A Guide to Cultural Issues for Westerners in Asia

mimin   May 9, 2016   Comments Off on A Guide to Cultural Issues for Westerners in Asia

There are wide areas of different thinking and different ways of reacting to and handling life’s situations in other countries. It is important to recognize and accept that there are differences in the way of life between home and a foreign country.

Westerners who travel Asia face a myriad of cultural issues that may have a great impact on their experience. Most of them find the environment even more difficult with language barriers, different cultures, and time and distance barriers. It is important to know that Asia is the world’s largest continent that has many different nations and cultures and each has its own unique characteristics. So, cross-cultural sensitivity and understanding is important for people who visit places.

It is presumed that the most discussed cultural issue Westerners may encounter in most of the South East Asian countries is the concept of face, and not losing it. But this is not given much importance in the west. When dealing with people, priority on avoiding a perception of embarrassment or humiliation should be given. Inadvertently causing someone to lose face is all too easy for oblivious Westerners. Such faux pas can happen easily while traveling or in business and the consequences can be quite serious. For example, a mistake when Western businessmen spend too much time in meetings interacting with the Chinese participant who speaks the best English rather than with the highest-ranking person present, it can cause the high-ranking person to lose face, thereby damaging the prospects of the deal under discussion.

Another thing that Westerners should be careful about is not to stereotype Asians. Rather they should consider and understand the specific culture with which they are working. One classic example is many Americans are aware of the potential cultural clash between Japanese and American businesspeople. Generally, Americans give importance to directness and time consciousness while Japanese give value for prolonged discussion and consensus building.

The other issue that visitors may come across in this region is etiquette at religious places. In Buddhist countries like Thailand and Cambodia, a temple is known as Wat. When visiting a Wat, it is important to dress conservatively. And at the entrance, the correct etiquette is to take your footwear off before entering the temple.