Cultural Similarities and Differences of Intercultural Interactions


This report discusses the similarities and differences of cross-cultural interactions. According to Allport (1979, p. 115), ethnic differences are so numerous and so elusive in the world. As the global diversity has become trend, it is hard to deny that people fit in their own cultural groups all the time. Therefore, they are required to be culturally aware of cultural dissimilarities to function and adapt into a new cultural environment (Colette 2011, p. 3).  For example, millions of people change homes each year and crossing cultural boundaries in this contemporary world (Kim 2001, p. 1, cited in Wierzbicka 2006, p. 736). Another facet that produces a need to learn to function effectively in another culture is the increasing globalisation business (Dean 1990, p. 1 & Colette 2011, p. 3). Those factors lead people from different cultural backgrounds interact. As cultural diversities refer to the rich scale of human dissimilarities, people in this new era are facing the challenge to understand and adapt to cultural variations. Indeed, these challenges of a new era involve interaction among people from different culture (Wierzbicka 2006, p. 735).

This investigation generally aims to find out the similarities and differences of intercultural interactions. The findings of this investigation are expected to significantly contribute on how to deal with people from different cultural background. Even though it is claimed that people have a cultural filter from their own natural environment, but recognising those similarities and differences may impede such as feeling unease and uncomfortable between interactants.

In collecting the primary data, I used an ethnographic approach proposed by Hymes (1962, p. 13 cited in Hall 2002, p. 142). The data was taken from face-to-face interview by engaging 10 people from a range of cultural backgrounds across countries. Most of them are international students. But two of the interviewees are staff at Flinders University. This report is divided into two parts. The first section presents the summaries of individual conversation. The second part examines the similarities and differences of intercultural interactions and make conclusion related to intercultural interactions.

Summaries of individual conversations

This section presents the synopsis of related-interviews of each participant who were participated in this investigation based on country. There are ten participants from five different countries that are assumed to have cultural variations; Malaysia (2 people), Scotland (1 person), Philippine (3 people), Syria (2 people), and Australia (2 people).


Malaysian’s culture is always associated with three main races; India, China, and Malays. Margaret, the Malaysian participant involved in this investigation, argued that these ethnic groups have been incorporated by Manglish (Malaysian English). These are resulted from the informal (slang) English language which is used by each group of people in daily interaction. Additionally, direct translation from Malaysian to English language is a common way of people communicating to each other. Unfortunately, ‘Australian people in my classroom did not understand a word of Manglish even it is English’, she argued. When she requests something like “can if you” which is literally translated from “if you can”, she just realised that her conversational partner is Australian. So that’s why, she turned to Australian English style communication once she is aware of it.

Moreover, the other aspect that characterises Malaysian’s culture is the importance of social etiquette. Wongshu (another Malaysian participant) claimed that it is essential to display respect to older people including teachers. In educational setting for instance, students are expected to go around with their teachers and not raising their hand when a question is raised. Additionally, this social etiquette is applied in family as well. In dining etiquette for example, ‘Kongkong’ (grandfather/grandmother) should get their dinner earlier before others. However, such family etiquettes seem inapplicable for him because of her intimacy with her parents. “My parents did not strictly implement this etiquette to me because I am much close to them”, he said. He also claimed that Malaysian people tend to be family-oriented. For example, they allocate weekend for their family time, such as going out on weekend.


Based on my recent investigation, Scottish culture has been described as a drinking culture. According to George, a Scottish participant involved in this investigation, Scottish people in general are drinking whisky and alcohol a lot than non-Scottish people. More than that, they are generally friendly, often brave, and passion being Scottish. Consuming alcohol is a rooted tradition of Scotland and this attitude is one way of being proud to be Scottish. George argues that gathering in pub and drinking together indicate how they build and show intimacy with other Scots people.


According to Klaimon, one of Philippine’s participant involved in this investigation, Philippine is rich in tradition and customs. Philippine culture reflects the complexity of the Philippine history through combination of cultural foreign influence predominantly Spanish and America. American and Spanish colonisation has significantly contributed to the mixed-culture of the Philippines. It is hard to deny, according to Klaimon, that recent Philippine culture is patronised by America. He exemplified that Philippinos become more opened and demonstrative. In daily communication for example, they show their truly feelings by cheerful intonation such as “I’ve something for you” or in expressing their gratitude by saying “thank you”.

Philippine, however, is integrated by a national language. Salma argues that there has been eighty dialects in Philippine, but “Tagalong” is designated the national language. According to Klaimon, Salma, and Reka, it is very crucial to maintain their own culture. Therefore, they still speak Tagalong when they encounter or gather with Philippine communities even in Australia.

This investigation also demonstrates that respecting older people reflects the way of Philippine’s life. For examples, they shake and kiss their parents or grandparents’ hand when they are getting home from their offices. This custom is called “manokok”. Additionally, Philippine people have a certain term to address people’s name determined by different level of ages in showing respect. They will call “kuya” for older people, “diko” or “ateh” for peer groups, and “bongsu” or “kapati” for younger ones. “We don’t call them by their first names like in Australian norms”, Reka argued. Additionally, Philippine’s people will look after and never leave older people staying by themselves. According to Klaimon, when parents have finished and met their obligations and responsibilities, children will pay back by looking after them. “This is moral responsibility”, Salma claimed.

Furthermore, another feature that characterises Philippine’s culture is family oriented. With other family members for instance, they tend to stay at the same house. In some cases, when one of their family members lives a long distance away because of work for example, they will still attend their family tradition that they called “fiesta”; coming to house and celebrating eat. In addition, hospitality also suggests the other Philippine’s custom. When they have visitor(s) at their house, according to Klaimon, they will pleasantly serve plates and set “native” chicken for them. And also they will let visitors to stay in their main room and the hosts sincerely sleep outside. Salma argued that Philippinos will make visitors feel warm, welcome, and accepted as one of them.


Syrian people will get approval of a group before making a decision. This is because, according to Kaila, one of the Arabic participants, Syrian cultures tend to be more collectivistic rather than individualistic. Involving family members to discuss about a marriage planning for instance reflects how collectivism is built firstly among family members. “When one of our family members will get married, they will firstly consult this issue to family members even though the final decision is in yours”, he argues.

Moreover, Syrian people are tolerant and respect to cultural diversities and reality of various religious belief as well. Kaila’s family members for example, did not stick on one cultural value or religious persuasion only. Even though his other family members mostly are Muslim, but they allow them to practice a mixed-marriage. His younger sister married with a German who is culturally totally different. His younger brother married a Christian. From this evidence, we can see that appreciating and respecting to different cultural background and religious faith present in his family. When I asked him potential conflicts of a mixed-marriage, “we have to negotiate our differences before marriage. If we have many similarities, we can go. But when we have many differences, we don’t”, he argued.


This investigation indicates that one of the determining aspects of Australian culture is the nature of egalitarian. Kylea, Australian participant took apart in this investigation, claimed that this cultural aspect (egalitarian) distinguishes Australian culture and other Western cultures, such as British and America. Egalitarian means treats people equally. It doesn’t differentiate people from their kinds of occupation, economic cultural background, and race as well. “Australian people tend to treat everybody the same. It doesn’t matter whether they are a garbage collector or prime minister. They are just a person. We treat them in a sense of equality”, Kylea argued.

Sport, on the other hand, reflects a part of Australian culture. Australians are passionate about sport. According to Kylea, sport is a major-shared of national interest where most of Australian group of people can make the most of their time. Even though she herself is neither interested in nor watches the sport, it still includes one of her topics when she talked to her father on the phone. On the other hand, individualism tends to describe the other Australian culture. “This is everyone’ responsibility to find their own way here”, Raymond argued (another Australian participant).

When I raised the question whether preserving their own culture is important or not, Raymond claimed that cultural maintenance or cultural extinction is only an issue. He recognised that he doesn’t think too much about that. “We are going through cultural changes and preserving cultures has become only an issue”, he claimed. However, Raymond and Kylea would still maintain the quality of freedom of individual thought as a part of Australian culture.  

Analytical discussion

This section presents the analytical discussion of similarities and differences of intercultural communications suggested in this investigation. There are a wide range of cultural issues both their similarities and differences came out in this investigation. For example, drinking culture found in a certain culture, but it disappeared in other cultures. Otherwise, respecting older people and the importance of social etiquette promote a certain way of life in particular country, but these may not come up in other countries. However, this report focuses on two cultural variable issues across-cultural interactions: individualism and collectivism.


This investigation indicates that there are a certain number of cultures that tend to be more individualism employed by certain countries. According to Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swindler and Tipton (1985, cited in Bhawuk 1992, p. 4), individualist culture consists of self-reliance and competition aspects. As Hofstede (1983, p. 336 cited in Bowe & Martin 2007, p. 81) argues that individualist culture place a higher emphasis on individual goals and are supposed to take care of themselves and their immediate families only.

In individualistic culture, society ties between individual are loose. On the basis of my experience and investigation, these indicate that the Scotland and Australian cultures tend to define cultural uniformity in term of individualism. In both culture, everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate families only. As Raymond claimed that it is everyone’s responsibility to find their own way here (in Australia) also indicates that self-reliance is more dominant than group-reliance. Additionally, drinking culture rooted in Scotland and the involvement of societies in certain community indicate the individualistic aspect of a culture. Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swindler, and Tipton (1985 cited in Bhawuk 1992, p. 4) argued that individualistic culture people can choose from a number of community activities and switch from one to another when the particular activity does not interest the individual. So, dissimilar from Malaysian, Syrian, and Philippine cultures, Australia and Scottish tend to be more self-centred and distinguish from other people.


Collectivism recognises the group, and not the individual, as the basic unit of survival (Bhawuk 1992, p. 4). This investigation suggests that there are a range of cultures that indicate similar culture across countries: collectivistic culture. According to Bhawuk (1992, p. 5), collectivistic culture reflects a sense of oneness with other people and the tied relationship both in family and in society. Based on this collectivism concept, I found that Malaysian, Philippine, and Syrian cultures reflect the cultural uniformity. They tend to concern about going to approval of the collectivism. For example, Syrian people will seek family’s approval before one of their family members decides to marry.

According to Hui and Triandis (1986 cited in Bawuk 1992, p. 4), one of the collectivism aspect is sharing non-material resources like time. This investigation indicates that Malaysian culture tend to be family-based. Meaning Malaysian people devote their life to their families and like to be with them.

Furthermore, family-oriented also demonstrates the culture in Philippine. Most of Philippine people tend to live together with their family members rather than live separately. For example, Philippine society tends to live with their parents to look after them since they are getting older. In addition, in the ways of Philippine people welcoming a visitor(s) getting into inhabitant’s residence, they will make that them feel accepted and warm. The host will provide food and ‘native’ chicken for them. These evidences are likely in line with the argument that collectivistic culture tend to share of either material or non-material resources (Hui & Triandis 1986 cited in Bhawuk 1992, p. 4). Unlike Australian and Scotland culture, Syrian, Malaysian, and Philippine culture tend to reflect the collectivistic culture.


From the evidence above we can conclude that we can find the similarities and differences of intercultural interactions. To some extent, cross-cultural uniformity reflected in some countries but it could be found in other countries. It indicates that Australian and Scotland cultures tend to be parallel in term of individualistic culture. They tend to place a higher emphasis on individual goals rather. On the other hand, collectivism tends to define the Malaysian, Syrian, and Philippine culture. Family oriented and sharing both material and non-material with groups in society are the example how they pay more attention to the sense of oneness in society.  Presumably, further investigation may focus on the future prediction of cultural changes: how collectivistic societies adapt and change to be individualistic and otherwise.



Allport, GW 1979, The nature of prejudice, Basic Book, New York.

Bowe, H & Martin, K 2009, Communication across cultures: mutual understanding in a global world, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Bhawuk, DPS 1992, ‘The measurement of intercultural sensitivity using the concepts of individualism and collectivism’, International Journal of Intercultural Relation, vol. 16, pp. 413-436, viewed 30 May 2011, <;

Colette, MH 2011, ‘Intercultural communication in everyday life: cross-cultural pragmatics’, lecture notes distributed in the topic LING8605 Intercultural Communication in Everyday Life and the Workplace, Flinders University, Bedfork Park, South Australia on 28 May.

Dean, O 1990, ‘Intercultural communication effectiveness as perceived by American managers in Saudi Arabia and French managers in the USA’, International Journal of Intercultural Relation, Vol. 14, pp. 40-424, viewed 29 May 2011, <;.

Hall, JK 2002, Teaching and researching language and culture, Longman, London.

Wierzbicka, A 2006, ‘Intercultural pragmatics and communication’, Encyclopedia of language & linguistics, viewed 29 May 2011, <;.


About Halili

Indonesian student of Master of Language Studies at Flinders University, South Australia.
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