Culture Clash


Sunday, February 17, 2002

Regional differences in
culture can have an impact

The culture where people are socialized influences many everyday behaviors. Cultural differences can be observed when comparing different countries and when examining regional differences in a large nation such as the United States. My cousin, Bob Hardina, followed this multiyear story while he was owner of Mid-Coast Energy Systems in Damaris-cotta, Maine.

Summer tourists to Maine often fall in love with its beauty and look for a place to summer in each year and to eventually retire. When Bob first arrived in Maine 26 years ago he worked on a cottage renovation with John, an old time carpenter noted for his skill, craftsmanship and honesty. He was a quiet gentleman who was constantly trying to do the best for his clients. The lady he was working for was from Washington, D.C. She was a high powered person who wanted a place to come to relax, as she said, "to get away from it all."

She would come up each weekend to go over the project's progress. It was obvious that the owner, used to a different type of tradesperson in Washington, didn't trust John to treat her fairly. She suggested she needed to have her lawyer come on a regular basis to check on him. The lawyer would make sure that all the materials she was paying for were being used for her renovation. John commented that he had no problem if that was the way she wanted to spend her money.

The next week, she came up with the idea that she might have an architect inspect John's work to make sure that it was correct. John commented that she could spend her money as she wished. The next week she confronted John with his bill for labor. She wanted to see the pay stubs for the helper John had hired to make sure she was not being overcharged. That did it! John put his coffee cup down and just looked at her. "Missus, you told me you were coming here to get away from it all! You just brought it all with you!"

Twenty three years later, that same woman came to my cousin's office to say that she was going to have to sell her beloved house overlooking the ocean because her heath was failing and she could no longer make the trip from Washington to Maine. She recalled the incident with John who had died a few years earlier. She commented that he had taught her more about the value of friendship and trust than anyone else she had known. This is an important aspect of culture in rural Maine that she experienced and learned to appreciate.

The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Special attention will be given to miscommunications caused by cultural differences. Each column will start with a short example of such confusion. Possible explanations will be offered to encourage thought about these issues.

Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration,
University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the
College Relations Office:

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