Hofstede and Culture
“Studying culture without experiencing culture shock is like practicing swimming without experiencing water.”
This quote from Professor Dr. Geert Hofstede, one of the world’s leading culture experts, is a great analogy for anyone studying culture. You simply can’t replace the sense you get when you experience culture shock as you’re travelling to a new country.
Culture shock really hits you like a freight train, shaking you to your core and makes you question what you thought were the most normal, everyday elements of your own culture.
When you go to Germany and see most taxis are Mercedes.
Or in Bulgaria when shaking your head side to side (typical “No” in most Western cultures) actually means “Yes”.
Or see how in Japan so many nuanced messages are conveyed by “how” something is said (or not said) and not just “what” is being said.
Everyone has their own example of culture shock, which for us was one of the inspirations behind building an app which tries in its own humble, unique way to help address culture shock for people who travel.
When Dee initially came up with the idea of CultureMee on our trip to Tanzania in 2015, very quickly we agreed that culture should be a very important part of our app, and for me I knew in my heart that one of the keys to unlocking culture for people who travel lies in the research of Dr. Geert Hofstede’s cultural models.
Who is Dr. Geert Hofstede? He is recognised internationally for having developed the first empirical model of “dimensions“ of national culture and conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. He was essentially the founder of comparative intercultural research. His most popular book, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (1991), has so far been translated into 20 languages and his articles have been published in social science and management journals around the world.
I had studied and made extensive use of Geert Hofstede’s cultural models during my time with my former employer, CRH, which is one of the world’s largest construction materials companies. So I knew there was already a wonderful research database.
In one of my first few weeks in the Netherlands, back in 2011, one of my former mentors had shown me how they used to use Geert Hofstede’s culture models to compare their Dutch culture to the culture of the person they would be soon negotiating with. So I knew how Dr. Hofstede’s models could be practically applied in a business environment.
The trick was then seeing that there could be very strong practical applications of these graphs and Dr. Hofstede’s research in the travel industry, and I’m glad to say we’ve received excellent feedback from anyone who has used the culture graphs.
It has helped that we provide nugget sized, mobile-friendly explanations to the graphs along with a wide number of country proverbs which often bring the graphs to life, but the foundation of this is all in the research done by Dr. Hofstede over many years.
We were inspired to see Dr. Hofstede, at 92 years of age, give a brilliant speech at the recent Hofstede Insights IBM conference in Amsterdam on 29th September 2017. Without his vision and research, I’m not sure I’d have had the passion I do today for culture which is deeply rooted in my DNA.
And for this, Dee and I are immensely grateful to him and hope his research inspires many more people around the world to help bring culture to a wider audience.
For more information on Geert Hofstede, see:
For access to Geert Hofstede’s compare your culture graphs, download the CultureMee app (click on “Compare your culture” section within a country) or on a desktop go to the following website:
For a personalised questionnaire to give you an in-depth understanding of how you sit within your own culture, see the Culture Compass (a separate paid app offered by Hofstede Insights):