6. Forbearance / restraint
This cultural dimension deals with the question of the extent to which a culture tends to suppress and control the personal fulfillment of wishes and the acting out of impulses by means of strict norms. At a low control, it is called “Tolerance” (Indulgence), with a strong control of “self-control” (Restraint).
The higher the value in the dimension of indulgence, the more indulgent the respective culture is in dealing with morality and custom. The interactions between the sexes are relaxed and idleness and amusement are a matter of course. The leisure plays an important role and the money sits rather loosely in the bag. These cultures generally have a positive, optimistic attitude and dealing with one’s own body is easy.
The lower the value, the more regulated the sexual intercourse and decency and morality have a high priority. Impulses and wishes tend to be suppressed and in no way acted out openly. Strongly emphasized physicality is not welcome, nor are violent expressions of emotion. And free time also plays a subordinate role here. These cultures tend to be more cynical and pessimistic. Leisure time plays a subordinate role.
Examples of forgiving cultures are Mexico, Sweden, Australia, and Denmark. Very dominated cultures are Russia, China and the Czech Republic. Germany and Italy are in the lower average, so they are more in control than indulgence.
7. Universal / particular
The question here is whether there are very strict rules in a culture that apply to everyone, i.e. universally, without exception. In these cultures, for example, contracts are absolutely binding and must be adhered to. In particular societies, relationships are more important than rules. These should be changeable and applied individually. Western democracies show the strongest degree of universalism ; South Korea, China, but also India and Russia are considered particularist national cultures.
8. Neutral / Affective
The way whether and how one shows emotions is also culturally shaped. In neutral cultures, emotions are not shown and are only shown very subtly and tend to be suppressed. This should signal “objectivity”, the argumentation should be as factual as possible. Emotional outbursts are not wanted and are considered weakness. Neutral cultures are common in Asian cultures, such as Japan, Singapore and China.
Affective cultures, on the other hand, show their feelings openly and the outbreak of spontaneous feelings in public is also accepted. Feelings are expressed directly, verbally and non-verbally. We find affective cultures above all in Arabic-speaking or Latin American cultures. Great Britain or Germany as well as North American countries, for example, are in the middle.
9. Specific / Diffuse
What about the relationship between private and public life? Here, too, you will notice cultural differences during your studies abroad. There are cultures that separate the private and the public, especially business, very strongly from each other: These cultures are specific. For example, specific cultures are very factual because the personal relationship is not relevant. The communication style is very direct and clear. We encounter specific cultures in North America but also in Switzerland and the Netherlands. Germany is also a specific culture.
In diffuse cultures, private life and public life are less or not separated from one another and personal relationships play a very important role. The strong personal relationship is also evident in communication: This is very indirect and encircling so as not to hurt anyone. Criticism is only expressed “through the flower”. “Getting straight to the point”, as is customary here in Germany, is considered grossly impolite in diffuse cultures. First of all, a personal atmosphere has to be created here.
10. Performance / origin
There are cultures in which personal performance is seen as more important than (social) origin. This is mostly the case in Anglo-Saxon countries as well as in Northern and Central Europe. Southern European countries as well as countries of the Asian cultural area such as China or India, on the other hand, are more origin-oriented.
11. Relation to the environment
The relationship to the environment, whether natural or social, is also strongly influenced by culture. Cultures tend to be either inward or outward. With inwardly oriented cultures, one believes to be able to control nature and to have one’s “fate” in one’s own hands. People act very independently and do not shy away from confrontation.
Outwardly oriented cultures are shaped by the idea that one’s own fate is determined from the outside and try to live in harmony with nature and the social environment. Here people tend to subordinate themselves and adapt.
While countries like Germany or Poland can be classified in the middle, countries of the Asian cultural area are mostly outward, countries like Spain or France are mainly inward.
12. Dealing with space: distance zones
The way in which the individual perceives spatial relationships such as proximity and distance is also culturally influenced. In some cultures it is a matter of course to move closer together during a conversation or to touch each other in between, even if you have only met your conversation partner a short time beforehand. In other cultures, on the other hand, you stay at a distance for the time being, especially if you don’t know the other person well. The accepted distance zones can therefore vary greatly from one another. The distance zone in many South American cultures is often smaller than in Central European cultures.
Dealing with cultural differences in studying abroad
As you can see, there are many different cultural dimensions that can be used to identify cultural differences. However, as mentioned earlier, this approach is also very schematic. After all, in intercultural communication you are always dealing with individuals.
Each of you will encounter cultural differences during your studies abroad that can be irritating at first. These subjectively perceived differences, which irritate you because they initially seem implausible to you, are also called culture bumps. In Germany, for example, you are used to addressing problems directly and you therefore tend to argue very objectively in conversations. In many other cultures, however, this type of communication is not common and is sometimes even perceived as impolite or even aggressive.
Any interaction with someone who has a different cultural background than yourself contains potential pitfalls that you are not aware of. However, stepping on the floor while studying abroad is simply part of it and also sets an important intercultural learning process in motion. Nevertheless, it is possible to keep the “slip-ups” within limits. Because the more often there are intercultural misunderstandings that one does not understand and that cannot be clarified, the more anger and frustration will accumulate. So you quickly get into a crisis and experience a culture shock.
Anyone who deals with the specific cultural characteristics of the host country before and during their studies abroad and becomes aware of the differences to their own culture can avoid or at least mitigate a culture shock. It is important to stay open, because cultural dimensions are only an orientation. Even if you will experience moments of irritation from time to time, you should try to endure them, even if the temptation is great to categorize what you have experienced so that it makes sense to you. The adequate handling of cultural differences is an important part of intercultural competence.