Case 2.1. Cross-cultural assessment over a cup of coffee Livia Markóczy is a consultant working in the United Kingdom. She conducted a study of organizations in Hungary with a diverse group of managers from different countries. One of the companies she visited was Tungsram, a GE-owned lighting company in Budapest, Hungary. As she conducted interviews with the American expatriate managers there, she had the distinct feeling that Americans did not know how to treat their guests. After each meeting with an American, she walked away with a feeling that somehow she was not welcome. In reflecting on why she found the Americans rude, she noticed that all of the Hungarians had offered her coffee, whereas only one of the Americans did so. She immediately started to speculate that the Americans had a more “get down to business” attitude, while the Hungarians were more interested in spending time getting to know each other. Unlike the Americans, the Hungarians seemed to be more people oriented and relationship oriented. Upon further reflection, Livia asked herself how she arrived at such a cultural diagnosis. Perhaps her speculation was correct, but maybe there were other reasons for the American managers’ behavior reasons unrelated to deep cultural differences. Could it perhaps be that the Americans drink less coffee than Hungarians? Or maybe Americans drink coffee at certain times of the day? Indeed, she had met one American who offered her coffee at 8:30 a.m. It could be that offering coffee to office visitors is just an arbitrary aspect of Hungarian culture. Or perhaps Americans generally don’t enjoy the way coffee is made in Hungary. Livia’s deep, culturally significant explanation of American impersonal, business-only nature and lack of hospitality was the one that came to mind instinctively after her initial experiences. But once she forced herself to look for mundane alternative explanations, they seemed at least as plausible as the deep cultural one. Although she could not rule out the possibility of a fundamental difference in mind-sets, she definitely learned that first she should explore the mundane possibilities behind behavioral differences before passing final judgment. Source: Adapted from “Us and Them,” Across the Board (February 1998): 44-48 2. What are the most effective ways to deal with either real or imaginary cultural differences?
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