Module 2: Intercultural communication, local culture and customs

Lesson Title

Introduction to Intercultural Communication



This lesson starts from the concept of “culture”, and how it influences our daily life and interactions with other persons. It tries to respond to how we can best communicate with individuals who speak another language, have divergent values in life and rely on different means to reach a common goal. It intends to provide an understanding on how people from other cultures perceive the world, communicate and behave.
See introductory video:


Lesson time foreseen

1 hour


Lesson Content

When we talk about “cultures”, we usually relate it to the ethnic affiliations of people. But in a wider perspective it is not just the origin, but also the upbringing, the thoughts, opinions and feelings which influence the way people act within a given culture.
The cultural dimensions theory of Geert Hofstede, a famous business anthropologist, identifies 6 so-called “dimensions” of culture:

o Power distance index (PDI): The power distance index is defined as “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.” In this dimension, inequality and power is perceived from the followers, or the lower level. A higher degree of the Index indicates that hierarchy is clearly established and executed in society, without doubt or reason. A lower degree of the Index signifies that people question authority and attempt to distribute power.

o Individualism vs. collectivism (IDV): This index explores the “degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups.” Individualistic societies have loose ties that often only relates an individual to his/her immediate family. They emphasize the “I” versus the “we.” Its counterpart, collectivism, describes a society in which tightly-integrated relationships tie extended families and others into in-groups. These in-groups are laced with undoubted loyalty and support each other when a conflict arises with another in-group.

o Uncertainty avoidance index (UAI): The uncertainty avoidance index is defined as “a society's tolerance for ambiguity,” in which people embrace or avert an event of something unexpected, unknown, or away from the status quo. Societies that score a high degree in this index opt for stiff codes of behavior, guidelines, laws, and generally rely on absolute Truth, or the belief that one lone Truth dictates everything and people know what it is. A lower degree in this index shows more acceptance of differing thoughts/ideas. Society tends to impose fewer regulations, ambiguity is more accustomed to, and the environment is more free-flowing.

o Masculinity vs. femininity (MAS): In this dimension, masculinity is defined as “a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success.” Its counterpart represents “a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.” Women in the respective societies tend to display different values. In feminine societies, they share modest and caring views equally with men. In more masculine societies, women are more emphatic and competitive, but notably less emphatic than the men. In other words, they still recognize a gap between male and female values. This dimension is frequently viewed as taboo in highly masculine societies.

o Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation (LTO): This dimension associates the connection of the past with the current and future actions/challenges. A lower degree of this index (short-term) indicates that traditions are honored and kept, while steadfastness is valued. Societies with a high degree in this index (long-term) views adaptation and circumstantial, pragmatic problem-solving as a necessity. A poor country that is short-term oriented usually has little to no economic development, while long-term oriented countries continue to develop to a point.

o Indulgence vs. restraint (IND): This dimension is essentially a measure of happiness; whether or not simple joys are fulfilled. Indulgence is defined as “a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun.” Its counterpart is defined as “a society that controls gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.” Indulgent societies believe themselves to be in control of their own life and emotions; restrained societies believe other factors dictate their life and emotions.
These dimensions characterise in the basic personality of a person, his / her values, the experience of time and space, selective perception, nonverbal communication, and patterns of behaviour.
Intercultural Communication (or cross-culture communication) describes the wide range of communication processes and problems that naturally appear within an organisation or social context made up of individuals from different religious, social, ethnic, and educational backgrounds.
In the business world, intercultural communication is also much about understanding different business customs, beliefs and communication strategies. It is considered with growing importance since the lack of cultural understanding and the ability to communicate across cultures can create barriers to business success.
Important parameters are: language, low-context vs. high-context cultures (see topic 2.9 “business conduct”)
Intercultural Competence means the ability to react and behave in a culturally appropriate way.
We need to understand ourselves as cultural beings and be able to anticipate others’ possible motivations for specific behaviours. Thus we can bridge cultural differences, recognizing them as assets rather than as obstacles to minimize or navigate around.


Exercise / Brainstorm: From your own experience, make a list of situations in which you noticed cultural differences between you and other persons, and reflect how you solved it, or why you could not.
Quiz game on holiday traditions in different cultures:
Cultural dimensions:
Intercultural Competence

Test d'évaluation: