A comparison between the culture of Germany and Thailand based on the cultural dimensions of Edward Hall and Fons Trompenaars

Term Paper 2014 21 Pages

Communications - Intercultural Communication


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. General Definition of Culture

3. Facts about Germany and Thailand

4. Cultural Comparison between Germany and Thailand
4.1 Comparison based on the four Cultural Dimensions of Edward T. Hall
4.1.1 Space (Proxemics)
4.1.2 Context
4.1.3 Time
4.1.4 Speed of Information
4.2. Cultural Comparison based on the seven Cultural Dimensions of Fons Trompenaars
4.3.1 Universalism vs. Particularism
4.3.2 Individualism vs. Communitarism (Collectivism)
4.3.3 Neutral vs. Affective
4.3.4 Specific vs. Diffuse
4.3.5 Ascription vs. Achievement
4.3.6 Sequential vs. Synchronic Time
4.3.7 Internal vs. External Orientation (Nature)

5. Tips and Advice for Businessmen

6. Conclusion

List of Literature

1. Introduction

Over the past decades, the world has experienced a significant change which resulted in the globally connected world that we know today. In modern times, one can easily travel to every continent within only a few hours and in times of internet, Facebook and Skype it is no longer an obstacle to have a conversation with the ‘other side of the world’. However, not only recreational travelling and private communication has spread throughout the globe but also the world of business has transformed distinctly due to globalization. Over the years, economic incorporation has increased steadily and the majority of larger companies run offices or subsidiaries in several foreign countries. Especially branch offices in developing countries such as Thailand have become increasingly important. This trend has brought several advantages to the companies, such as improved cost efficiency due to better prices and lower wages and, consequently, higher profit margins as well as 24/7 availability. However, globalization may also bring certain difficulties to our daily work life. Working in a global company naturally involves that people from different cultural backgrounds get in touch with each other and work together on a daily basis. As every culture in the world has its unique traditions and ways of communication, potential differences in culture may sometimes lead to misunderstandings. Even the meaning of a simple gesture such as a wave of the hand is perceived differently throughout the world. It is therefore essential to be aware of a country’s peculiarities before working there in order to avoid any incidents that might offend someone or even damage business.

The purpose of this paper is to give the reader an understanding of two very contrary cultures, Germany’s and Thailand’s, in order to help preventing cultural misunderstandings when working together. At first, an explanation of the word “culture” will be given, although, so far, there has not yet been one exact definition all scientists approve of. After giving some general information about the two countries, a comparison will be drawn between Germany and Thailand based on two individual theories of so-called “Cultural Dimensions” put forward by the scientists Edward T. Hall and Fons Trompenaars.

Additionally, the reader will find a brief elaboration of suggestions on how the two cultures may approach one another to lay potential differences aside. Thus, the aim of this paper is pointing out possibilities to enable business to develop further and that the people from these two countries will find it easier to cooperate in the future. This essay is not only based on literature sources but also personal experiences from traveling through Thailand in 2013.

2. General Definition of Culture

‘For human beings, culture is like water for fish. It is always there, but you never apperceive it. Only if the fish leaves the water it becomes clear that something is missing. This is similar to culture. In foreign countries the habitual manners do not fit anymore with the result that you have to adapt yourself to different situations.’1 With this metaphor, Mr. Blom and Mr. Meier clarify the term ‘culture’ in a very simple but precise manner. Culture is not something we may touch with our hands, but something we accustom ourselves to while growing up and living in our social environment. Over time, we adapt and accept behaviors typical for our region or country and it becomes entirely natural to us. The word ‘culture’ is a term which is used quite frequently in society as well as the humane and social sciences, though without an exact specification of its meaning.2

Pristinely, the word ‘culture’ derives from the Latin word ‘cultura’ or ‘cultus’ (cultivation, growing, care and grafting of agriculture) respectively ‘colere’ (to foster, to cultivate).3 This origin is the core of all further definitions of culture. It explains culture as something that is created by people in a formative way and clearly separates culture from things that were not created by humans but exist naturally.4 Of course, today’s understanding of culture goes far beyond the scope of agriculture and cultivation, but for a general definition the actual origin of the word is necessary. The modern or ‘western’ culture in a narrow sense comprises ‘civilization’ and ‘sophistication of the mind’ and especially the results of this sophistication like literature, art or education.5 However, despite various attempts to define the term, done by scientists of different background such as anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and economists, so far, there has not been consensus on the conceptual description of the construct culture.6 If one considers the common aspects of the different ideas, culture can be understood as an institution of collective behavioral norms and behavioral patterns. These norms and patterns are passed over the course of socialization, remaining relatively stable over time and benefitting social cohesion and functionality as well as environmental adaptation.7

3. Facts about Germany and Thailand

Before going into details with the above-mentioned cultural theories, it is necessary to give some general information about Germany and Thailand in order to better understand each culture. Germany’s history, of course, is shaped by the two World Wars. The defeat of the Second World War and the division of the country that followed is referred ‘as Stunde Null, because [the Germans] were essentially forced to start all over again, virtually from the scratch. (…) Germany was unable to feed, clothe or shelter itself; it was in fact dependent upon the four occupying powers to meet the most basic needs.’8 Germany was divided by the Allied into two states: the communistic East German state and the capitalistic West German state. During its recovery, Germany managed to completely revive its economy ‘and […] regained its place amongst the world’s leading industrial nations.’9 This process of redevelopment is referred to as ‘ Wirtschaftswunder ’. However, Germany’s citizens have never been able to fully regain their national pride which is still somewhat sensible in today’s German culture.

The political system in Germany is a parliamentary system. The country’s current chancellor and head of government is Angela Merkel. The seat of government is in the German capital, Berlin, which is also the largest city with 3.5 million inhabitants. Since the reunion in 1990, there are sixteen states with a total population of 82 million. Germany is member of the European Union, the Euro-Zone, the NATO, the G8 and the United Nations and the German economy is the largest in the EU.

In contrast to Germany, Thailand has a very different history and present situation. Thailand is the only nation in Southeast Asia to never have been colonized by European powers. In its foreign policy, however, it is closely connected to the United States. Thailand, for instance, supported the USA in the Vietnam War and was one of the founding members of the SEATO (Southeast Asia Treatment Organization), initiated by the US. The population of Thailand comprises of roughly 65 million citizens, the majority of whom are ethnically Thai, though people of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Lao origin are also represented to varying degrees. Approximately seven million citizens live in the Thai capital, Bangkok. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a hereditary King as head of state as well as an elected Prime Minister who is authorized to be the head of government. The constitution of Thailand allows a democratic election of the country’s leaders in form of a parliament, consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives.10 Whereas in Germany the majority of the population is Christian, 95 percent of the Thais belong to Buddhism.

4. Cultural Comparison between Germany and Thailand

In order to compare two cultures with each other, it is necessary to characterize each culture and filter out similarities as well as differences. There are several scientists who have focused on the study of cultures. Both, Edward T. Hall and Fons Trompenaars, have individually tried to classify the typical elements of culture into different categories, which they have called ‘Cultural Dimensions’. This theoretical background will form the basis of this essay.

4.1 Comparison based on the four Cultural Dimensions of Edward T. Hall

The American Anthropologist Edward T. Hall (1914-2009)11 has developed the theory of ‘Four Cultural Dimensions’. Unlike Trompenaars, Hall has presented his theory not only in one book but described each dimension in individual publications.

4.1.1 Space (Proxemics)

In ‘The Hidden Dimension’ (1966), Hall describes his first dimension Proxemics which is ‘the branch of knowledge that deals with the amount of space that people feel is necessary to set between themselves and others.’12 Hall considered two kinds of spaces: personal space which is immediately around a person’s body and so-called macro-level sensibilities ‘that shape cultural expectations about how streets, neighborhoods and cities should be properly organized.’13

Germany, for instance, has a very sensitive personal space. While in other countries, especially countries with Latino influence, physical contact is very natural, most Germans prefer to keep their fellow human beings at least out of their intimate space which is about an arm-length from the body.

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Illustration 1: The Western perception of Space according to Hall[14]

The Thai society, however, is influenced by the Buddhist religion. As the head is believed to be ‘the seat of the soul’, it would be extremely offensive to touch a Thai person’s head.15 Patting a child’s head, which is a quite common gesture in the western world, may cause serious problems with the child’s parents.

For Buddhists, it is also socially unacceptable to show affection publicly, so while Germans have no problem with showing physical closeness openly when being in a relationship despite their tendency to personal space, a Buddhist couple will never be seen exchanging tenderness in public.

4.1.2 Context

In ‘Beyond Culture’ (1976), Hall focuses on his dimension Context which plays a key role in Hall’s theory. According to Hall, communication depends on ‘the surrounding circumstances in which communication […] takes place’.16 Hall divided cultures into low-context cultures and high-context cultures. Cultures with a low-context orientation, including North America and Western Europe, tend to solve problems with logic rather than intuition and highly value directness.17 Germany is an excellent example for a low context country as its population is commonly known for its direct way of stating opinions and its logical, almost emotionless thinking. Countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, thus Thailand, on the other hand are categorized by Hall as high-context countries. People from high-context countries use an indirect way of communication, always trying to protect the other one’s ‘face’.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Illustration 2: The Western (blue) and Eastern (red) way of stating an opinion[18]

The high-context Thai culture conveys thoughts through non-verbal rather than verbal communication. This is supposed to avoid conflicts and maintain harmony, which is an essential feature of the Thai culture. This behavior is in accordance with ‘Kreng jai’,19 a distinct Thai trait. Since Thais seem to always smile regardless of their true feelings, throughout the world, Thailand is often referred to as the ‘country of smile’.

4.1.3 Time

In ‘The Dance of Life’ (1983), Hall illuminates his concept of Time or how people perceive time. Hall was of the opinion, that ‘time is one of the fundamental bases on which all cultures rest and around which all activities revolve. […].’20 Since cultures structure time variedly, Hall clearly distinguished between monochronic and polychromic time orientation. Monochronic behavior is characterized by a strict scheduling of things and a certain “one thing at a time” attitude. Germans, who love set schedules and actually sticking to them precisely, are probably the best example for a monochronic culture. On the contrary, there are polychronic societies, to which Thailand may be counted. Polychronic countries tend to handle multiple tasks at once and reschedule arrangements repeatedly which may often result in unpunctuality.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Illustration 3: Western (blue) and Eastern (red) perception of time[21]

When travelling through Thailand, Western tourists experience polychronic behavior in all different kinds of situations, e.g. waiting for transportation or booking tours with local agencies. For that reason, German businessmen who are used to punctuality and definite time perception have often difficulties when working with colleagues from a polychronic country such as Thailand.


1 Blom / Meier 2004, p. 35; Hildebrandt 2007, p. 20

2 cf. http://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/kultur/kulturelle-bildung/59917/kulturbegriffe, 09.09.2013

3 ebd.

4 ebd.

5 cf. Hofstede / Hofstede 2006, p. 3

6 cf. Scherm / Süß 2001, p. 20

7 cf. Keller, 1982, p. 113-119

8 Lord, (1998), p.24

9 ebd, p.25

10 cf. http://www.tourismthailand.org/Thailand/fast-facts, 07.10.2013.

11 cf. http://www.edwardthall.com, 09.09.2013.

12 http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/proxemics, 09.09.2013.

13 http://www.csiss.org/classics/content/13, 09.09.2013.

14 http://zackkaylor.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/, 12.12.2013.

15 http://www.chinateachingnet.com/non-verbal.shtml, 09.09.2013.

16 http://www.marin.edu/buscom/index_files/Page605.htm, 09.09.2013.

17 ebd.

18 http://americanepali.wordpress.com/tag/edward-t-hall/, 12.12.2013.

19 cf. http://www.thaizer.com/culture-shock/kreng-jai/, 20.09.2013.

20 Hall, E. T., (1990), p. 179

21 http://americanepali.wordpress.com/tag/edward-t-hall/, 12.12.2013.


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ISBN (Book)
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University of applied sciences, Cologne
Fons Trompenaars Edward T. Hall Thailand Germany Cultural Competences Cultural Differences Intercultural Competences analysing cultures Comparing cultures



Title: A comparison between the culture of Germany and Thailand based on the cultural dimensions of Edward Hall and Fons Trompenaars