One of the first article I read back in my bachelor studies was "Culture and Organizations" from Hofstede published in 1980. The paper has been one of the most frequently quoted articles of the social science literature with almost 25000 citations by now. Three decades ago, Hofstede found out that countries differ regarding individualism, uncertainty avoidance, power distance, masculinity, long-term orientation and indulgence. Back then, I was fascinated by the idea to categorize nationalities by simple characteristics. For instance, if you compare the US with Germany, the US scores high in individualism and low in long-term orientation while Germany scores high in long-term orientation and lower in individualism. So, what does this mean? Am I less individual and more long-term oriented?
In his study, Hofstede assumes that nations are a homogenous whole. Indeed, most nations are actually groups of ethnic units. The analysis of a culture is always the analysis of an individual, it's character and habits. Seeing nations as a whole does not pay sufficient tribute to the importance of communities and their influence on the individual. Nations are not the accurate unit of analysis since cultures are borderless. When Hofstede did his research, we had cold war. Back then, the place where you lived was your cell and, hence, a good indicator of cultural values. However, in today's global village, boundaries and places become less and less relevant. Working cultures, socio-economic classes, or generational cohorts provide more meaning of cultures than national boundaries. It's time to newly analyze the present cultural clusters.
Culture is something that we acquire and learn from birth by our parents, mentors, friends, an important teacher, a hero in a comic book or a star on stage. Culture, however, isn't something that is easily acquired. It's a slow process of growing into or better adapting to the society you live in. Each nation has a long history and tradition that will sustain time, but culture is different, it's dynamic and represents the presence. Old culture is history or tradition. Culture means...
...understanding symbols or myths such as our weird and funny Internet memes that we love to archive for the moment that may come but never will (but if it comes...)
...taking part in rituals such as posting throwback-thursday pics or queing 10 mins for a coffee at our hipster coffee shop.
...modeling against role models such as data crawling governments.
...learning values as for instance the freedom of speech and write as well as the importance of love and to actually pass time with your loved ones.
When I look at myself, 28 years old, love traveling, social media addicted, I feel that national culture actually takes just a really small space within "what-I-call" my own culture. I feel that there is much more to my own culture than just my nationality. Actually, I think that my national culture is something I refer to as a place I know well and can tell others about, a place I origin from, but not a place that defines me. My nationality may help others define me, but doesn't help me define me at all.
I often hear comments like: "Oh! You are so funny! Are you really German?" or "You are five minutes late. You can't be German, no way." I obviously find most of these comments very funny, but they also make me think. My wife is from Ecuador, I met her in Buenos Aires. I worked in France, Moscow and Egypt. I travelled most countries of South America. I don't know if I am funny, but I know if I may be late, I would feel bad and apologize like any normal guy would do.
Culture is changing, and most importantly the origin of our cultures are getting blur. While our parent's culture has been influenced by books, newspapers, Sunday's church, some national television, maybe a holiday in a Southern spot that is a 5-6 hours drive away, our culture is influenced by the Internet, traveling the world and binge streaming of the same tv shows. We consume the same media, visit the same places and work at the same multi-national companies. So, how do we differ? How do we create our own culture?
Basically, it's upon each one of us to choose. There is no more national doctrine that tells us what we should or shouldn't do. There is no more sovereign power that forbids us to do what we want. Take from the different cultures out there the things that suits you most. I loved the patience and listening skill of the muslims back then when I worked in Egypt. I admire how my wife and her family are passionate about their family and friends in Ecuador. And I obviously am thrilled by the smart, innovative and loyal colleagues I get to work with here in Germany.
So, tell me! What's your background? What's your culture? What is it that has influenced you most? Ask yourself, is it really your nationality? I decided to ask an expert in intercultural management Marcus Heidbrink, who has done more than 50 intercultural workshops, about his perception if national cultures are indeed dying. He explains that, in his book "High-Performance-Organisations", culture is defined as the sum of the present habits. He tells that culture can change (i.e. die), however only very slowly, because convictions and habits are hold by a collective of people, who tend to defend their culture against change.
"In my international workshops we often discuss, for instance, if the motivators of Generation Y (e.g. self-determination or interest) also go beyond Europe and USA. Everyone in the workshop then confirms that these motivators reach from Santiago over Singapur, to Schanghai and Stuttgart but not deep into the black forest or upto Ostfriesland (Baltic Sea coast of Germany)." He points out that the borders of cultures are borders of urbanization or region and not borders of nations. He says and smiles, you know who said "Nations are fictions". I said "No". It was Jeremy Rifkin. He has been advisor of Obama and the EU commission, he said and let me again alone with my thoughts and ideas if nations are dying and what my culture actually is...