Saturday, February 09, 2008

National cultural differences are hard to measure, but the results are there to be seen

In the US, car companies know that when your fuel gauge reads Zero miles to go, you want to have a few miles left. In Germany, consumers want it to be precise. In the US, consumers routinely eat and drink in the car, hardly ever in France - no wonder cup-holders came late to European cars!

In Europe, in the 1970s consumers went straight from manual washing machines to front-loaders with glass doors. In the US, they stayed with top loaders with opaque doors. In Japan, they consumers will pay very high prices for feature loaded cell-phones and use them heavily for M-Commerce (instead of a credit card). In Brazil, the most common pets are birds. Argentina has the world's highest consumption of psychotherapy as well as meat. The Japanese rarely have headaches, Germans can say the same about stomach-ache.

I could fill a book with the different behaviors, but the point is that while it may be a challenge to figure out why people behave so differently, they do, and when someone who has lived all his or her life in one country assumes that people in another country will react the same way, that can be dangerous. In Italy, focus-group participants go out of their way to please the moderator, while in the Netherlands, they will disagree with most of what the moderator presents.

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