By Benjamin Chen
Friday morning, 1:30 AM. I was exhausted and looking for a late-night snack to satisfy my hunger. I stumbled out of my apartment and headed to a sushi restaurant across the street. When I walked into the store, a lady was sweeping the floors. She told me she was closed in Italian. A man’s voice came from the kitchen. I recognized the words being spoken. It was Mandarin. I started speaking in Mandarin telling her how hungry I was, and I would buy whatever that she had left. The lady’s face lit up as she heard me utter my Mandarin. She replied saying she’ll see what she can do. As the lady was wrapping a cooked salmon sushi roll, we started having conversations about our lives. She asked me questions about growing up in America while I asked her about her experience as a first-generation immigrant in Italy. During our conversation, we talked about subjects that reminded me of the Hofstede’s insights activity we did in class. Hofstede’s insights also known as Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory is a framework for cross-cultural communication broken down into 6 dimensions. This framework was developed by Geert Hofstede, a Dutch psychologist.
We talked about being her experience as a Chinese immigrant in Italy. She mentioned how in China; she would have a more difficult time being promoted to a manager position at a restaurant compared to Italy. In China, people have a mutual understanding that power is not always divided up evenly and especially in the workplace. This is also evident in China’s power distance insight according to Hofstede’s insights. Power distance is how people accept and expect power to be distributed unequally in their society. In addition, Italian society is more individualistic compared to Chinese society. According to Hofstede, Italian people are more self-centered and focus on their own goals and achievement. They do this so they can complete their goals hoping to achieve fulfillment. This means that Italian people who are single work for themselves and seek promotions in their career for their own benefit rather than achieving a goal for their family. In contrast, China is more of a collective society and are more family oriented. This is significant because for jobs; closer groups such as family get preferential treatment.
The Italian lady I met came to Italy to start fresh since she grew up in China and wanted to bring her family into a different environment. She felt that there would be more opportunities for her in Italy and especially in the food industry. China has more small carts and restaurants than Italy. China also has a population of about 1.4 billion people. She came to Italy hoping that she could raise her family in a less crowded place. Another thing we talked about indirectly was indulgence. Indulgence based off Hofstede is how society accepts gratification from the pleasures of life due to basic and natural human desires. The lady works 7 days a week from 10 AM to around 2 AM in the morning with very little holidays. She takes the tram to work every morning and does not dress very “flashy”. She told me that she is just working hard to save money for her kids. She is also considering saving money for her children to potentially move to America. She shows restraint and that her desires aren’t important to her. She cares more about her children and their future. Everything she does is for her family and children.
Overall, studying abroad in Rome has been a great learning experience. It wasn’t until this trip I realized I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to be able to speak English and Mandarin. This experience also gave me insight into both the Italian and Chinese culture in the workplace. Overall, I was able to see intersections of what we learned in Management and out in the city (Rome) using Hofstede’s framework.