Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Cow, a Chicken and a Cultural Divide?


Cows And a Rooster on my way to work in the morning.

What is the biggest difference between all of us?

As I have lived in Nicaragua over the past while, I find myself explaining similarities and differences to many people in the US, in Europe and here in Latin America as we all ponder the other from afar.

Many of them, both things we have in common, and those that appear foreign I have already documented in this blog. As my eyes become more and more accustomed to what I see, I find less and less to blog about. But that doesn't mean that you'd find it any less surprising.

I've explained that all Americans are not millionaires and that most Nicaraguan children do go to school (and these are not children asking the questions).

But what keeps us from seeing from the world as others see it?

One issue gets down to the very wiring of our brains and how we're socialized from the time we're very young, collective versus individualistic societies.

I remember studying the history of our individualistic culture and the expansion of the west in junior high, but I bet the little girl who sang at the opening ceremony in China a couple weeks ago, and the little girl who lip synched to her voice on the television won't be hearing about anything like that in their schools. Instead they hear about how wonderful it is that they can contribute, and that two people can share in the moment instead of only one.

In an article in the New York Times, David Brooks discusses these differences, how deeply they run, and the potential economic consequences.

So what about Nicaragua? Where does it fall in the spectrum? Where is it's economic forecast?

I conducted a small sociological survey asking people in Nicaragua and the US the cow, chicken, hay question referred to in the article.

Which two of the three belong together: cow, chicken and hay.

cows and chickens

My results were somewhat surprising to me and indicative of how difficult studies can be to administer (in other words, I don't think I did so hot at the randomly selected participants section).

The idea is that those in individualistic societies reply cow and chicken because they are categorical thinkers. Those in collective societies reply cow and hay because they consider relationships.

Here are my results, please feel free to post your pick in the comments section.

Nicaragua - Cow and Hay 100%.

One exception was a Chicken and Hay answer from someone who thought that chickens needed hay down more than cows needed it down because their feet were softer, but he was definitely in the 'relationships' thinking mode.

US - Cow and Hay 57%, Cow and Chicken 43%

No Chicken and Hay answers as a first answer, which was all I took because SO many of my friends and family are die hard analysts of whatever comes their way, I would often receive two if not three answers from each person. And does growing up on a farm make a difference? Because that would explain why my grandpa is a collectivist and my grandma an individualist.

Ok, so the study wasn't that successful in indicating a divide between the US and Nicaragua, but it did give me a little food for thought (not a purposeful pun!).

I personally was a Cow and Chicken person having a life long love affair with systematic categorization. And it certainly made me feel slightly more justified in the many frustrations and continued struggles I get to have adjusting to a very different business style here in Nicaragua. Not that one is better than the other, just that, my gosh, it isn't just my imagination that we're different on a very basic level!

At the end, however, I really have simply ended up with even more questions than before. But I suppose all of us continuing to ask questions is the only way we're really ever going to bridge that cultural divide.

1 comment:

Curtis Price said...

That is funny. The idea of a cow and chicken going together never crossed my mind. I didn't think of them as abstract words. i was picturing a real cow and a real chicken which you never see together. hehe. I also thought I knew what this was all about but I was way off.