We often compare one culture against another to improve our cross-cultural awareness. But what’s to say any particular culture is homogenous? Take the United States, for example, are all Americans culturally the same? Whether you’re actually from the US, or visiting from another country on business, you may encounter many different sets of cultural values, depending on where you travel. While many Americans share a set of core values, personally and in business, variations around the country have been shaped by an enormous range in faith, ethnicity, waves of immigration, industry and physical conditions.
Here are just a few cultural differences – although this list is arguably merely scratching the surface.
1. New York
New York City could be viewed as a cultural island, almost. New Yorkers are famously brash, hurried, stressed and aggressive in business. They embrace diversity, their city, after all, being a melting pot, and are materialistic, as the guardians of the world’s most important financial centre. Communication style in New York is extremely direct. Bosses may shout at subordinates in the workplace or swear. Bonding with colleagues is likely to take place in bars and restaurants. Dress code is sharp and fashionable. In business, time is money.
2. The North East
The north east – Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island – has its roots in the English Protestant faith. Culture and education are prized here, with a sense of intellectual snobbery associated with the presence of some of the world’s top universities. Tradition, a hard work ethic and historical roots are valued. When doing business here, emphasise your company’s pedigree and experience. Strong, often authoritarian leaders are typical of the north east. Team members may be ambitious but conformist.
3. The East Coast
On the opposite coast, 3,000 miles away, California is famously laid back, founded by pioneers in the Gold Rush as opposed to puritanical English settlers. The culture here is collaborative and creative, focusing on self-expression and reinvention. From its beginnings, California has symbolised new starts; a promised land, attracting hopefuls from all walks of life. As such, the state is famous for its diversity, liberal values and tolerance. Communication style is less direct than on the East Coast; people are more likely to explore ideas than to say a direct ‘no’. If you are doing business here, focus on innovation and expect team members to embrace an entrepreneurial spirit. Creative, often maverick leaders are admired.
4. Florida and Miami
Florida, originally colonised by Spain and home to more than 1.2 million Cuban-Americans, has strong Hispanic cultural traits. Miami could be described as a melting pot of Hispanic cultures, as opposed to New York, which is a melting pot of global cultures. People are expressive and not afraid to show emotion. Family ties are important and work-life balance is valued, leisure time prized in such a warm, sunny climate. A command of Spanish and an understanding of Hispanic cultural values are extremely useful if you are doing business in Miami.
5. The Midwest
The Midwest can be characterised, away from the cities, as a vast farming region, peppered with small communities and subject to climatic extremes. People here are more traditional, adhering to old-fashioned values; visitors from the East Coast often comment how friendly Midwesterners are. People here pride themselves on straight talking and are politically conservative. Honesty and integrity are valued. Vast open spaces are a metaphor for lower stress levels – life here is less frantic because people have more room to breathe. The traditional American work ethic is alive and well – but work-life balance is important.
6. The South
In the South, the Bible Belt, people are typically traditional and conservative. Faith is important and there is strong resistance to change. Society is less diverse here, and less tolerant. There’s a strong tradition of southern charm and hospitality and people are genuinely polite – but it can be skin deep. Networks are essential and outsiders are treated with suspicion. Southerners often regard East Coast folk as snobbish and aloof and West Coast people as liberal hippies – and are themselves sometimes mocked for having an inferiority complex. Family values are important and ancestors are honoured.
Could your organisation prosper with more cultural intelligence?
Working in complex global organisations brings a unique set of challenges with people working across different geographies and cultures. Country Navigator provides a learning tool to support global workers to understand where differences arise across cultures and provides advice on how to adapt and overcome challenges.
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