Posted by: Corina Paraschiv | April 15, 2009

Hoftede’s Thailand: The Cultural Dimensions

In the late 1960s, Hofstede’s started a research on cultural behaviors in company settings, which later lead to a model of five cultural dimensions : Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, and Long-Term Orientation.

What the model tells us

Hofstede’s model is useful upon visiting a new country because it sets the basis for intercultural communications by indicating preferences in a large spectrum of values. The Power Distance runs from a low end, where all members of society are viewed as equal in rights, to a high end, where unequal distribution of resources and rights is accepted. Individualism covers a range of attitudes where the person will be valued or, at the other end of the scale, the group will prevail. Masculinity refers to the gender roles assigned to members of the community; in a feminine society, roles can overlap, whereas in masculine societies, traditional male and female roles are strongly emphasized. The last dimension, long-term orientation, can be compared to the time orientation; the short-term value is concerned with traditions, a form of past-orientation. The long-term value is geared towards innovation and perseverence, a form of future-orientation.

The Hofstede Model doesn’t only indicate what end of the spectrum of each category a country may fall under, but it also indicates to what degree they do so, by using a quantifiable measurement.

What the model doesn’t tell us

However accurate this model may be, it is certainly not enough for true intercultural understand. Hofstede’s model allows us to interact with others by abiding to their rules. For instance, if a society values anciety and age above skills, it could be a useful thing to consider when attending an interview for a job in that country. However, Hofstede’s Model fails to give a deeper understanding of why people think the way they do. In other words, it enables us to emulate a behavior, but not a different mentality.

Because Hofstede’s Model allows one to anticipate what can be done in a certain context, but doesn’t really explain the inherent logic of the cultural behavior, it fails to mark a person as in-group, which is perhaps a point where the model falls short.

My Experience of the Hofstede Dimensions in Thailand

High power distance is reflected through the respect people all over the country exhibit towards their Royal family, as the many signs on the street highlighted. The monks also have a special status, and women cannot sit by them in public transportation. Bargaining is probably an aspect that reveals most the existence of respect for authority and power; no products were made with the image of the King or of Buddah for the locals, but when buying flowers for ceremonies, for instance, it was impossible to bargain at the flower market. Bargaining for everyday articles, however, was very common, because it did not command the same respect.

Uncertainty avoidance is another aspect of Thailand’s culture. Tradition is very valued – every taxi driver we met had painted traditional symbols inside the car to gain God’s protection. Certain establishements also made a point to post in very big letters “the oldest establishment..” or such, to stress continuity. This “past-orientation” can also speak for a short-term orientation.

Collectivism was certainly present throughout the country – strangers are to be treated like friends, and although emotions of individuals are important, the group is also very important in decision-making. The interesting implication of collectivism from a business standpoint is the aspect of word-of-mouth : companies like Avon prospered in the Thai market because of their direct, door-to-door selling approach. A Thai would most likely not give much credibility to direct mail adds. When commercials are made, however, they focus on group relationships. Once the customer hears about the product, he may go to the shop and purchase the item, but the sellers, paid on fixed salaries and from a non-confrontational education, will probably not actively engage in describing all the features of a product to a potential buyer. This is why customer service following purchases are so important, as it is an alternate way of informing buyers of things they should know concerning the product they have acquired. Last, the customer service also ensures the generation of positive word-of-mouth, which also reinforces future sales.

Thailand was definitely a feminine-like country – the benevolance and hospitality with which we have been welcomed with everywhere definitely confirmed that Thai people value altruism. The country was also very “green” with a lot of ecological measures recently implemented by the King; solar pannels had been sponsored for generation of electricity in villages, and taxis now run on dual fuel. Roles regarding women and men were very lax, as we saw many fathers watching over kids in the streets and women working, from being street vendors to university directors.

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