When moving abroad, getting used to the local culture can at first seem daunting. Unless you are very accustomed with the country or have close friends / relatives already living there to guide you, in most cases an unfamiliar culture will be disorientating. Different social etiquettes and social norms in addition to language barriers can present problems. Furthermore, social etiquette can often be very subtle and even body language can be interpreted differently in another culture. Things you may do subconsciously in your home culture may be construed in a different manner in another country.
If you don’t know a resident to pass on local knowledge, there is help available on the internet. It is worth researching before you leave. There are numerous websites dedicated to culture issues. For example, the website www.culturosity.com features free articles such as ‘Strategies for Overcoming Language Barriers’, ‘Tips for Effective Cross-Cultural Communication’ and ‘Cultural Blunders’. There is also a learning centre and guides available to download.
If you are posted on an overseas assignment for your company, the book by Dutch author Geert Hofstede ‘Cultural Dimensions for International Business’ may be useful for managing staff and dealing with colleagues. Issues discussed in the book include an analysis of Individualistic Western cultures versus Collectivist Asian societies and problems which can occur in the workplace because of these differences. The book is based on years of research by Hofstede and is a useful aid for managers working on overseas relocation assignments. Five cultural dimensions are evaluated, including Power Distance Index, Individualism (as discussed above), Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance and Long Term Orientation. Hofstede argues that by understanding these differences, working practices and relationships in an international context will become much easier.