I have been working for the US company for more than 7 years now, starting with GE plastics and then joined Rohm and Haas now Dow in 2007. I do experience these differences in culture and value in these companies which are different from traditional Chinese culture. And now I have been living in US for more than 4 months, I’ve experienced more perhaps even more than what I learnt in the past 7 years. Because though I am working for these US companies in Asia, but I am still surrounded by Asian or most Chinese people who sharing a common value with me, but now I am in US surrounding by these US people giving me a chance to take a close observation on these differences on daily behaviors which reflect the people’s inside value.
Probably the biggest difference I found will be the value of “Equality/Fairness”. In Asian culture, especially eastern Asian culture, rank/status is very important. For your boss or the person who has higher rank than you in the company, you should call them respectfully with their title, like “Director Li”, “Manager Zhang.”, but in US culture within the company you can directly call colleague’s given name without any title, no matter they are your boss or higher rank people than you. Though I heard that you can do like this, but for the first several days after I joined US company (at that time is GE plastics), I am still not getting use to do that. In US, even for the people outside of the company, it’s more comfortable to call their given names. Some time, I tried to call “Mr. …” or “Dr…”, always I got the response is just call me XXX. Also in eastern Asia culture, when your boss says something you have to agree, which is another things reflecting ranking, but in US as long as you believe you are backed up with right logic,
you can always argue with your boss and explain your ideas. But of cause, still you need to watch the way of persuading your boss to accept your ideas, otherwise you will still be in trouble : ) For that part, all the people around the world are the same, people always want themselves to be right.
“Individualism” is another big factor which seen as a big difference in US people. One good example for this I think is that people have an own territory which others should not across, as Sandy mentioned there is a unseen line around 1 or 2 feet around the people, so if anyone else want to step into that “private” area, people will feel uncomfortable, they probably will step away and still keep that distance. And also, when someone have to go passing that zone, always you will hear they say “excuse me”. In Asia, it’s very common that people will bypass you with a very close distance, sometimes even will touch your body. But people are getting use to that, and no one will feel offended. Perhaps that’s because the population density in eastern Asia (like China, Japan, Korea) is much higher than in US. So US, people have that luxury to keep their own comfort zone, and now become a habit.
Also, it’s much more “informal” in the US business environment, and Asia always you should be formal and follow the “process”. One example is dressing, in eastern Asia culture, you always choose to dress up (Suit, Shirt, Tie), even there is no external activities and only staying in office. In US, when meeting customers, most time formal dressing will still be a safe choice, but in the office environment people normally wear more casually, with T-shirt, sporting shoes, some time even Jeans will not go wrong. Especially when off-work, people will be even more relaxing on the dressing, you will meet high level management dressing T-shirt and shorts shopping in Meijer, which you may not even recognize them. In Asia, even after work, some people still choose to dress up, especially for these senior management members. People want to be recognized as always in a “Professional Pattern”. For me, of cause I like US culture much more in this respect area, always wearing a tie makes me difficult to breathe.
Despite of all these differences, there are also many common things sharing between eastern and western values. First is the control over time, in Asia especially for these business meetings, you must be punctual, otherwise it will be considered very impolite, I feel it the same here in US. And regarding “Materialism”, at least in China now, people measure the successful by what fortune you own, what house you live, what car you drive and even what clothes and watches you are wearing. In this part, I think now China is even further beyond what I saw in US which I think it’s not a good trend. Yes, a bit materialism can encourage people work hard, but if too much, then people become nervous and very eager to embrace the fortune with all the means they can have, some are immoral, even some are illegal. There should be something to guide the people and limit the greedy in the human nature like religion, which is unfortunately destroyed by communist and now is very hard to rebuild.
It’s really a good experience to be here in US, to live here is much more different than only travel here. Only by living here I can now discover all these interesting things like differences and common ground in value. And I am sure I will explore more in the next 8 months living here.