Help in Understanding Cultural Differences

By - July 7, 2009 (Updated: November 25, 2014)

Global CultureI just stumbled upon another interesting and useful tool for expats thanks to Expatify (a great blog resource for expatriates). The tool is the Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions study. It looks at the cultural differences that influence international business in an attempt to facilitate cross-cultural communication. However, it can also be a useful guide for expats to compare cultural differences between their homeland and their adopted country. Read How The 5 Cultural Dimensions Can Help Expatriates on Expatify.

Interestingly for me, of course, was the difference between Canada and Belgium. The Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions tool allows you to look at each country separately, or to compare to countries in a simple to read graph format. Here are the results for Canada and Belgium.

Canada’s highest ranking is in Individualism. According to the study, this means:

“…success is measured by personal achievement. Canadians tend to be self-confident and open to discussions on general topics; however, they hold their personal privacy off limits to all but the closest friends.”

Canada also has a low Power Distance ranking, meaning:

“…a greater equality between societal levels, including government, organizations, and even within families. This orientation reinforces a cooperative interaction across power levels and creates a more stable cultural environment.”

Taking a look at Belgium, the first thing you notice is a very high Uncertainty Avoidance Index which,

“…indicates the society’s low level of tolerance for uncertainty. In an effort to minimize or reduce this level of uncertainty, strict rules, laws, policies, and regulations are adopted and implemented. The ultimate goal of this population is to control everything in order to eliminate or avoid the unexpected. As a result of this high Uncertainty Avoidance characteristic, the society does not readily accept change and is very risk adverse.”

Well, that certainly explains all of the levels of government in Belgium and why people just accept all of the red-tape hassles.

There is plenty of helpful information on the Cultural Dimensions website, and there are books available with an even more in-depth look at the data. This study’s information would be very helpful in planning an expat move. Being aware of different cultural traits that influence us can help expats understand how to interact with their host country that much more.

If you like this, you might like:

Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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  1. Comment by expatraveler

    expatraveler June 16, 2009 at 00:00

    That is a cool find and very interesting!

  2. Comment by Alison

    Alison June 16, 2009 at 00:00

    Thanks Expat! I thought so too 🙂

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