opinions around the world

(Audrey Kalman/Emerald)

Some people believe that their values and beliefs are independent from their cultures. Others tie their values to their cultural background. Whether you place yourself in the first or second group, cultural values differ significantly. It is important to consider these disparities when meeting those from other cultures or regions.

For instance, Americans and Europeans may perceive offensive speech differently.

According to Pew Research Center, Americans may be more tolerant of offensive speech to minorities than Europeans. The 2016 report found that 77 percent of American participants agreed that “people should be able to make statements that are offensive to your religion or beliefs publicly.” However, far fewer Europeans agreed with this statement. Only 57 percent of Britons supported it, and, on the lower end, a minute 29 percent of Italians agreed.

This research may suggest that Americans harbor a higher threshold for intolerance or that they may champion free speech greater than their European counterparts. However, if you seek to express your intolerant views on religion or others’ beliefs, you may suffer more backlash in Italy than the US.

Views on the media differ significantly worldwide.

Another global Pew Research report surveyed how many citizens opposed the media’s coverage on “sensitive national security” issues. At a slim majority of 59 percent, US participants believed that governments should be permitted to bar media organizations from covering this sensitive information. Interestingly, Britons sided with the government on this matter more than Americans, with 66 percent of Britons siding with governments. But several other countries oppose this notion. An overwhelming 74 percent of Mexicans sided with the media over governments along with 75 percent of Venezuelans. 

These enormous disparities may reflect greater support for media outlets in countries like Mexico or Venezuela, or they may also indicate higher anti-government rhetoric. Surging political frustration over Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, may have contributed to the people’s preference for the media over him. Similarly, Mexicans, at the time of the Pew Research report, strongly rejected their then-president, Enrique Peña Nieto. In 2016, Nieto bore an approval rating of just 23 percent.

Even outside of politics, cultural differences are pronounced.

According to social psychologist Geert Hofstede’s 2010 Cultural Dimensions theory, the US places highest in individualism with 91 out of 100. His network, Hofstede Insights, states that in individualist societies, “people are only supposed to look after themselves and their direct family” and that American society is “loosely-knit.” Contrast that to Japan, which scores 46, making the country much more collectivist. Such societies consist of ingroups which “take care of [people] in exchange for loyalty.” Yet Japan exhibits individualist traits as well, such as being more “private and reserved than most other Asians.” China differs even more from the US. With a score of 20, the country is highly collectivist. Hofstede’s theory reveals that in China, “personal relationships prevail over task and company.” And individuals will mainly act “in the interests of the group.”

Individualism and collectivism are emblematic of our cultural values. As Hofstede found, a largely individualist society will be comprised of people who will not necessarily prioritize personal relationships over the company. But in highly collectivist nations such as China, the opposite beliefs prevail. Both immediate and extended families are dominant in individuals’ lives and society is tight-knit.

From political issues such as freedom of speech and media coverage to more societal concerns such as individualism and collectivism, countries will always differ in cultural values. Americans may tolerate offensive speech to a higher extent than Britons, Italians and other Europeans. Mexicans and Venezuelans may side with the media over government moreover national security coverage than Britons. American society may be loosely-knit, while Chinese society is tight-knit and prioritizes the group's interests. Considering these diverse cultural values, people should make an effort to expect and understand others’ differing cultural beliefs.


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