Do you speak my language?
For many years, linguists (and translators) focused on the fixed aspects of language without giving importance to what it is - in our humble opinion - the most important aspect of human communication: cultural pragmatics (or how we actually use speech in communication).
Our speech reflects who we are and the culture we come from and our use of language reflects our identity and relationship to said culture.
One of our favourite authors when it comes to explaining how our cultures differ is Hofstede and his theory of cultural dimensions.
Small Power Distance vs. Big Power Distance
Power distance refers to the way in which power is distributed and the extent to which the less powerful accept that power is distributed unequally. Put simply, people in some cultures accept a higher degree of unequally distributed power than do people in other cultures. When in a high power distance culture the relationship between bosses and subordinates is one of dependence. When in a low power distance society the relationship between bosses and subordiantes is one of interdependence.
Individualism vs. Collectivism
This dimension focuses on the relationship between the individual and larger social groups. As mentioned earlier, cultures vary on the amount of emphasis they give on encouraging individuality / uniqueness or on conformity and interdependence. Highly individualist cultures believe individual is most important unit. Highly collectivistic cultures believe group is most important unit.
Masculinity vs. Feminity
This dimension focuses on how extent to which a society stress achievement or nurture. Masculinity is seen to be the trait which emphasizes ambition, acquisition of wealth, and differentiated gender roles. Femininity is seen to be the trait which stress caring and nurturing behaviors, sexuality equality, environmental awareness, and more fluid gender roles.
High Uncertainty Avoidance vs. Low Uncertainty Avoidance
This dimension focuses on how cultures adapt to changes and cope with uncertainty. Emphasis is on extent to which a culture feels threatened or is anxious about ambiguity. It is not risk avoidance but rather, how one deals with ambiguity.
Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation
Long-Term Orientation is the fifth dimension of Hofstede which was added after the original four to try to distinguish the difference in thinking between the East and West. From the original IBM studies, this difference was something that could not be deduced. Therefore, Hofstede created a Chinese value survey which was distributed across 23 countries. From these results, and with an understanding of the influence of the teaching of Confucius on the East, long term vs. short term orientation became the fifth cultural dimension.
Below are some characteristics of the two opposing sides of this dimension:
Long term orientation: persistence, ordering relationships by status and observing this order, thrift, having a sense of shame.
Short term orientation: personal steadiness and stability, protecting your ‘face’, respect or tradition, reciprocation of greetings, favors, and gifts
Indulgence vs. Restraint
Indulgence versus restraint describes hedonistic behavior: how freely can people satisfy their basic needs and desires, how strict social norms are followed and gratification suppressed and regulated.
When you step into a foreign culture, things suddenly seem different. By using Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions as a starting point, you can evaluate your approach, based on a general sense of how people in a particular society might think and react.
Of course, everybody is unique, and no society is uniform, but you can use this model to avoid making mistakes.