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Cultural differences in EU projects

April 3, 2013

In every training course, we mention that cultural differences have to be taken into consideration and communication channels and work processes should be tailored to the habits and needs of your partners coming from different countries. What works for Germans and Hungarians might not work for Italians. We share examples from meetings, reviews, etc. all based on real-life experiences. Participants do the same and we laugh together, or in extreme cases, we receive complaints, saying we should not use stereotypes.

The coming series of posts on cultural characteristics will share some stereotypes, always with the note that each individual is different and a researcher from Germany does not have to work and react as a typical German person. He might have a Spanish heart and you have to adjust accordingly as a coordinator or a partner when you work together.

When you set up your communication channels and decide on the management processes to be followed by all partners, should you forget the cultures of the represented countries in the consortium? Should you set up one system and follow that in each project? I am convinced that understanding the main characteristics and business ethics of a certain culture is quite useful.

To prove a point, let’s start with Hungarians, my own culture. You are welcome to share your agreement or on the contrary, your very different experience with Hungarians.

 

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Hungary

“Hungarians have a significant verbal redundancy when using a concise language, such as English. This might be annoying for English natives.” (a Hungarian sociologist)

The Hungarian language is rich and complex, one of the reasons why it is hard to learn and speak it. It also means, it is hard for us to say exactly what we want in English. We speak in longer sentences, expressing well ourselves, and English does not allow that for us. One aspect you might consider useful when working with Hungarians in a project. Would you think they said little, did not contribute enough? Small talk with them might help. Did you think they talked too much, saying much less? Maybe they just wanted to make sure they said all what was needed.

smaller-HungarianCourse

We have an analytical mind, which researchers say is connected to the language.

Some other researchers say it is because of our history, “long torn by ill fate” (anthem). Teachers say it is because of our educational system, the pedagogy, which is laying on Prussian traditions. This however does not mean that we see the shortest or most logical route between point A and point B. We are a little bit crazy; just consider the several genius minds of Hungary. Foreigners living in Hungary said that even if we hit a wall, we still get to the other side somehow. Associative thinking, creativity, call it as you want. Do you need a solution to a problem in the project? Hungarians should be able to find it.

We are a mix; I am not sure that there is one person in Hungary who could be considered genetically Hungarian. (Turkish, Croatian, Kraut, Armenian, Gipsy and so on – research show 17 different races) So do not even try to put us in a Slavic, Mediterranean or any other cultural group in your head. We are diligent, clever people, and also proud, sometimes too proud to listen to others, emotional, individualists but our society is relationship oriented. Our emotions are strong; we are sentimental people, that is visible also in our general negative, melancholic attitude. We do not want to see the whole picture, especially if the whole is more favourable than the part. We can stop and argue on one small topic for hours instead of seeing the scope of the whole project. We need guidance and reminders because of that in any project.

We can get used to any situation, problematic, bad circumstances; but when we have enough, we riot. If you see a Hungarian arguing strongly and insisting on a change, you should take that seriously.

Respect is a key issue. We believe saying ‘no’ is disrespectful, and we will be indirect, so saying nothing rather than saying no. Decision-making procedures are normally slow, but that is not really only a Hungarian characteristic of the business cultures in Europe.

HungaryPaprika

In summary:

  • Be aware that expressing ourselves in English is not easy for us.
  • Relationships are important. If you allocate time to get to know the person and earn his/her trust, you can be sure of the delivery of the tasks and more importantly expect future collaboration. It does not mean personal relations; we keep that separate.

Tip: If you consider learning about the Hungarian history and mention in small talk a famous Hungarian, we will melt. (Politics nowadays might be tricky, we have very heated discussions, much less common understanding within Hungary.)

  •  Hungarians need guidance to see the whole picture.

Tip: Be diplomatic when doing so.

  • Our working habits are similar to those of Germans; we are diligent, most of the time we keep the deadlines.

Tip: Early reminders of deadlines coming might be useful.

  • At the meetings we arrive in time and we expect the others to do the same. We arrive to a conclusion when we have all the facts.

Tip: Send all information, all details available before the meeting.

The same with tasks we have to do, give us all information, clear instructions, otherwise we might do something different you expect.

  •  We are emotional and sensitive, like Italians e.g., but when we feel offended, we remain offended – “we remember”,

Tip: Take disputes, conflicts seriously.

Use the Hungarian partner for:

  • Solving a challenge. We are very good in details and solving problems that require creative solutions.
  • Organise a meeting. We love to entertain people and we know how.

puli
Source: Richard Hill, We Europeans (1997)

Do you have any experience? What do you think about cultural differences in EU projects? Share your opinion with us!

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