication. However, it is a useful tool of categorization, which is able to provide a fairly accurate idea of cultural tendencies in the particular cultures.
Scientific approach allows avoiding cultural biases. However, human perception is never free from the stereotypes. The popular perception of an average American is much simplified. Such a simplification is dictated by the American culture that promotes simplification, classification, and categorization as a tool of ordering the life and surrounding people. Moreover, the idea of India and Indians is superficial, mainly because Indian culture is multifaceted. The gaps between Indian traditions and modernity, old and young generations, urban and rural population make it impossible to embrace the impression of the Indian culture in a short comprehensive definition.
Cross-cultural analysis destroys some of the established biases. Common misperception of Indians as lazy and unreliable people roots in their synchronous perception of time. Considering Indians as all vegetarians and spiritual gurus practicing yoga is also not substantiated. Some of them are spiritual, yoga and meditation is practiced mostly by the older generation, and majority of Indians eat meat. In popular Indian perception, Americans are rude and do not care about other languages and cultures, which is not true either.
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Cross-cultural research does not only provide information for further practical application, but it helps to avoid stereotypes and biases. Abolishing cultural labels and attempting to accept respectful and unprejudiced approach are the first steps to understanding between the cultures. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s model shows that common misperceptions can be explained in terms of cultural dimensions. Trompenaar’s and Hampden-Turner’s model of seven cultural dimensions shows the different and sometimes polar nature these cultures. American culture is highly universal, individualistic, specific, and neutral; it values achievement, perceives time as sequential, and is inner-directed, i.e. seeks control over the surrounding areas.
Indian culture is particularistic, communitarian, moderately diffuse, and emotional; it is defined by ascription, perceives time as synchronous, and is outer-directed, i.e. searches harmony with the world. Understanding these differences will help to establish successful and mutually beneficial relations between these nations. Nowadays, people witnesse a cultural shift towards Western culture in the Indian society. While some cultural dimensions persist, others tend to change. For example, young generation of Indians tries to break the caste system, thus turning to the achievement instead of ascription. Involvement in the global processes urges them to become more universal and to accept more sequential vision of time.