How I understood the book

Note before: the next four articles form a combined piece on Geert Hofstede’s research and book “Cultures and Organizations – Software of the mind”. Page numbers for references are indicated.

So 534721_475434229166521_1088618336_nhow do I introduce myself? So you understand. It is not as easy as I thought it was. There is a lot that’s different. Not only because of our cultural differences. But because there is so much to our cultural differences.

In the beginning of the book I thought about if it is worth to study these six dimensions further. I realised that they meant significant differential traits of our cultures. But I never actually really imagined these 6 dimensions. There is more to see in cultural differences than the general trends. The small differences are as important when understanding one another. Not only when understanding those from other cultures. Also, when understanding those of our own.

These are the values I grew up with, as they existed in my home country for my first 18 years. So this is where Latvia stands at according to the research:

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Latvia stands rather low on power distance, measuring the inequality in a country. It has a rather high degree of individualism, as well as uncertainty avoidance, the latter meaning lower anxiety levels. Latvia scores rather high also on the long-term orientation measures. The country scores one of the lowest on masculinity and indulgence meaning modest and restrained cultural values.

Do I find it rather confusing when looking at it myself and considering myself Latvian? Yes, as I see things that are very different from what I see as my culture. However, when I look at my homeland, I do see these traits and they have always been present, they just haven’t affected my life to the level that would seem obvious, like my culture’s low indulgence hasn’t affected my happiness in the way I look at life, even coming from the same circumstances and having the same, rather restraining environment.

This underlines how the Hofstede’s research doesn’t really measure us as individuals, rather the deeper traits that are present within our cultures. While it doesn’t fully describe us as individuals, we will despite still have some of these values, while others might differ.

Also I feel very fortunate to have been born and raised until I am 18 in the same culture and in a relatively rural setting, which helps me to see these differences and how they have roots in the culture that I hold so dear to my little Latvian heart.

How I understood their lives

During winter, there is one thing all Latvians eat. Actually, there is generally one thing Latvians eat, it is potatoes. So what’s great about potatoes is that they are easy to grow, inexpensive and can be stored for a long time for the cold winters to come. The cold winters back home could be a reason why people tend to be long-term orientated. They know that utilities will be more expensive, so they will have to save more money than the same class and income person would need to save in a warmer country, like Spain, for example.

If we look at the long-term orientation indexes, almost all of the Ex-Soviet and Eastern/Central European cultures have high long-term orientation values, Latvia ranking the 20th, 12th from the countries in that specific region (255). The socialist structure of the Soviet Union partly works for long-term goals, within long-term domestic policies. After the end of the Soviet Union the newly independent countries were able to adapt an economic system that fit their ways (264), however, I believe that some of the long-term values have either always been present in these societies or have been carried on after the end of the communist regime.

This has led to Latvians saving up their money and resources, be involved with development, work to succeed as a part of a team and respect the mutual well-being. These are generally trends that are present to long-term oriented countries.

This model on the surface seems completely normal for me, any other Latvian or anyone else who has been similarly raised in a country associated with long-term orientation. However, this has been different from what I have seen throughout my years in Spain. I am not nearly as involved with the Spanish culture as I wished I would have been, but the people around me in most instances have been brought up in countries associated with shorter-term orientation. Also, the media that I have mostly been exposed to (the media outlets from the U.S.) have exposed me to values that are much different from the ones I was raised with.

In the U.S. it feels as spending is indeed socially pressured and that it is completely normal that this spending only produce a short-term satisfaction or value. There is a lot of concern with the social status, and spending is often part of requiring and sustaining this status. These are also trends that are associated with short-term oriented countries. However, it never struck me as something outrageous. I always just thought

“that’s how the western people think”.

Hofstede’s research doesn’t make any links between this and capitalism, and this cannot be generalized, as there are countries associated with capitalism also found on the long-term orientation part of the rank. The two could be independent.

For poor countries such as Latvia that are long-term orientated there also comes fast economic growth (275). And this could be argued to stand true, as Latvia came out the Soviet Union unable to be competitive in the Western market, but managed to obtain and sustain growth over the years despite the bad world’s economy in the years to come.

How I understood their work

When it came to long-term orientation, I knew that I was raised differently than those around me. However, there are some differences that I never realized. I was never aware of the differences from how I was raised compared to how my friends must have been raised in terms of femininity, for example. After reading about Hofstede’s research and looking up the places I lived, I realized that there was a large difference between where I was raised in and where have lived in terms of how modest our cultures are.

This hasn’t been a realization just for me. Instead, it is mentioned that the masculinity/femininity dimension is the most controversial of the five original dimensions of national cultures. It took time to recognize that national values differ dramatically on this dimension (144). Perhaps, because they are subtle differences the society has only started to acknowledge recently.

Generally, it is said that the feminine national cultures tend to value modesty, tenderness and emotions in both genders. The kids are raised with less competitive values, rather they are thought to be useful in the overall society (165). From whenever I was a kid in school, I was aware of what is the norm when it comes to studying. While excelling was encouraged from some teachers, it was never encouraged in a class setting. If a teacher wanted for a student to do extra work, it would be arranged after class, and would cause jealousy in others and these offers would rarely be accepted by the students. The classes were thought in a way that the weakest kid in class could follow, the strongest were encouraged either to listen and stay put or help the others to keep up. This goes hand in hand with some of the differences associated to a feminine society.

This, when I look back, partly explains to me why there are very little people who aim for more, who want to develop things further and learn more about a topic. Competition is not encouraged, students are not expected to learn or achieve much more, nor they are encouraged to do so, at least not often. The practicality is thought, and excellence is not over-promoted, causing for others not to seek out this goal.

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After moving to Italy I was immediately placed in a school where excelling was everything and failing was considered a disaster. The kids were from all over the world, selected from each country and all thriving for excellence together.  The students were competitive, asking for extra credit, additional challenges and similar things that I didn’t even think about. Quite a few of these students are my favorite people. There was no jealousy targeted at those who were excellent – they were rather admired and existed as role models. While I would still refuse to do extra work, I was more encouraged to learn, read more about the things I learned about and really think about the ways I could really excel in what I do.

This seeking for advancement, challenge and therefore recognition has been a new value that was encouraged by the way I was thought in the international environment of a country with a highly masculine cultural values. However, while I might have acquired new cultural values, my modesty has remained, and I stay skeptical to the masculine assertiveness.

How I understood my own culture

I believe that the way I look at life has developed independently from the cultural restraint dimension that is present in Latvia. I always noticed that after some point in my life I realized how blessed I was and from there on kind of lived with a constant smile on my face. I also realized that I was different from the kids around me, but not until I came back after having lived in Italy and Spain. I didn’t like the people back home, because they were always grumpy, cynical and overall seemed to be pressured down by all their responsibilities. (yes, Latvia scores one of the lowest on indulgence in Hofstede’s research if you were wondering) And when I went home, I always dreamed about moving to Latin America where people joyfully dance in the sun.

In fact, Latin American countries score the highest. Maybe hereby we tend to associate Latin America with happiness and cheerful people. That is also how Latvians look at Southern Europeans, for example. And after me having lived here, in the South for years, that’s how they look at me. In Latvian folklore and culture there is the idea of an adventurer going out in the world to find the happiness he doesn’t have at home. At the end he finds this treasure and status, however returns back home to his family and friends, flying on a magical creature or something. So people seek out happiness, but find the value at home, the things that are outside are just wealth, no real happiness can really be acquired in any way.

In Hofstede’s research, indulgence is measured by cognitive evaluation of one’s life and a description of one’s feelings (278). The questions were formulated asking for the level of

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  1. Happiness: “”Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, quite happy, [..] or not at all happy.” Measured was the percentage choosing “very happy”.”
  2. Life control: The people were asked to rate on a scale how much “freedom of choice and control” they feel over the way their “life turns out”.
  3. Importance of leisure: rating how important leisure time is, and recording the percentage that chose “very important” from a country. (280)

Other traits the research shown indulgence to correlate with were respondents with high indulgence score described themselves to be in good health, expressed optimism towards the future, which leads to higher birth rate. Latvia has been struggling with declining child rate and aging of the country for a long time now(288).

So let’s look where Latvia is on the rank, indeed, let’s look at the whole Eastern European, particularly the ex-soviet countries in the ranking. Here are the 10 lowest indulgence/restraint indexes, with the ex-soviet countries underlined: Pakistan, Egypt, Latvia, Ukraine, Albania, Belarus, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Iraq (284). Half of these are post-soviet countries, particularly the ones located in the Eastern European region and the Baltic States. The research has no dimension scores listed for the Central Asian post-soviet countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan (36).

This statistically show that in post-soviet and Eastern European kids grow up in a society with already existing restraint, where curtain traits are present. And I believe the trends highlighted in the chapter. I have seen a great number of them while growing up, like helplessness, cynicism, pessimism, low life satisfaction, less connections and contacts with foreigners (290-298). So the Latvian is modest, concerned about his future, but unhappy. And generally, the cu11741278_869477466462016_5336850157491060364_oltural restraint can remain even after moving to a new place, so even after emigrating to another place, it doesn’t mean that the people will be any happier (278).

I have no idea what made me different. I could have been my family, or my connection with nature. Or my friends. Or the books that I would wonder off with. And a big deal has been moving to Spain and seeing the difference. And it is quite the difference in the way people look at life for someone coming from Latvia. And this is the element of my culture where I’m an outsider.