Hall (1984). The French, the Germans, and the Americans. (The dance of life: The other dimension of time.)

Hall, E. T. (1984). The French, the Germans, and the Americans. In The dance of life: The other dimension of time (pp. 108–123). Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday.

“The most basic of culture patterns are acquired in the home, and begin with the baby’s synchronizing his or her movements with the mother’s voice.1 Language and our relations with others build on that basic foundation of rhythm. … [page break] … When the child enters school, however, the culture comes on full force. Schools instruct us how to make the system work and communicate that we are forever in the hands of administrators. Bells tell everyone when they must begin learning and when to stop.” (p 108-109)

“Time is imposed! Internal rhythms, classroom dynamics, effectiveness of learning and teaching are all subordinate to the schedule.” (p 109)

“The Frenchman’s first loyalty is to France, and from this perspective he couldn’t care less what other people think. It is almost as though they unconsciously and continuously restructure the past to justify the present.” (p 112)

“His experience highlights differences in the high and low context systems which occur in various combinations with monochronic and polychronic time, centralized and decentralized lines of authority as well as open and closed score planning.5” (p 112)

[“Additional observations on how the two cultures contrast in organizational settings appear below:” (p 117) …]

[“Image (French)” …]

“In a variety of situations, the French seem to be more prone to reveal who they are than the Germans or Americans. They feel protected by membership in group, are committed to their individual identity. They can, therefore, in academic meetings make such statements as ‘I know [page break] you all think I am a fool and that you will spit on my ideas, but I am going to tell you about them anyway.’ No American would dare to be so provocative.” (p 119-120)

[“Image (German)” …]

“The front you present to others is very important and you must be sure to present the right one. It is permissible to make mistakes as long as nobody important knows about them. Never show your incompetence in anything.

“The result is frequently a certain amount of skepticism [page break] about others. Salesmanship is taken for granted, while the need to establish close relationships — as with the French — does not necessarily hold in business. Germans do make friends and very close friends once the outer barrier has been let down. Americans let people in, but protect a hard core near the center so that people have the feeling they never know us, i.e., that we are all _image_.” (p 119-120)

[“Personal Relationships (French)” …]

“Interpersonal communication in France depends more on the high context messages of the body and the face (movie actor Fernandel is an example). High context messages take longer to learn to read accurately but are much faster once learned — and more dependable and trustworthy.” (p 121)

[“Personal Relationships (German)” …]

“Compartmentalizing M-time seals people off from each other so that personal relationships tend to be defined in terms of the job. Great care is taken to protect the privacy of _others_, whereas the French are preoccupied with protecting their _own_ privacy.” (p 120)

[“Propaganda and Advertising (French)” …]

“In general, high context cultures are more resistant to propaganda and advertising, which must be amusing and punchy — not serious — if it is to be effective.” (p 121)

[“Propaganda and Advertising (German)” …]

“Low context cultures are, in general, quite vulnerable to propaganda and to advertising. That is, until they learn that the agent behind the message is untrustworthy, and then they may mistrust all advertising.” (p 121)

[End of chart.]

“If one is advising people in the conduct of international affairs on either the governmental or the business level, I would suggest very careful selection of personnel, looking for those who are intuitive, sensitive, and superintelligent. Success in a cross-cultural situation requires much more talent than climbing the ladder of success in one’s own culture.” (p 122)

Selected Notes

  • 1. Chapters 9 and 10 are devoted to rhythm and entrainment.
  • 5. Open and closed score is a process described earlier (Lawrence Halprin, The R.S.V.P. Cycles, 1970; Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture, 1976) in which two different strategies produce different performances. A “score” (taken from music) can be anything from a shopping list to the program for placing a man on the moon. A closed score strategy succeeds if the performance follows the score and attains its stated goals, e.g., landing a man on the moon. An open score fails if nothing new is added. Music can be either, as a traditional form (classical — closed; jazz — open); individual musicians can violate tradition and assume either approach. Virtually anything that people do can be characterized as one or the other.
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