Following last week’s post, where I began to explore some of the dimensions that are most important when considering working abroad, here are some more cultural aspects that are important to take into consideration.
Masculinity vs. Femininity
With a somewhat misleading label, this cultural dimension analyses whether society orientates itself around masculine or feminine goals. Thailand scored low (lower, in fact, than all other Asian countries) in this aspect which indicated a more feminine culture. So, what does that mean for Thailand? That everyone is more feminine than other countries? Does that explain the country’s rather large population of transgender people? The answer is no, no it doesn’t. This facet is used to determine the dominating set of values; achievement and material success indicate a more masculine culture, as opposed to typical feminine values, like personal relationships and quality of life.
This particular aspect of culture can tell us a surprising amount about the country. Thailand’s lower than average score suggests that is closer to Scandinavian cultures and that they focus more on being happy and having closer relationships with family and friends, ensuring a healthier work/life balance.
One thing that I found different when I came to Thailand was how close families were. It is very common for multiple generations to live together, even in more affluent households. Within Bangkok, people often don’t leave home until they are married. The students that I teach all come from very well-off backgrounds and they live with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Coming from the UK, where your living situation is a measure of your success, made this extremely difficult to wrap my head around. Who doesn’t love having some freedom after they grow up a bit?
The femininity of Thailand’s culture, however, is perhaps one of the reasons that it is so immensely popular as a tourist destination. Being known as the Land of Smiles due to the friendliness of the locals is of course a feather in their cap!
Individualism vs. Collectivism
The last cultural dimension that I’d like to highlight is based on the degree of independence or dependence that people within a society demonstrate. A low score indicates a collectivist society, where people often identify as a group that remain loyal to one another and a high score suggests that people are independent and tend to look after themselves, taking pride in in the fact that they don’t rely on other people.
Due to the femininity of the culture, as previously discussed, Thailand scored low on this dimension, confirming that they have a collectivist society. They often group people in terms of gender, sexual orientation, class and heritage. Thailand has a fascinating obsession with uniforms. Schools, universities and organisations all have uniforms. Having come from Scotland, where school students wear uniform and where every single person has written those discursive essays in English class on the pros and cons of them, I somehow get it. People can easily identify who is part of their group.
From my own experiences, it can be difficult to join Thai society, it’s hard to make real friends. Thai people, while incredibly friendly, close themselves off to outsiders until they are absolutely sure that they can trust you. This compartmentalisation of groups can prove tricky in the workplace though, with a divide between the ever changing farang workforce and the Thai staff, challenging to overcome. But, once that bond is made, it’s special. I’ve been fortunate enough to make some fantastic friends here and I know that they’ll always help me to the best of their abilities.
Due to our ever globalising world, people are travelling and migrating all around the globe. And in my opinion, it’s a fantastic thing. Mark Twain once said that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”. Travelling can change your perspective, it can give you new points of view, and it could even allow you to learn another language. If you open your mind and try to look at the world through a different cultural perspective, perhaps you’ll begin to understand why people behave in certain ways.
I hope that you can take something from what I’ve written here, even if you don’t live in Thailand. These cultural dimensions exist throughout the world and there are online resources that are incredible at educating about culture.
Cavusgil, S.T., Knight, G., Riesenberger, J.R. (2012). International Business: The New Realities. 2nd ed. New Jersey: Pearson Education Ltd.
Hofstede, G (1980). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. London: Sage Publications.
Hofstede, G. What about Thailand?. Available: https://geert-hofstede.com/thailand.html. Last accessed 23rd Feb 2017.