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Cross cultural differences: are you ready to deal with them?

Updated: May 20, 2020

Photo: Carole Railton (Copyright).

Living in Vietnam has interesting cross-cultural insights. I’ve also lived in Dubai, London, New Zealand, and, for a shorter time in the US. The approach to age is different in all these places.

In Vietnam, it seems that anybody over 30 years (and Westerners look older than Vietnamese) is considered “old”

and you are expected to retire by 50. Families, however, do look after the “elderly” (however defined) who often move in with their sons and daughters. There is no state care for the aged.

It’s also noticeable that everyone, the younger generation in particular, loves mobile telephones. And if you are older, especially while working, it is assumed that if you are “older” you will not understand technology. A woman said to be once that I must find working difficult because I do not understand technology- admittedly that was by a South African. (Anyway, thinking that is a load of rubbish since I worked in the digital media for years.)

In the Middle East, although old age is revered, most people prefer younger bosses- even though they are usually less experienced than the older person.

However, people often do not know the age of their parents. For example, an Emirati friend, whose father died, didn’t know how old he was- I guess he was about 65- because a birth certificate either did not exist or it had the “guesstimates” of dates on it. I also understand the father didn’t leave the house often and he was never spoken about.

Working in that environment as a woman, it was expected that you would have at least two children by the age of 30. The fact that I did not meant that I was “infertile” (it was always the woman’s fault) and that everyone ought to feel sorry for me for not having children. Frequently, I was asked by taxi drivers, often Pakistanis, about how many children and grandchildren I had. I would make an answer up, often saying I had four children.

For the most part, Middle Eastern women do not work after children are born and the man looks after the family. It’s very traditional. So, working and being older does not go down well. Younger bosses are usually preferred, especially in the media and public relations- except if you are a man of course.

In the West, like the UK and New Zealand, people might talk about age more and say they have respect for the aged, but this seems to be talk only. Most of the advertisements are aimed at the younger generation and, if it is a cream, it is how to become younger looking. Being young is better than being old and we should all strive to look younger. And it’s always meant to be a compliment when one is told that one looks younger than her years. (Men don’t have to look younger).

In the West there are also care and rest homes where there aren’t in most regions of the world, whether in Asia, the Middle East or Africa and to a lesser extent in South America where care homes are springing up. The clients are often independent.

What is true worldwide is that younger managers are preferred to older ones- even though older managers are often more experienced. This opinion will have to change as the population gets older.

For more insights on cross cultural differences contact Lucia Dore or Carole Railton on contact@Behaviouralshift (

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