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ADAPTING TO THE CHINESE CULTURE IN MACAU
by Desmond Lam

ADAPTING TO THE CHINESE CULTURE IN MACAU
Desmond Lam

Macau is now one of the most exciting casino gaming markets in the world. This tiny city has so far attracted hundreds of foreigners from all over the world to stay and work in its casino and gaming-related industries. For foreigners, the national culture of Macau is unique and obviously different from their home countries. It is a fusion of Chinese (Cantonese to be exact) and Portuguese. This is evidenced on the streets of Macau, the food the people eats, the way the people talk and work, and how the people view their lives.

When someone from a different culture set foot in Macau, it is common for him or her to interpret the new environment on the basis of his or her own culture. This tendency to judge another culture based upon one’s own culture is often termed as ‘Self-Reference Criterion’ or simply SRC. Many of us suffer from SRC when we go overseas to live and work. I myself too suffer from it when I moved to Australia to live and work there for about 5 years. Even my friends from Japan, Malaysia, Australia and United Kingdom who arrived last year to Macau to take up various work positions in casinos and construction companies had the same problem.

“Why do they work like this? Why do they think like that? Why didn’t they tell me if they are not happy with this? Why can’t they have more initiative? Can’t they do it like what we do back home?” Over time, it is quite common to develop a strong tendency to stereotype and negativity to a foreign culture can seep in.

For a foreigner taking up a new supervision position in Macau, the tendency to judge their Chinese employees, customers or business partners based on his or her own cultural values can lead to management disaster. Bear in mind, people are different.

For example, one noticeable difference between American and Chinese is that former has a low-context culture while the latter has a high-context culture. A high-context Chinese culture often uses and interprets other elements surrounding a message in order to develop an understanding of that message. Simply, what is said depends very much on who, when, where and under what context the message is communicated. Many things are not explicit. A low-context American culture is simpler; the meaning of a message is explicitly the words that are spoken or written. Everything seems more black and white, and there is less guessing. Rules and laws become a foundation for low-context culture, while long-term personal relationship is all the more important in high-context culture. Daily experiences with others in a high-context culture are important in decoding the true meaning of messages during communication. This difference in high-low context between American and Chinese or Japanese often becomes a source of misunderstanding and conflict between the groups during business transactions, negotiation or even social events.

Another example is the high power distance exhibited by Chinese, which has important implications in workplace. Chinese employees are more willing to accept managerial authority and often try to avoid open confrontation with their superiors or peers. The role of trust is important and group harmony is stressed. Although this is sometimes used by Chinese managers to control their subordinates, the loss of face or shame (i.e. through open criticism) at workplace is to be avoided.

We can however educate ourselves and remove SRC by using a simple, commonly postulated four-step thinking process that will require self-reflection of the issue at hand:
1. First, try to describe the issue in terms of your own country culture and norms.
2. Then, try to describe the same issue in terms of Chinese culture and norms as you know it.
3. Identify and possibly isolate the SRC influence on the issue. Try to look at it carefully to see how SRC has confused the current issue.
4. Lastly, try to redefine the issue without the SRC influence and then resolve it.

To me, the true essence of the four-step thinking process lies in an understanding of the new foreign environment against your own cultural beliefs, norms and habits. It asked for tolerance and appreciation of differences between people. It is also very important that when you do come to Macau, you should try to look at Chinese culture as different and not be too judgmental. Most importantly, do not fall into the trap of rating it in terms of good or bad. A culture should not be defined as good or bad. Simply look at it in terms of how different or how similar it is from your own country culture.

There are five key characteristics (COCUT) that must be evidenced and/or developed by foreigners coming to work in Macau. For a human resource director, COCUT can be used as screening criteria when selecting a foreign candidate to work in Macau. COCUT stands for:
? Curious – Candidates must be curious and interested in the Chinese culture.
? Open – Candidates must be willing to accept the Chinese culture and be open to its elements.
? Capable – Candidates must have the ability to accept, adjust and adapt to the Chinese culture.
? Understanding - Candidates must show they have the knowledge and understanding of the Chinese culture and its people.
? Tolerance – Candidates must be tolerance toward differences in opinions, beliefs and behaviors among us humans. They must expect these differences and often be fond of them.

Date Posted: 03-Mar-2008

Desmond Lam holds a PhD (marketing) in which he investigated the stochastic nature of gambling participation. He has just left the University of Macau but will continue to research, write, and consult on gaming issues. He can be contacted at DesmondL@hotmail.com.

 
 
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