Now more of us travelling abroad, it’s fascinating to discover what cultural differences there are, particularly between East and West.

From education, the workplace, to relationships and families, in many of these examples the cultural differences are pretty wide-ranging.

Most of the cultural differences centre around two concepts:

  • Individualism – favours the individual as an independent entity and encourages self-promotion and self-worth.
  • Collectivism – individuals are part of a group and the needs of the group come before the individual.

By and large, cultures in the West tend to be more individualistic whereas people from the East are more collectivist. These concepts are a running thread through many eastern and western cultural differences.

Here are five cultural differences in thinking and perception between the East and West.

5 Cultural Differences Between East and West

1. The Individual

In Western society, the individual rules. And this has consequences for society, the workplace, family, even relationships. For example, in the West, we admire the ‘self-made man’. We value personal achievements over group efforts. We want validation for our own self-esteem but not for any particular group.

This can lead us to overestimate our own abilities or ‘self-inflation’. For instance, a whopping 94% of US professors rated themselves as ‘better than average’ when asked about their competence.

There’s an American saying:

‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease.’

In other words, whoever complains or makes the loudest noise will get the attention.

On the other hand, in the East, family and community are more important than the individual. Not to mention that there is little to no evidence of any tendency for self-inflation. In fact, people living in the East are more likely to underestimate their abilities, rather than seem over-confident. In Eastern society, it is considered extremely rude to brag about one’s abilities.

To demonstrate, an old Japanese proverb advises:

‘The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.’

This is the complete opposite of the American saying. In other words, you will be criticised if you make a fuss.

2. Family

Family plays an extremely important role in Eastern society. Particularly when it comes to living arrangements. In the West, it is a rite of passage for children to move out at a certain age. Getting your own place is a sign of independence. Whereas in the East, there is no need for children to leave the family home.

Asian people see living on your own as a choice as strange. This goes for elderly relatives as well. Family members care for their older generations in the East. Whereas in the West, we do not see caring for our elderly as a family responsibility.

In the East, married couples do not move out of the family home. In fact, a newly-married woman will go and live with her husband’s family. Newly-married Western couples usually live together before they get married. In the East, the emphasis is very much on family.

As a matter of fact, you’ll often find several generations living under the same roof. However, this also means that individuals living in the family home may have to compromise. Family come first in the East.

3. Love and Relationships

Westerners believe that there must be one special person in the world just for them. After all, as individuals we are special and only the best will do. Westerners will embark on an endless search for their perfect match. We want that one person that will make us whole. Love, in the West, means high emotions, a rollercoaster with huge ups and downs.

In the East, it’s a much more sedate affair. People trust that they’ll chance upon love through circumstance. They settle for a partner that they have a deep friendship with. This is their foundation on which love will grow. Easterners make a lasting commitment. They don’t give up when their relationship hits a rocky patch.

In the East, potential partners must have family approval. In fact, arranged marriages are a tradition that is alive and well in the East. This is virtually unheard of in the West.

4. Education

In the West, the focus is very much on individual achievement and fostering natural ability. Students are encouraged to think for themselves. Participation is key. Students are expected to challenge their lecturers. Tutors want to pique their student’s interest and get them curious about their subject.

In Western schools, students are contributors to their own education. They are not merely recipients of education. If a student fails, the school or institution is blamed.

On the contrary, in the East, every student is equal and has the same chance of academic success as the next student. Hard work is the way to attain success.

In addition, in Eastern schools, discipline can outweigh any academic problems the students might face. There are no other reasons for a student to fail. However, if they do, it’s certainly not the school’s fault. More likely it’s down to the parents or the student themselves.

5. The Workplace

Finally, the East and West differ in many ways when it comes to the workplace. In Western society, walk into an office and you are likely to see very separate designated spaces for workers. The manager has their own office.

Other staff members are defined by the size and seclusion of their areas. In contrast, workers in the East enjoy a much more open-plan working environment. Here managers and senior staff mingle with ordinary workers.

In the West, forming relationships with your co-workers tends to take time and occurs over long periods. However, in the East, you are immediately treated like close family.

And as for networking, you might think that the East is way ahead of the West in terms of technology. This may be true, but they still like the old-fashioned use of business cards. Unlike the West, where we are more likely to pass on our email address.

These are just a few cultural differences between the East and West. If you know any more please do let us know!



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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ryan Johnson

    “For instance, a whopping 94% of US professors rated themselves as ‘better than average’ when asked about their competence.”

    Can you include more detail? If the original study phrased its questionnaire in a way that says “compared to the average person” and didn’t compare professors to professors, the professors are in fact right to believe they are more competent than the average person.

    Everyone knows about the “better than average” effect. Comparing drivers to other drivers is the classic example.

  2. Mathew

    Love this, you seemed to put this into an eastern and western perspective, usually a person of a western hemisphere mind will point out the differences using western perspectives only.

    Thank you

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