Intercultural studies have become increasingly important in the current society. The globe is continuously becoming globalized making it significant for people of different cultures to learn different cultures for the purpose of smooth interaction. This paper will examine the Indian culture in reference to the family, communication and worldview. The will show how the culture affects every day interaction especially in workplaces. It is worth noting that culture is a powerful shaping force and therefore understanding different cultures makes it possible to appreciate other cultures minimising chances instances of misunderstanding.
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The family has been described as a core structure for culture. It has been pointed out that though most of the communication problems occur at interpersonal levels they are easily traced to the cultural differences that exist between different people. A family is responsible for bringing up a child and as such they have a great influence on how a person grows up. A family teaches a kid on what he/she should strive to achieve in life (Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel 37). Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel have quoted Huntington claiming that “people define themselves in terms of ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs, and institutions” (39). A family has a significant role of ensuring that a child grows up in the accepted ways of a given culture. Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel argued that “families, working in tandem with other institutions, are important because they supply you with a large portion of your identity” (42). Mead as quoted by Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel has pointed out that:
At birth, babies can grow up to the members of any society…. It depends on how they are trained and taught, loved and punished, whether they turn into one kind of person or another. So, if we make a study of this and find out the steps by which these human babies become one kind of grown up person instead of another, we learn a great deal about them… the details of a bath, or the way the baby is fed, the way it’s punished or rewarded give us a great many clues about the way character is formed in that society. (43)
In the Indian context a family is basically about sharing and joy. The family culture has a lot to do with love and patience. The Indian culture encourages unity in families. After a girl has been married into a family, it is expected that she will easily get along the norms of the new family. It is a culture of the Indians to follow some particular beliefs which stream down from particular saint or Guru. It is worth noting that Indians have a great respect the elders. They are quite hierarchical and this is often displayed in offices when lower level employees address high level employees. A similar case is witnessed with the Germans and French. The Americans however do use such terms as madam/sir in workplaces. In this respect the use of sir may mean a show of respect from one party but may mean “excessive and slavish respect” (Monippally 58) to another party.
The Indians are generally very welcoming and like entertaining guests. In the Indian culture unlike the western culture a no does not absolutely mean no. This is witnessed when visitors are being entertained. Indian culture dictates that guests should be treated as if they were gods. An Indian family serves and takes care of guests as if they were family members. A guest is expected to say no when the host offers a second helping in the course of a meal. Such a no is taken as signal of decency and not refusal for more helping thus the host will just insist to which the guest gives in. This is quite different from the western cultures where no means no and not an invitation for one to insist (Gupte 1).
Communication is a common area of misunderstanding when people of different cultures interact. As Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel argued, culture determines the way a person does things: “it is our belief that because most significant values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours are rooted in culture it behoves you to understand how cultural experiences help explain the way people perceive the world and carry out the business of living in the world” (1). Communication has generally been described as cultural. Communication entails how we have learnt to pass messages verbally and non-verbally. In order to examine how the Indian culture affects the way communication is carried out the following aspects are worth considering.
Time and Space
Time has been viewed as one the most significant aspects which bring out differences in the way different cultures view different things. In the context of time, the Indian culture views time as having unlimited continuity. Viewing of time as one which is continuous with no definite end as been referred to as polychromous. The view that time is continuous is deep rooted in the Indian culture and many of the cultural events take the same view. A good example to view the polychromous view of time by the Indians is the way they view death. Death among the Indians is not an abrupt end to life. The Indians believe that there is life after death and as such when a person dies he moves on to the next stage of life away from the earth. The same case applies to when a child is born. Birth is not an abrupt start to life but a rather a result of a long process. The Indians view life as a continuous process and hence view time in the same way. It is claimed that in the East time is viewed to move endlessly (LeBaron 1).
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The polychromous view of time has been noted to significantly affect the way Indians react to different scenarios. This difference is seen when there is an interaction of people from different cultural backgrounds. It has been observed that the Indians engage in ‘talk overs’ when in a group. This is in contrast to whites especially the Americans. This view of time has helped to cultivate some desirable aspects in the Indian culture. For instance their hospitality can be attributed partly to the view they have on time. In the American context time is money and everything ought to be done to maximise the utility of time. This will include the time spent with guests. In the Indian context a different view of time is taken.
Research has been carried out to investigate the impact of polychromous viewing of time in workplace environment. This is especially significant when in the context of Multinational Corporations because of the diversity of employees who work for these businesses. A good example is Globalis which is a fortune 500 company. Globalis employs people from various countries including the U.S., UK and India. In a research carried out on its employees it was shown that Indians are highly flexible and easily adapt to workplace conditions. However it was also shown that the Indian culture especially the polychromous view of time has negative effective on work. Multinationals have issues with time because they serve clients from widespread cultural backgrounds with different views on time (Chand et al. 5).
In a research carried out by Chand et al. it was shown that:
American society is very individualistic and Indian society is group oriented; Americans are egalitarian and Indians are very hierarchical; Americans view time as linear whereas time in India is cyclic and event driven; American are monochromic, that is, they prefer to work on one task at a time, and Indians are polychromic and they often in multitasking; etc. (6)
In an interview carried out in the course of the research it was revealed that workers in India, Ireland and the U.S. suffered from communication problems. It was generally felt that cultures had a significant impact on employees’ behaviours. It was revealed in the research that fresh employees from India did not have a full grasp of the need to meet tough deadlines and following of strict schedules. However, it was observed that when the Indians were transferred to different locations they could easily adapt to different culture especially on the issue of keeping time (Krishna, Sahay, and Walsham 64).
It has been shown that Indians do not communicate directly in the way Americans do. Indians do not like direct confrontations especially during meetings instead they choose different polite ways to pass a message across (Krishna, Sahay, and Walsham 65). This is in contrast to what the Americans do. For instance it has been pointed out that the Indians have a difficulty saying no. This has often created problems with people from other cultures because of difference in interpretation of the same message. This was illustrated as follows:
When my counterpart in the US tells me that Alka I have given my word to the customer that the new system will go live on October 1, are you sure to meet this deadline? Alka feels that even when she knows that I will be hard to meet the deadline, she cannot just say no and instead her response will be “Jack, you know it is hard to predict all that can happen when you are doing software development, especially when the technology is new. But you now us, we are committed and will do our utmost to make the deadline”. (Chand et al. 7)
It was discovered that Indians engaged more in talking as they worked. It was seen that Indians were more social which made them more engaged in talking even as they worked. Simple calculations have shown that if in the US the time/social divide is estimated at 80% to 20% then the case in India will be 60% to 40%. This habit may have some negative effects on the efficiency of the workplace if not controlled well. This negative impact may be displayed sharply in a situation where time might be running out for a given project (Chand et al. 8).
Pronunciation is another aspect of the Indian culture that has been focussed on when the issue communication is in question. It has been observed that in most cases Indians face some difficulty understanding the pronunciation of the Americans. This makes it hard for Indian staff to work well with American clients. This may also pose a problem in a workplace especially when teamwork is required to complete a given duty on a tight schedule.
Worldview has been examined as an internal perception of the way things are the way they are. These perceptions are often determined by the culture of a person. Understanding the worldview of a given culture is significant especially for the purpose of shaping up an organizational culture (Huang, Newell, Galliers, and Pan 202). Worldview has been perceived to be an intrinsic aspect of a person.
Often, worldviews operate as an unconscious level, so that when we are not even aware that other ways of seeing the world are either possible or legitimate. Like the air we breathe, worldviews are a vital part of who we are but not a part we usually think much about. (Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel 73)
It has been observed that Indians are conservative in some issues. For instance Indians do not display love in public places. It has been observed to be quite shocking to the Indians who visit the western world for the first when they encounter couples kissing passionately in the public. Instances of members of same sex walking hand in hand are often quite confusing to Indians. It has been noted that even those Indians who frequently watch western movies are met with shocks upon encountering such scenes for the first time (Monippally 59).
It has been observed that the Indians working in the western world have often been confused by this display of affection. This has especially come out clearly in issues related to sexual harassment. The show of affection makes the West to be view as permissive by Indians. With this view it becomes confusing as to why there are such tough laws on sexual harassment. It has been noted that public display of affection has made it hard for the Indians to differentiate normal expressions from those which should be interpreted as sexual advances. Monippally argued that “Indian men who are used to reading very faint signals of romantic interest from women jump to wrong conclusions when American or European women colleagues invite them home for dinner” (60). This can often be a big issue in workplace environment as it can lead to misinterpretation of some signals.
The worldview that Indians have towards death has been noted to be quite different from the view of the westerners. When a person dies in the Indian community everything comes to a stop including all businesses of all sorts. This usually happens to give people time to attend funeral as it is usually carried out almost immediately. This is quite different from the Westerners. Unlike the Indians the Westerners attend funerals by invitation. The funeral arrangement is not done immediately as time is given for arrangement to be made for those who have commitments. The Indians do not make arrangements for their commitments in the event of funeral occurring (Parkes 14). This may have a very negative impact when working on a project across a geographical region. The situation may be worsened if the project is tight on deadline.
Having the knowledge of how different issues are carried out in different cultures is quite significant. The knowledge of different cultures is especially significant for workplaces which have employees from diverse cultural backgrounds. The family has been pointed out to be a major influence of the culture of a society. In a family a person is taught the way of life and culture of the community is embedded in him/her. The Indians view a family being all about sharing and joy. This has played a major role in uniting Indians. Indian families are very receptive to guests. The Indians have a lot of respect for the elders and are highly hierarchical. The Indian culture has often been pointed out to affect the quality of communication. The Indians view time as continuous with no definite end. This has been said to impact negatively on Indian employees in workplace situations. It has been claimed that Indians do not communicate directly especially in saying no. Indians do not express their affection publicly. To the Indians a public display of affection is quite shocking. The many signals that people from the western world give can often be misinterpreted to mean different messages. It is also significant to understand the worldviews as presented by different cultures. Worldviews shapes the way people view things around and knowing that can help to reduce cultural shocks and wrong interpretation of messages.
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