Having visited over 11 countries in Central America, I feel I have a good handle on the dimensions of culture that encompass this region. What draws me to these Latin American countries is the rich culture and gorgeous landscape. Each country has it’s own identity and cultural representation but the general themes of Latin American culture tend to reign true over the entire area. As I recall my travels across Central America, I will look deeper into two of Hofstede’s dimensions of culture and detail my own experiences regarding each one.
Power Distance – World Average: 59.31; Standard Deviation: 21.25
Power distance refers to the extent to which society accepts the distribution of power, specifically focusing on inequality and equality. Central America’s power distance score is 63.83 which places them just about on average with the rest of the world (Hofstede, n.d.). On the higher end of the power distance scale, in most Central American societies individuals of power are assumed to be treated better than those of less power (Hofstede, n.d.). I witnessed this first hand when visiting the country of Belize with my wife and then 7 month old daughter. As we attempted to leave the island of Ambergris Caye, heading to our next destination in Mexico on a water taxi, we were put into a very sticky situation. The boat was clearly overloaded with people and luggage. The captain of the boat expressed his concern with setting out to sea with this much weight. As local authorities stepped in and demanded the boat depart as scheduled (regardless of the breach of capacity limit), it was clear that Belize exemplifies a society with high power distance. The captain dismissed his own fears that the boat was too full in order to respect the authorities’ demands to continue out into the sea. Luckily, as Americans, we are more of a low power distance society, we decided it was in our best interest to disregard what those in power had to say and removed ourselves from the boat immediately (after a few arguments of course).
Individualism – World Average: 45.17; Standard Deviation: 23.97
“Individualism on the one side versus its opposite, collectivism, is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups” (Hofstede, n.d.). Central America’s individualism score is only 17.67 which means that the people of this region exemplify that of collectivism (Hofstede, n.d.). The tight social framework is one of the main characteristics of Latin American culture as a whole. In all of my travels throughout Central America, this dimension of culture is highly evident. Many families consist of multigenerational families living together in one house. The feeling of family and collectivism is imminent when you meet people. I found this even more noticeable when I began travelling with my wife and infant daughter. When we were in Costa Rica people took us in as if we were family. They helped us in any way possible and showed extreme generosity and compassion to our family. The sense of collectivism was quiet refreshing, especially when experiencing a new culture. It makes you feel as though you belong.
In diving deep into these cultural dimensions and exploring Central America, the region as a whole is fairly different that that of the United States. In some cases like that of high-power distance, we were influenced negatively by our differences but in other cases like that of collectivism we were influenced positively. Travelling has truly been one of life’s greatest experiences for me and my family. In taking in different dimensions of culture and using what I learn to influence my understanding of the world around me, I have enriched not only life personally but professionally as well.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (n.d.). The world factbook. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html
Hofstede, G. & Hofstede, G. J. (n.d.). Dimensions of national cultures. Retrieved from http://www.geerthofstede.com/dimensions-of-national-cultures
Moran, R. T., Harris, P. R., & Moran, S. V. (2011). Managing cultural differences: Leadership skills and strategies for working in a global world. New York: Elsevier.
Pennsylvania State University. (2014). OLEAD 497B: Leadership in a Global Context: Lesson 2: Introduction to culture. Retrieved at: https://cms.psu.edu
Pennsylvania State University. (2014). OLEAD 497B: Leadership in a Global Context: Lesson 9: Central America and Mexico. Retrieved at: https://cms.psu.edu