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Thread: different "uncertainty avoidance" creating arguments

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Arrow different "uncertainty avoidance" creating arguments

    For those who haven't read the thread on "individualism vs collectivism", have a look here to know who is Hofstede.

    I'd lie to talk about the 4th cultural difference category in this thread : uncertainty avoidance.

    He defines it as follow :

    "Uncertainty avoidance deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man's search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth; 'there can only be one Truth and we have it'. People in uncertainty avoiding countries are also more emotional, and motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to express emotions."

    In other words, people with a high uncertainty avoidance are more worried about the future and tend to plan and prepare everything well in advance. Unsurprisingly, Japan scored 92% on Hostede's scale. Most European countries also have high scores, except Scandinavia (Denmark = 23, Sweden = 29, Norway = 50) , the Netherlands (53) and Britain and Ireland (both 35). Low uncertainty avoidance results in less planning, more risk taking, a more adventurous and we-will-see-when-it-will-happen attitude to life. As Lord d'Abernon put it "An English mind works best when it's almost too late"*, reflecting the low uncertainty avoidance of the English. I personally surely have a low score as well. English-speaking countries usually have low uncertainty avoidance (US=46, Canada=48, Australia 51), but no country in the world can beat Singapore (8) and Jamaica (13), which only common point is the English-language.

    Japanese ae well-known for planning well and worrying a lot about what could possibly happen. Once, I went to an interview for a job in Chiba and I was amazed to find an envelope with exactly the money it cost me for a return ticket. They had checked it on the Internet, and even though there were 3 different ways to go there from my station, they had supposed which I was going to use.

    I know lots of Japanese who would reserve each and every hotel, train or bus and prepare an exact schedule of their trip when they go sightseeing somewhere (in or outside Japan), while I never book anything more than my plane ticket.

    When travelling around Asia and Australia, I met hundreds of English, Dutch, Danish and Swedish people, only a few Germans, French, Swiss or Americans, and virtually no Southern European (no Spaniards, Portuguese, Greeks, and just 2 or 3 of Italians) or Belgians. When checking Hofstede's results, the proportion for each nationality almost match perfectly the "uncertainty avoidance" score. For some strange reasons, similar neighbouringcountries like the Netherlands and Belgium have completely different scores (53 vs 94) and in fact I met only 3 Belgians for surely over 100 Dutch in 1 year of travel. When I ask Belgian, French, Italian or Spanish people why they don't travel more like English or Dutch people do, taking a year off, stuffing their backpack, buying a round-the-world ticket or taking the first last minute flight to anywhere exotic, and improvise once arrived, I am usually told that they are affraid. Not only of adventure, but also of taking a full year off. Before starting univerity, they fear not being able to study after resting one year. When a university, between 2 years, they usually can't (Germans can stop easily anytime in their studies for one semester or more, but that system seems imposible in Latin countries). Once they finish university, they are affraid to travel, because they might lose the opportunity to find a job upon graduation, and not finding anything once they come back. Once they have a job, they can't take a year off anymore without losing it, which they obviously don't want. As a result very few travel outside their short summer holidays.

    Japan seem the only exception of a country with high uncertatinty avoidance and quite a lot of travellers. The explanation is that they really love travelling, but also that there are proportionally 13 times more Japanese than Belgians or Portuguese. I surely met 3x more Dutch people or Danes than Japanese, though their respective population is 15 million and 5 million, against 127m for Japan. So statistically, it stays in tune with Uncertainty Avoidance levels. Furthermore, most Japanese travel for short periods (a few days to 2 weeks, maybe) and rarely in such an adventurous way as Northern European backpackers. No, everything has to be decided and organised before leaving (there ar of course a few exceptions, like everywhere - one cannot expect millions of people from a same country to all behave in an identical way).


    ------------------------------------

    At home, the arguments with my (Japanese) wife are often due to our different "uncertainty avoidance" levels. It's also possible than men have a lower level than women in general, which accentuates our cultural divergences. For example, everytime she goes somewhere a bit far (30min by train) she checks the timetable on Internet. She plans her cooking and shopping ays before and accuses me of never taking the initiative to wash my clothes or start cooking before she does it. The problem is that she would prepare the morning the evening meal, while I would only think about it once I am getting hungry. Same for the washing, I usually wait that almost all my clothes are dirty to wash everything in one time, but she insist n doing it almost everyday to be sure that I won't need this or that shirt when it's still dirty. Maybe is it because my mind also function best when it's almost too late.

    Likewise, I usually leave at the last minute for my appointments (and arrive exactly on time, not 2 min early or late), but lots of Japanese prefer to arrive well in advance, to be sure. Thta always irritates my wife (an my mother when I was a child, as I have always been like this) whenever we have to go somewhere together. But we haven't been late anywhere so far, because I know the shortcuts.

    I rarely have problems adapting to Japanese ways, but this "uncertainty avoidance" thing is almost impossible for me to cope with. They are much too anxious about everything, even trivialities such as the washing.

    Is anybody else in the same case as me ?


    *From the book Euromanagers and martians, by Richard Hill, which I also recommend for cultural differences between European countries.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Oct 17, 2003 at 13:53.

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  2. #2
    Omnipotence personified Mandylion's Avatar
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    I'm not qualified to speak on how Hofstede came up with his numbers, but in his definitions of uncertainty avoiding and accepting countries, I can read a lot of Japan in both. Thus I am a little surprised it got a 92% True, Japan likes to plan things out, but people are also not supposed to show emotions. It can also be said that this planning shows a great stress on contemplation, be this under the guise of collectivism or not. Religion/Philosophy-wise, Japan is very flexible and not at all absolutist in their religious dogma (witness Buddhism and Shinto). While culturally there is a large amount of "we have the only truth" I have also met a lot of people very open to new ideas and very willing to try new things, much more so than say a similar number of Americans (perhaps a bad example). I would buy his rankings better at an 70-80 level.

    Personally, though I come from a country with a 46% rank (the US) I would probably fall within a uncertainty avoiding stereotype. I don't like to be late (will probably be 5 to 10 minutes early) mainly because I have been raised that being late to an appointment shows disrespect. I like to know how long it will take me to get somewhere, and how much it will cost, and where I will stay before I go somewhere. If I can make a reservation for it (and if costs allow) I will. I am not so picky as to what I actually see if on vacation, but I will have thought out a number of different options which all involved can choose from. However, I don't plan out my cooking and I don't do my wash days ahead of when it can be done. What it boils down to is I worry about all this stuff when it might impact someone else, but not when it is just me (don't be late vs. not planning cooking).Additionally though, if my uncertainty avoidance is going to ruin the fun for a more relaxed person, I can turn it off. As a result, my Japanese wife-to-be thinks I'm grand (along with a few other traits) She has also realized that I am not a typical American.

    While it has taken me awhile to adjust to some Japanese ways, and I haven't come across the clothes washing one yet, on the whole I find Japan and I mesh well in our distaste for uncertainty. For someone who likes to have the ability to plan things out well in advance, this place is great!

    Very interesting Maciamo. Thank you.
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  3. #3
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Dear Mandylion,

    I think there has been lot's of misunderstanding from what I read in your reply. It could be my fault as I expect people to understand things the way I do, but I am possibly the only one to have read the book.

    Originally posted by Mandylion
    Japan likes to plan things out, but people are also not supposed to show emotions.
    This is a matter of point of view. Personally, I have rarely met more emotional people than Japanese girls who jump of excitement for a Kitty in a shop window, cry when reading books or watching TV drama, or exclaim "sugoooi !" and "kawaaaaiiii !" with more fervor than I had ever seen before (even among children). When my parents visited me and my in-laws in Japan, they compared the Japanese to Italians for the way they expressed their feelings. But Americans are surely among the most expressive people in the world - and I am affraid, the noisiest in public too...

    Religion/Philosophy-wise, Japan is very flexible and not at all absolutist in their religious dogma (witness Buddhism and Shinto).
    Hofstede's analysis is principally for Business, even more than culture in general, so religion is surely a completely different thing. What is more, traditional and modern Japan are almost thesis and antithesis. In business or politics, Japan is not at all flexible and that is why reforms have been so slow to come since the 1991 crisis.

    Hofstede also explains that "high uncertainty avoidance" is reflected by a country having laws for everything, or a society with lots of rules. Britain doesn't even have a written Constitution, and compared to Continental European countries and Japan, has very few laws, thanks to the Common Law system (where judges make the law when it doesn't exist).


    Personally, though I come from a country with a 46% rank (the US) I would probably fall within a uncertainty avoiding stereotype.
    That is perfectly possible. The opposite is true for me, but I know I am an exception even in my own family. Anyway, the US is probably more varied in individual way of thinking than any other places on earth, because people have so diverse origins.

    I don't like to be late (will probably be 5 to 10 minutes early) mainly because I have been raised that being late to an appointment shows disrespect.
    Don't confuse being late with leaving on time. Latin people (French, Italians...) have a high uncertainty avoidance, but accept very well a 15min lateness, while Germans with the same U.A. don't tolerate even a minute. In Britain and Scandinavia, it is also rude to be late, but that doesn't mean peolpe will not have to rush to be on time (like me). That is just a matter of cultural acceptance of tardiness.

    I like to know how long it will take me to get somewhere, and how much it will cost, and where I will stay before I go somewhere. If I can make a reservation for it (and if costs allow) I will. I am not so picky as to what I actually see if on vacation, but I will have thought out a number of different options which all involved can choose from.
    As I said above, I was surprised to meet so few Americans in one year of travelling (much less than Dutch, though the US is almost 20 times more populous than the Netherlands). Then, those I see in Europe usually travel in groups (with a 4-star coach and guide) or in family. Rarely alone. Americans make an exception to high individualism and low uncertainty avoidance, when it comes to travel abroad (beyond Canada and Mexico).

    As a result, my Japanese wife-to-be thinks I'm grand (along with a few other traits) She has also realized that I am not a typical American.
    You are probably not typical from the little I know you. You are lucky to have a match here. I am also atypical of my country of birth, but the other way round. :sad:


    Let's keep in mind that every individual is different, but that culture influences the major part of how people think in a given country. I just wonder what is the hardest thing to change when you are used to it. Can indidualistic people become collectivist or vice versa ? Can a macho become feminist ? (I think so). "Uncertainty avoidance" is for me the most deeply ingrained part of my personality. And the reason is maybe because it is my personality, not a cultural influence in my case.

  4. #4
    Where I'm Supposed to Be kirei_na_me's Avatar
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    Okay, I'm not going to pretend everything is peachy. I would say my husband has some serious uncertainty avoidance except for being on time for an appointment, which absolutely drives me insane! I mean, it really irritates me. For example, our doctor's office is maybe a 5 minute drive. If I have an appointment for 10:30, I'll leave here at 10:20 at least. Maybe 10:15. If he has an appointment at that same time, he would leave here at 10:30. His reasoning: they can wait--you have an appointment! We have gotten into so many bad arguments about this.

    Other than that, he has a very high level of uncertainty avoidance, whereas I don't. He is so meticulous with his money. Over-compensating for everything. I can't even do it justice by explaining it here. It is something you would just have to witness. He has about 3 different places where he figures his checking account. Computer, statement from bank, and in his checkbook. Every one of those has to match. If they don't, it could be a 3 or 4 hour(or more) task figuring out why they don't and correcting it. Of course, I'm glad he does it, because I would never be so careful. Also, stuff like cooking. For example, if we are making something like futomaki, which is kind of time consuming, he will set aside 3 hours for it to make sure we have enough time to get it done.

    When we went to Europe several years ago, he was saying something about tours and such, and I quickly nipped that in the bud. I told him I wanted a plane ticket and the hotel booked and that's all! Of course, he later complained about how we didn't have enough time to do this and that, but I was not going to be led around on some tour while I was in France. No way. I guess I just hate being constrained and confined. I have to be able to be spontaneous and do what I feel like doing, while he is used to structure.

    I'm not the typical American, either, but I guess maybe I am typical in the uncertainty avoidance area. I'm sure my husband is wondering what the hell he got into marrying me, because I'm definitely not like most Japanese wives/mothers. I am not the most organized person in the world. Maybe I'm too relaxed sometimes. I don't know. It seems this is an area of conflict for us, but I don't believe this is the main source of conflict.

    It is indeed very interesting.
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  5. #5
    Taicho mdchachi's Avatar
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    As I said above, I was surprised to meet so few Americans in one year of travelling
    I think the main issue with this is that Americans get very little vacation relative to other countries AND typical Americans do not have that much disposable income. Furthermore we have a big country, much to see and a long tradition of domestic travel by car. So, many people, when faced with a $700 plane ticket to someplace overseas (multiplied by the number of people going), they will decide to travel close to home. If they fly, they are more likely to stay in this region -- it's usually cheaper and takes less time.

    As for the uncertainty avoidance issue -- this is a highly variable thing. Among members of my own family there are many differences.

    As for me and my Japanese spouse we are more or less the same. Yes, she prefers to be prompt or early. I tend to be on the late side (but not as bad as her own sister who really exasperates her with her tardiness). We haven't had any issues with cooking or laundry because she takes care of both due to the fact that she's not working outside the house at the moment. In Japan she would do laundry almost daily, probably due to the small capacity of the machine and reliance on weather for drying. In the U.S. she'll do it when she has enough to fill the machine. I don't think she's particularly risk averse -- if she was, she wouldn't be so well-traveled and wouldn't have married a non-Japanese.

  6. #6
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Originally posted by mdchachi
    I think the main issue with this is that Americans get very little vacation relative to other countries AND typical Americans do not have that much disposable income. Furthermore we have a big country, much to see and a long tradition of domestic travel by car. So, many people, when faced with a $700 plane ticket to someplace overseas (multiplied by the number of people going), they will decide to travel close to home. If they fly, they are more likely to stay in this region -- it's usually cheaper and takes less time.
    I was waiting that someone brought up this argument, actually.

    @money
    The GDP per capita is the highest in the world in the USA... after Luxembourg. No excuse for Americans being poorer than Europeans, especially that the US$ was high when I was travelling.

    @big country and much to see = stay in the US
    I don't think the US, or any place on Earth for that matter,
    has a bigger heritage or more touristical attractions than Europe. However, Europeans, who also do travel a lot inside their packed continent 3x smaller than the States with too much for a life-time to visit, decide to travel around all continents, and Asia seems to be quite popular at the moment.

    @too far, plane to expensive
    It's nearer and cheaper to fly from the (Western) US to Australia or East Asia than from Europe. Anyway, most backpackers would buy a round-the-world ticket for about 2000US$ (not that much for 1 year or travelling).

    @less holiday
    Same thing as I would say to Latin Europeans, why don't you take the time for it ? It's very common for young English or Scandinavian people (also Australians I think) to take a "gap year". Why are other Westerners so reluctant to do the same ? It's nothing to do with the holiday you get at work, just quit work or do it before getting your first job. On top of that, the American work market is one of the most flexible in the world, so it should be easier to find another job afterwards. Some Europeans hesitate to travel because they can't speak English well enough (or they think...), but what's the excuse for Americans ?

    My opinion is that most Americans are afraid, because of a high uncertainty avoidance particular to overseas travel. Usually people are affraid of the unknown... Maybe is it just that North Europeans are more open to the world.

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