Cross-cultural quotations

You get sick by what you put in your mouth, but you can be hurt by what comes out of your mouth.

Old Chinese proverb

Every culture enjoys some form of humor. But, humor has difficulty crossing cultural boundaries because what is humorous in one country is often not humorous in another.

Roger Axtell: Do’s and Taboos of Humor around the World

Long delays no longer mattered. The threat of passing time was an idea alien to them. So what if time passed, it was a gift , like life and energy and speech, to be spent lavishly on those around them.

Mary Cole: Dirtroads: Footloose in Africa

The essence of effective cross-cultural communication has more to do with releasing the right responses than with sending the ‘right’ message.

Edward Hall: Understanding Cultural Differences

They spell it Vinci and pronounce it Vinchy. Foreigners always spell better than they pronounce.

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

I am often tired of myself and have a notion that by travel I can add to my personality and so change myself a little. I do not bring back from a journey quite the same self that I took.

Somerset Maugham, The Gentleman in the Parlour

What I say is this [the Indian man remarked] and this I do not say to all Englishmen: God made us different, you and I, and your fathers and my fathers. For one thing, we have not the same notions of honesty and speaking the truth. That is not our fault, because we are made so. And look now what you do? You come and judge us by your own standards of morality. You are, of course, too hard on us. And again I tell you you are great fools in this matter. Who are we to have your morals, or you to have ours?

Rudyard Kipling, East and West

Abstract consequences, like right and wrong or truth and untruth, depend on the circumstances. Behaviour that is acceptable in one situation may be unacceptable in another. Both legally and morally individual governments have no compunction about changing the rules at any time.

David Rearwin: The Asia Business Book

What strikes me the most upon the whole is the total difference of manners between then and us, from the greatest object to the least. There is not the smallest similitude in the twenty-four hours.

Horace Walpole, Letters

The Japanese regard individuality as evidence of immaturity, and autonomy as the freedom to comply with one’s obligations and duties.

W.M.Fox Japanese Management: Tradition under Strain

An Australian man once visited the island and asked me when the stores were open, since it was afternoon and he hadn?t seen a store open yet. Taken aback at what seemed a stupid question, I told him the obvious truth, ‘They’re open when their doors are open.’ When I walked away I realized it was a question I would have asked myself when I first arrived on Fiji.

Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji; quoted in Figuring Foreigners Out by Craig Storti

A firm may say, ‘Yes, your shipment will be ready on Tuesday.’ You arrive on Tuesday to pick it up but find it is not ready. No one is upset or embarrassed? Time commitments are considered desirable objectives but not binding promises.

Eva Kras; Management in Two Cultures, describing Mexico

Americans ignore history … They believe in the future as if it were a religion; they believe that there is nothing they cannot accomplish, that solutions wait somewhere for all problems, like brides.

Frances Fitzgerald: Fire in the Lake

Caution does not avert the decree of fate

Southern Arabian proverb

Every country has its way of saying things. The importance is that which lies behind people’s words.

Freya Stark: The Journey’s Echo

If we listen to words merely, and give them our won habitual values, we are bound to go astray.

Freya Stark: The Journey’s Echo

Maintaining a peaceful, comfortable atmosphere is more important than attaining immediate goals or telling the absolute truth. Koreans believe that to accomplish something while causing unhappiness or discomfort is to accomplish nothing at all.

Hur and Hur: Culture Shock: Korea

The hardest thing to get in Europe is simplicity, people saying what they think and feel, openly and directly. It never happens.

Stuart Miller: Understanding Europeans

Like many Easterners, Indians don’t like to say ‘no’ outright. Sometimes the lack of an answer is tantamount to a ‘no’. In other instances, a ‘yes’ without a follow-up is a ‘no’.

Manoj Joshi: Passport India

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like us, are We
And everyone else is They.
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!)
Looking on We
As only a sort of They.

Rudyard Kipling: We and They

National differences and antagonisms between people are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and the conditions of life corresponding thereto.

Karl Marx and Frederich Engels: The Communist Manifesto

No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct, not merely the same world with different labels attached.

Edward Sapir: Culture, Language and Personality

Written contract, keiyaka, are not as common in Japan as they are in the West, and even those contracts in Japan that are concluded in writing are not expected to be any more binding because of it. To the Japanese a relationship is what holds agreements together.

William Bohnaker: The Hollow Doll

Danish punctuality would result in hypertension in Greece.

Max Messemer: Staffing Europe

Language—unique to the human species yet so diverse in its structures, so variegated in its systems for encoding and articulating meaning, and reflecting a distinctive world-view—will inevitably prove to be a highly complex factor to handle…

Nigel Holden: Cross-Cultural Management

For a Spaniard, success lies in the titles as much as in the salary, and much more than in the work

Helen Wattley Ames: Spain is Different

The heirarchical nature of Indian society demands that there is a boss and that the boss should be seen to be the boss. Everyone else just does as they are told, and even if they know the boss is 100% wrong, no one will argue.

Gitanjali Kolanad: Culture Shock: India

Reflect on the huge literature in (American) English in which the American (low-context) individualism is grossly counterpoised with Japanese (high-context) groupism. Alas, the American corporate brain, eager for cross-cultural simplifications, devoured dichotomy as a sacred business truth in the early 1980s, and so US firms have ever since made a rod for their own back when dealing with Japan.

Nigel Holden: Cross-Cultural Management

…the essence of culture is not what is visible on the surface. It is the shared ways groups of people understand and interpret the world. These differing interpretations that cultures give to their environment are critical influences on interactions between working and managing across cultures.

L. Hoecklin: Managing cultural differences: Strategies for competitive advantage

…it is no longer feasible to see culture as a kind of unchained dark force undermining internationally operating firms at every turn. Culture shock .. is passé as a construct for explaining forms of arduousness in cross-cultural relationships.

Nigel Holden: Cross-Cultural Management

The embracing of culture in all its diversity ‘as a resource rather than a threat’ is essential for responding to the demands of a global market economy, for reaping the full benefit of cross-border alliances, and for enhancing organizational learning.

Schneider and Barsoux: Managing across cultures

Is this communication within the recipient’s range of perception? Can he receive it?’

Peter Drucker

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