USA, an Interesting Melting Pot

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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Today I would like to talk about USA and its incredible melting pot. Starting for US history, I will introduce the concept of melting pot, underling its pros and cons in the business field.

US Multicultural History

The United States are famous for the wide variety of cultures that live inside their borders. But how was this melting pot created? Let’s look at some interesting passages in the history of this country.

Before 1600 A.D. North America was inhabited by many indigenous peoples (Native Americans) with different identities, religions, beliefs and cultures, who lived in tribes. Thanks to the Atlantic Ocean, these people lived in their own world, apart from all other societies.

This period lasted only until the European colonization. In 1492 Christopher Columbus, financed by Spain, made the first of four voyages to the New World, landing in the Bahamas. From this point onward, European countries started a gradual colonization of North America. English, Spanish, French, Dutch, etc. moved to the new world in search of a new life of prosperity, each of them bringing his/her own personal culture. These many cultures got into contact with native Americans’ cultures, giving birth to a multicultural community.

Furthermore, many African slaves were forced to these areas, where their culture was added to the already existing cultural mix.

All these cultural differences brought improvements and conflicts, especially conflicts. Wars between Natives and Europeans, as well as fights among different European colonies, were quite frequent.

As we all well know, after years of inner and outer wars, USA became an independent nation in 1776, but being independent wasn’t enough to stop all conflicts derived from multiculturalism. In fact, from 1861 to 1865 America fought its Civil War, which began as a result of the unresolved controversy of the enslavement of black people and its disputed continuance.

Even though the loyalists of the Union won, putting an end to slavery, African American people had had to suffer abuse, violence, racism and racial laws for many years. Even now there are people, who are not able to accept other identities and cultures that refuse them without a concrete reason.

Before and after the two World Wars, the US welcomed a great number of immigrants from all the continents and what we have now, after years of cultural mixing and wars, is an incredible melting pot.

Melting Pot

In order to describe the concept of “melting pot” I’m going to use the perfectly summarised definition of Wikipedia:

The melting pot is a monocultural metaphor for a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous, the different elements “melting together” with a common culture; historically, it is often used to describe the cultural integration of immigrants to the United States. The exact term “melting pot” came into general usage in the United States after it was used as a metaphor describing a fusion of nationalities, cultures and ethnicities in the 1908 play of the same name by Israel Zangwill.” (1)

US melting pot is linked to cultural assimilation or Americanisation. This means that instead of maintaining cultural differences, USA politics prefer mixing them up, while creating a unique culture based on these multicultural features. This new unique culture represents the US identity.

But what are the pros and cons related to this attitude to multiculturality?

As we saw in US history, bringing culture together means generating innovative and original world views, as well as creating conflicts, misunderstandings and rejection. The same happens in business.

We live in a complex, interconnected world where diversity, shaped by globalization and technological advance, forms the fabric of modern society. In this era of globalization, diversity in the business environment is about more than gender, race and ethnicity. It now includes employees with diverse religious and political beliefs, education, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientation, cultures and even disabilities.

Diversity in the workplace is an asset for both businesses and their employees, in its capacity to foster innovation, creativity and empathy in ways that homogeneous environments seldom do. Yet it takes careful nurturing and conscious orchestration to unleash the true potential of this invaluable asset. (2)

If these differences are not rightly managed, conflict is inevitable. Cultures will clash and business performances will be affected by this tense working atmosphere. For this reason, it is important to create a business environment that minimizes intercultural disharmony (3), while giving all employees the possibility to freely express their ideas and values, without prejudices.

To conclude, looking at the US history and at its melting pot, we can understand that without cultural awareness, there is no cultural respect. So, open your mind, feel free to express your own cultural identity, but be aware that your view of the world can be different from others and you have to accept it. Do not impose your ideas and opinions, just share them and be happy if others share their own personal cultures with you, because this cultural contact will enrich you and will give birth to a person able to see the world in many different ways, thus capable of finding original solutions to every problem.

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melting_pot#Melting_pot_and_cultural_pluralism

(2) https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/business-case-for-diversity-in-the-workplace/

(3) https://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2013/12/09/how-cultural-conflict-undermines-workplace-creativity/

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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Italian Stereotypes in Japan: Strength or Weakness?

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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Being Italian in Japan is not always easy. There are many things so totally different from our own world, that we usually need time to adapt to everything, but when it is time to negotiate, time may not be enough. For this reason, knowing how Japan sees us is very useful. 

Let’s start with the image Japanese have of Italy. As you all well know, Italy is famous for mainly 3 things: 

  1. Food 
  2. Art (music included) 
  3. Fashion 

In Japan, if you ask someone on the street about Italy, the first thing he/she will talk to you about is probably food, like Pizza and Pasta. They are also interested in music, Opera Music in particular, and fashion. Some of them come to Italy to study cooking, design or opera singing and then they come back to Japan to open, for example, Italian restaurants, that are very popular all over the country. 

Another important issue that I would like to mention concerns the way in which this image was built and who helped these ideas of Italy grow in the minds of all Japanese.  

The person responsible for this is Girolamo Panzetta, a 50-year-old Italian, who decided to take advantage of the Italian stereotype in Japan to make lots of money. He is now a star in Japan, thanks to his lessons of elegance and manliness.  

We have to thankhim if Japanese see us, on one hand as carefree womanizers, and on the other hand as original and cheerful people. 

So, we can summarize Italians’ pros and cons from a Japanese perspective, as follows: 

  • happy-go-lucky 
  • friendly 
  • cheerful 
  • fashionable 
  • original 
  • disorganized 
  • unreliable 
  • careless 
  • sloppy 

Now that we have a general idea of what Japanese think of us, it is time to understand if all these adjectives can be a strength or a weakness during a negotiation. I don’t believe that being cheerful, original or fashionable can become a disadvantage in a negotiation, but maybe being considered unreliable, sloppy and careless can become a bother.  

The real strategy here is to convert a disadvantage in advantage. How? By working on first impressions. 

If we are aware that a Japanese can have some prejudices about us, because we are part of the Italian culture, then we must work very hard to demonstrate the opposite. For example, in order to destroy the image of a carefree and disorganized Italian, we can take part of all their meetings with a perfectly prepared documentation, focused and always on the ball. 

While overcoming these unfavourable stereotypes, we must strengthen the favourable ones. We must be kind, friendly, finding the most original solution to their problems, never stop smiling warmly. 

Japanese love Italy, but depending only on this love and admiration won’t work. To achieve success in an intercultural negotiation, where stereotypes and prejudices are what define us before, and sometimes also after, the first meeting, we need to be prepared. 

Being prepared means understanding that we are different, while trying to reduce the gap between our own culture and the culture of our interlocutor. In order to do so, it is necessary to highlight our positive attributes and break all negative images they could have about us. 

At the same time, it is fundamental to remember to learn more about the other culture, so as to destroy and rebuild our opinion of it. We cannot possibly think to create a cooperative dialogue if we do not start that same dialogue with an open mind. 

Cultural respect and cultural diversity awareness will always be the basis of an healthy and everlasting business relationship. 

Girolamo Panzetta

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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