CROSS-CULTURAL COMMUNICATION

Cross-Cultural-Communication

In Third World countries returning expatriates who spent years in industrialized countries typically have a hard time when visiting their home country after a long absence, even if for brief visits. After getting used to clear and transparent dealings in the West where everything is often spelled out clearly, a visitor assumes that the same thing applies back home only to find out, sometimes too late, that the motto “don’t ask don’t tell” is frequently valid, but this time in a different context. Ambiguity typically envelops employment terms, business transactions, and even personal relationships.
In the West people are generally protected by government regulation, an explicit legal system and by accountability, all of which are usually weak or non-existent in some parts of the developing world. Visitors are too afraid to appear paranoid or suspicious, thus they may think twice before asking probing questions, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation or abuse, or at best it may result in unexpected surprises. Consider dealing with banks as an example, there are many hidden “service charges” which are not common in the West, and which the bank personnel will not disclose unless one asks. Another example is job benefits such as reimbursement for transportation costs or compensation for dismissal in an employment situation. The terms and conditions are purposely written using complex language, thus creating loopholes that allow for discriminatory practices. Worst of all is the remuneration scale that is frequently based upon “who you know” rather than “what you know”. Employers typically have no fear of the threat of lawsuits or other consequences, thanks to a weak or often unfair judicial system and due to the lack of full disclosure, limited job opportunities as well as cut-throat competition.
Sadly it is common for reputable multinational corporations, or foreign-based academic institutions, to be dragged into adopting similar practices and “to go with the flow” following the saying “when in Rome do what the Romans do”, in order to avoid alienating or displeasing local influential leaders by “swimming against the stream” had they decided to stick to their parent companies’ value systems.
One learns after a few experiences that being ‘bashful’ can back-fire, and that questioning every detail is the best strategy following an Arabic saying that translates as follows “what starts out with clearly negotiated terms ends up with less ambiguous results”. Unfortunately in many cases expatriates prefer to escape back to the “safe haven” of their adopted countries rather than fighting with the system or having to “unlearn” what they may have grown to accept as the norm in the West.

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