Cultural Differences

This recent BBC article studies the cultural differences between the Germans and the British. Germans don’t indulge in small talk, apparently. The British are very good at small talk – or in other words, the art of talking rubbish for ages without saying anything worthwhile. Consequently the British think Germans are rude, and the Germans think the British tell too many lies.

It’s these cultural differences that make travel so fascinating. Having been to Berlin, I agree with the concept that Germans can appear abrupt. They don’t intend to be rude. They just can’t see the point of talking without saying anything. I’ve also noticed no one in Berlin crosses the road on a red light, even if the road is empty of traffic. They always follow the rules, and the rules dictate that one doesn’t cross the road until the green man appears.

Contrast this to crossing the road in Vietnam, which I posted about recently. There are no pedestrian crossings in Hanoi, and the traffic doesn’t stop. Ever. To cross the road you step into the traffic and hope for the best.

In Greece, no one queues. The Greeks value personal choice and freedom, which tends to mean what the individual wants to do might over-rule what the crowd wants to do. So when the bus arrives, it’s a bit of a free for all as everyone’s trying to get on first.

The British, on the other hand, are pretty good at queueing and even in London, where the crowds get so bad it’s a matter of survival, when you look at any bus stop in rush hour you will see everyone standing in an orderly line. I’ve never been to Japan, but I understand that the Japanese are even better at queueing than we Brits are.

The differences between the American and the British mindset are so vast I might save that for blog post all by itself. But one point that struck me on our recent trip to New York is the service culture. Americans have a very high expectation of customer service. We discovered a British style pub in Greenwich Village. It was a nice place, and the decor and the beer were spot on with regard to their ‘British-ness’. One crucial difference, though. We sat down and a waitress came and gave us menus, then took our order and brought it out to us, even when we only wanted drinks.

In a real British pub, you don’t get and can’t expect table service. Even in a pub which serves food, you find your table and go to the bar and place your order. If it’s a nice place that’s trying to attract families and is serving decent food, someone will bring it to you when it’s ready. Occasionally you might even have to go get it yourself.

This concept of going up to the bar must fox many a first-time American visitor to London, unless they’ve been briefed beforehand. I have heard tales of Americans visiting London who sat in the pub for half an hour waiting to be served, before giving up and leaving, without realising that table service wasn’t going to happen.

Cultural mindsets are the little things that are so inbred in a society’s way of thinking they might never consider the fact this might seem odd to an outsider. Sometimes doing a little research into a place before visiting can give you insight into some of these cultural differences – and understanding them can make your visit a bit more enjoyable.


4 comments so far

  1. edgeacuity on

    Absolutely agree that a big part of the excitement of travelling is those little things you discover about places that are different from your own.

    While my boyfriend and I were travelling through Finland last year, we found that the Finnish people we met seemed to smile a lot more and have more open, friendly body language when speaking in English than when they spoke in Finnish. I’d never thought of body language as being so culturally specific before – it seems like such a natural thing, but a large part of it is learnt just like spoken language is.

  2. Eddie on

    Interesting post – You could do a whole post just on the differences in tipping in different countries as well. It never ceases to amaze me how different cultures approach the whole customer service/tipping thing in such completely different ways.

  3. […] Tweet of the Day: Cultural Differences […]

  4. ralfast on

    I’m fascinated by how cultures mesh and collide. The process of assimilation and dissemination at a personal level as well as a cultural level is complex yet extremely unpredictable.

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