Navigating Cultural Differences Pt. 5 – Inclusion vs. Privacy
Social gatherings are a window into the inner workings of culture. I once was surprised by a warm invitation to a birthday celebration for someone I had just met. Jackie and a mutual friend were catching up over coffee together when I ran into them. After a brief conversation, Jackie turned to me with a smile.
“You should come to my birthday party tonight!”
“She’s only known me for 5 minutes,” I thought to myself. “These are just polite formalities.”
“And, feel free to invite your friends!” Jackie said warmly.
I turned to my friend after Jackie left, “Does she really want me to come to her birthday party tonight? I just met her!”
“Oh, definitely. And don’t worry about bringing anything, the host always prepares the food. It’s a Filipino thing,” my friend replied.
In my interaction with Jackie, I was surprised by her inclusiveness. It wasn’t so much that the social activities we enjoyed were different. My being Canadian and her being Filipino did not change the fact that we both celebrated birthday parties. The difference was in how we conducted our social gatherings – our willingness to involve ourselves in each other’s affairs. Filipinos tend to accommodate more for their guests. In Canada, everything is a little more distant, a little more individualistic and a little more “cold.” The understanding of BYOB (bring your own beer) is a good example of this.
As relationships grow and develop in the workplace, friendships and acquaintances are formed. Social groups may form around common interests, conversations, beliefs and/or values. There reaches a point when, eventually, work friends can become close friends. These close friends are then invited to each other’s homes and frequently engage in social activity together outside of work. In “hotter” cultures, these work relationships can develop into close relationships quicker than those in “colder” cultures. There is, undeniably, a low barrier to social inclusion in “hotter” cultures. People are less likely to be excluded and as a result and integrate more readily into each other’s personal lives. In the workplace, becoming a close acquaintance with someone of a “hotter” culture from the perspective of someone from a “cold” culture may require extra effort in making the other person feel included and valued as an employee or colleague. In the reverse, a person from a “hotter” culture should not be offended when the “cold”-cultured person declines an invitation or seems distant in wanting maintain his/her own social groups.
The workplace being a familiar environment to many, cultural differences relating to inclusion and privacy happens even in the lunchroom! Ever thought to label your food? As North Americans, this is common sense. But not all common sense is common. People of “hot” disposition may see food as to be shared communally and, more likely, forgo the use of labels. This is not to say that people of “hot” cultures never use labels to identify belonging or that people of “cold” cultures never share. The distinction simply describes an observation of group tendencies.
This difference in “hot” and “cold” cultures described here is really a difference in inclusion and privacy. As a result, conversations have different dynamics. It is acceptable for people of “colder” cultures to hold private conversations, make exclusive plans with a few people while excluding many others. In “hotter” cultures, including oneself into a conversation, and in some cases a social gathering is never considered an offense.
To this day, Jackie and I are good friends. Since our initial acquaintance, I have learned immensely of her culture but also of my own. Not only has my specific experience with Jackie broadened my understanding of the Filipino culture, it has equipped me well in learning to navigate cultural differences in general whether it be the workplace or in the company of friends.