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Communication Barriers Between Singapore And Italy Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 5396 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Singapore is an amalgamation of 63 islands, and is the smallest country in Southeast Asia. The approximate distance between Singapore and Italy is about 9365.5km apart (Distance from Singapore to Italy), yet a lot of firms set up their flagships and also other business functions locally. Published on Straits Times-22 April 2009 titled: Spore, Italian region ink deal, “Both countries are looking at R&D to boost their economic prosperity.” We are trying to work together so hopefully we can find new patents, products that can be commercialized. That’s the value for Singapore,’ he added. Lombardy’s President Roberto Formigoni said Singapore is strategic for Italy, especially in leveraging on Singapore’s knowledge of, and relations with, China and Vietnam.” This shows the strong bilateral relationship between both countries. (S’pore, Italian region ink deal)

However, being said that, there are still problems occurring during day-to-day operations in terms of communication between Singaporean and Italians. This paper will focus on the inter-relationship communication barriers faced by both Singaporeans and Italians in a particular organization. 

Overview of Singapore

Singapore and Europe had great history links since 1869 when Singapore was a major trading and shipping port. (Who We Are). 

After nearly 150 years under the British Colony, Singapore emerged as a Nation in 1965. (Rogger, Year not stated) Thus, this may portray a deceptive imagine of Singaporeans as appearing more ‘westernized’. However, on the other hand, younger generations of business people in Singapore are usually more experience in interacting with people and are more flexible and open-minded to perform business with foreigners. (Katz, 2007)

Singapore is a cosmopolitan society where people live harmoniously and interactions among different races are commonly seen. Singapore holds a diverse population due to immigrants of the past has given the place a mixture of 3 major racial groups consisting of Chinese, Malay and Indians who does not process a single dominant national identity (Warnstam, 2007).

In order to do business successfully in a multicultural country like Singapore, it is important for all to understand the different cultural traditions, customs, as well as background of each race groups. This will prevent unnecessary conflicts.

Languages Used in Singapore

English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil are the four official languages that are commonly used in Singapore. Singapore also has its own brand of spoken English, which is known as Singlish. It is quite different from English in its speaking accents and grammar. 

Religion in Singapore

Singapore generally allows religious freedom, although religious groups are subject to government scrutiny, and some religious sects are restricted or banned. (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2798.htm). The religion diversity in Singapore consists of Chinese temples (Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and ancestor worship), Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and others which comprises of Jews and Sikhs, etc (Lepoer, 1989).

Culture and Society of Singapore

The Family

The common traits of Singaporeans are that the concepts of harmony, mutual security and working in groups are more important than that of acting as an individual. The family represents the center of the social structures which strongly emphasizes in unity, loyalty and respect for the elderly (Kwintessential, Year not stated).


Kiasu is a term often used by Singaporean to describe the social attitude of Singaporeans who are often afraid of losing in anything or in any situation (Warnstam, 2007). According to Warnstam (2007), the term Kaisu refers to both positive and negative connotation; some suggest the attitude of being Kiasu reflects the strong work ethics and competitiveness within each Singaporean. Whereas, others might feel that being Kiasu leads to a graceless society. 

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Concept of Face

‘Maintaining face’ plays an important part of the Singapore culture. As per Craig (2004), the concept of face is being measured as of one’s internal quality, status, good name, and good character. To prevent from losing face, Singaporeans tends to control their temper and behavior in public and will not criticize people directly on the face (Warnstam, 2009). Thus, communication is conducted indirectly. In Singapore, face does not involve purely on personal pride but involves the country and its whole population as it promotes group harmony and solidarity. 


Singapore values the diversity of its people and often stresses the importance of accepting difference amongst its diverse population of people from different races such as Chinese, Malay and Indians. Despite the evitable separation of some groups, Singapore serves as an ‘umbrella’ culture creates a sense of belonging among all Singaporeans (Warnstam, 2007).

Singapore Education System

Singapore used to implement traditional British based education system. Presently, the system has evolved to a broad based education with more flexibility and diversity. The distinct feature of the Singapore education system is the bilingual policy. It was implemented in 1966. It was compulsory for students to take up the main median language-English to be able to communicate with other races and also with foreigners. This will help Singaporeans to communicate effectively with fellow Singaporeans that will prevent any unnecessary conflicts due to miscommunication. It also helps Singaporeans to be able to communicate efficiently wherever they are in the world as English is a widely used language internationally. Another language is the student’s traditional language, be it Chinese, Malay, Tamil, this is to maintain the values of the respective racial groups locally.

Students will attend basic education for 6 years after pre-school. And follow on into secondary school and so on. However, education does not just end after graduating. Singaporeans have many opportunities for further trainings as the Singapore government is focusing to develop its workforce so as to increase productivity. The government is also targeting in creating a skilled workforce to increase global competitiveness.

Singapore Politics

Singapore had her first elections in 1959 after being granted full internal self-governance. The dominating party in the country is the People’s Actions Party (PAP) that is lead by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. He is also the present minister mentor, a position created when his son, Lee Hsien Long became Singapore’s third prime minister. Opposition parties are namely the workers’ party (WP), Singapore Democratic Alliance Party (SDA), Singapore Democratic Party (SDA), Democratic Party (SDP) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Singapore was recognized internationally through joining the United Nations, followed by the Commonwealth in 1965. (Singapore, Overview: Politics of Singapore)

The unicameral Parliament currently consists of 84 members elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage, and up to nine “nominated” members of Parliament. A constitutional provision assures at least three opposition members, even if fewer than three actually are elected. A “non-constituency” seat held by the opposition under this provision since 1997 was again filled after the last election held on May 6, 2006. In May 2006, general election, the governing People’s Action Party (PAP) won 82 of the 84 seats. The president appoints nominated members of Parliament from among nominations by a special select committee. Nominated members of Parliament (NMPs) enjoy the same privileges as members of Parliament but cannot vote on constitutional matters or expenditures of funds. The maximum term of Parliament is 5 years. NMPs serve for two-and-a-half-year terms. Voting has been compulsory since 1959. (Background note: Singapore)

Singapore is a democratic society. However, Economist Intelligent Unit has classified Singapore as a “hybrid” country that comprises of both authoritarianism and democracy. The present Singapore enjoys political stability that attracts investors and foreign talents.

Overview of Singapore Economy 

Despite the small geographic size of the nation and small domestic market, Singapore not only has strong international trade links with many countries. Singapore Economy is also one of the most prosperous globally. Singapore was ranked third in 2009 as being the most competitive economy in the world by the world economic forum. (Singapore keeps 3rd spot in competitiveness ranking).

According to the World Bank “Doing Business 2010 Report,” Singapore economy is considered to be the easiest to do business in. Some favorable findings about Singapore stated in the report:

Ranked No.1 for having the most open and liberal economy for international trade

Ranked No.2 as the economy with the best investment potential

Ranked #1 in Asia and #4 in the world for having low levels of corruption in the economy

(Economy Rankings; Singapore Economy)

Singapore does not have natural resources. However, due to its strategic location and government policies, it became a hub of foreign investment. The local government practices a pro-foreign investment and export-orientated economic policy. This helps to attract large scale of foreign investment despite its high operating cost. For example: United States have invested about $106.5billion worth assets in the service and manufacturing sectors. Other factor that attracts the foreign investors is skilled workers, advanced infrastructure, political stability and corruption free government. (Background Note: Singapore)

Hierarchy and Structure of Singapore Companies

In Singapore, companies operate in a top-down structure whereby the senior management in the company does all major decision-makings. Respect is given prior to the senior members of the group and is always being introduced first. It is always polite to stand when a higher-ranking official arrives at a venue, and to be seated after the important personnel is seated. 

Unlike other countries, women also play an important role in the work field and are given chances to hold managerial positions in the organizations. There is no prejudice against gender, age and race due to the fair employment law. 

Singapore Business Practices

In Singapore business culture, building of personal relationships is considered more important that the company that you represents (ASAG-biotech network, Year unknown). During business situations, a light handshake is used (Warnstam, 2007). Singaporeans love to bargain and haggle during negotiations. (Katz, 2007) Whilst in business discussion, Singaporeans appears to be calm and hardly reveals their emotions. It is also considered very rude to speak loudly or interrupt during a conversation. 

It is important that business cards are being inspected carefully before putting them away as it represents a form of respect and recognition of the person. Name cards should be held with both hands and present to the recipient with the correct print facing to him / her. Name cards should be placed on the table instead of shoving into pockets or bags as a form of respect. It is also important to wait and be introduced by the host. Intensive eye contact with a senior management or an elderly is considered a sign of disrespect. In order to show a form of respect, it is important to know how to greet a person name based on his / her race. For example, greeting via surnames is necessary during the first meeting with Singaporean Chinese. Gifts are acceptable in most organizations. However, gifts to government employees may be considered as bribery and is prohibited in Singapore (Warnstam, 2007).

Singapore Working Practices

In Singapore Business society, punctuality is extremely important and efforts should be made to arrive early or on time. Appointments should be made in advance. Should there be any late arrivals, it is of basic courtesy to inform the other party and also to advise the latest arrival time. The typical office hours are normally between 9:00a.m. to 5:00 pm from Mondays to Fridays that consists of an hour lunch break in between. Some offices will also operate on Saturdays especially in the morning. 

Overview of Italy

Italy used to be diverse culturally, economically and politically. However, today the Italians are largely homogeneous linguistically and religiously. Italy has the fifth-highest population density in Europe, with a approximate population of 60 million people (Italy Travel Guide). Minority groups are small, the largest being the German-speaking people of Bolzano Province and the Slovenes around Trieste. There are also small communities of Albanian, Greek, Ladino, and French origin. Although immigration has been increasing in recent years, the Italian population is still declining due to low birth rates. (Affairs, 2010)

Brief history of Italy

Through the ensuing years, numerous rulers from beyond the Alps, with or without the consent of the papacy, failed to impose their authority. Throughout the fourteen and fifteenth centuries of campanilismo (local patriotism), only a minority of people would have heard the word “Italia.” Loyalties were predominantly provincial. However, there were elements that made a strong contrast to the world beyond the Alps that is a common legal culture, high levels of lay education and urban literacy, a close relationship between town and country, and nobility who frequently engaged in trade.

There are three features, in particular, from this period that solidified the notion of a unified culture. First, it was the maturing of the economic development that was originated in the early centuries. With increasing urbanization, the northern and central Italian trade, manufacture, and financial capitalism continued with extraordinary vigor and have remarkable influence throughout majority of the Mediterranean areas and Europe as a whole. It was a development that served as the necessary preliminary for the expansion of Europe beyond its ancient bounds at the end of the fifteenth century. Second, the extension of de facto independent city-states, which, whether as republics or as powers ruled by one person or family, created a powerful impression upon contemporaries and posterity. Finally, allied to the movements stated above, it was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that civilization of the ‘Italian Renaissance” was born from this society, which was to be exported to the rest of Europe.

Ethnic Relations

Many countries and peoples have conquered and occupied Italy over the centuries, and thus, causing the Italians to resent each of these conquerors. Even so, they intermarried with them and accepted a number of their customs. (Salamone)

Culture of Italians

Ethnic Italians make up about 95% of the population, and the largest ethnics minority of the Romanians (officially 1%, however maybe double that). There is an increaseing wave of immigration from the EU countries of Eastern Europe and illegal immigration from the south-eastern Europe and northern Africa are increasing.

Appearances matters in Italy and having a good image ‘bella figure’ is very important. And you will likely be judged not only by the smartness of your clothes and accessories, but also by the general style and demeanour. Social etiquette is generally energetic but also somewhat formal. (Italy)

Economy of Italy

Italy started to industrialize rapidly after 1945, moving away from the traditional agriculture, until a point where less than 5% of the population is engaged in agriculture. The majority of these populations live in the south of Italy, which is substantially poorer than the rest of the country. Their main crops are sugar beet, wheat, tomatoes and fruit (especially grapes. Majority of the grapes are used for wine, which Italy is a leading producer).

Italy continues to rely heavily on the export of manufactured goods, although the tourism industry is enjoying a major position alongside other service industries such as financial services, along with most western European economies. Their strengths are particularly in advanced manufacturing techniques and systems, high-quality design and precision engineering.

Most of the industrial raw materials and more than 75% of energy requirements are imported. The Italian’s economy has been sluggish since 2000 with growth in 2009 of 5% and is expected to drop further. The inflation in 2009 was just under 1% and the unemployment rate is 7.5%.

Despite doubts about the size of its growing budget deficit (public debt is 105% of GDP) in Europe, Italy was among the founding members of the Euro-zone in 1999. The current government has enacted some reforms to improve competitiveness and growth. (Italy Travel Guide)


The official language in Italy is Italian, and majority of the population (about 93%) are native Italian speakers and about 50% of population speaks a regional dialect as mother tongue. As many of the dialects are mutually unintelligible and are considered by linguists as a separate language, thus it is not officially recognised.


90% of the populations are Roman Catholic, and the remaining of the populations comprises mainly of Jews, the growing population of Muslims, Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics.


The type of government in Italy is parliamentary democratic republic. The major political parties: People of Freedom (Popolo della Libertà), Democratic Party (Partito Democratico), Northern League (Lega Nord), Italy of Values (Italia dei Valori), Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (Unione dei Democratici Cristiani e di Centro), Communist Refoundation Party (Partito della Rifondazione Comunista). (_)

Political Philosophy

There is different types of political philosophy that existed in Italy are mainly egalitarian socialism / communism and nationalistic fascism.

One of the examples is Benito Mussolini. He ruled as a dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943 and his political philosophy, which he called fascism, was based on the total domination of the government in all spheres of political, social, economic, and cultural life. The Italians regards him as a hero in the initial stage until he was driven by the government before the end of World War II. (Benito Mussolini)


At present the Italian school system is divided into four levels: 

Kindergarten / Preschool (Scuola Materna)

For children aged three to five, the scuola materna provides optional education for children and every child is entitled to a place. It is not compulsory for a child to attend preschool but most parents enrol their children in a scuola materna. Preschool in Italy is free except in private schools.

Primary school (scuole elementare)

School in Italy is compulsory from the age of six onwards. Recent legislation changes means that children may start scuola primaria from the age of five and a half onwards (this is to bring Italian schools in line with European schools regarding school leaving ages). Primary school lasts for five years. Student had to pass an exam at the end of fifth year before they could progress to secondary school.

Lower secondary (scuola media)

Attendance at lower secondary school (scuola media) is compulosry for all children between the ages of 11 to 14. Students are required to attend 30 hours of classes per week, though some schools may offer additional classes if there is demand (up to 40 hours).

Every term, each student receives a teacher’s report outlining their aptitude, behavior and achievement. At the end of the third year, pupils sit a standard examination consisting of written papers in Italian, as well as exams in mathematics, science and a foreign language.

An oral exam is also administered in all subjects except religion. Successful students are awarded their lower secondary school diploma (diploma di licenza media) and move on to upper secondary school.

Upper secondary school (scuola superiore)

Upper Secondary School (scuola superiore) involves between three and five years of attendance. Students do an obligatory two years (biennio) of general studies follow by an optional three years (triennio) of specialised education. Students have to choose at this time which type of course they want to study, depending on whether they are thinking of going on to university afterwards, or if they are looking at obtaining a vocational qualification. State school in Italy is free until the end of primary education. School in Italy is compulsory until the age of 16.  (Italian Education & Schooling in Italy)

Next, we will be making cultural differences comparison on Italy and Singapore using Geert Hofstede model.

Geert Hofsted Cultural Dimensions

Power Distance Index (PDI) that is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. It suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders. Power and inequality are fundamental facts of any society and anyone with certain working experience or interaction will be aware that ‘all societies are unequal.

 Individualism (IDV) is the opposite of collectivism. Ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him or herself and his or her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are usually cohesive in groups and often extended families members continue in protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. The word ‘collectivism’ may has no political meaning but it is referring to the group, but not the state. Again, the issue addressed is fundamental, regarding all societies in the world.

Masculinity (MAS) is the opposite of femininity and it refers to the distribution of roles between the genders which is also a fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. Studies revealed that women’s values differ from men’s values which men’s values from one country to another contain assertiveness, competitiveness whereas women’s values on the one other side tend to be modest and caring. The assertiveness and competitiveness pole has commonly been referred as masculine while modest and caring is commonly referred as feminine.

 Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man’s search for Truth. Uncertain situations are novel, unknown, surprising, and different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures. People in countries which face uncertainty are also more emotional while people whom are receptive of uncertainty are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to. There are few rules to adhere to and people within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative.

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Long-Term Orientation (LTO) versus short-term orientation: this fifth dimension was found in a study among students in 23 countries around the world, using a questionnaire designed by Chinese scholars it can be said to deal with Virtue regardless of Truth. Values usually associated with Long Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance while values associated with Short Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and saving one from embarrassment. Both the positively and the negatively rated values of this dimension are found in the teachings of Confucius, the most influential Chinese philosopher; however, the dimension also applies to countries without a Confucian heritage.


Geert Hofstedeâ„¢ Cultural Dimensions

The World Factbook 2002

  The Buddhist-Shinto societies also have an additional Dimension, that of Long Term Orientation (LTO). Geert Hofstede added this Dimension after the original study, and it was applied to twenty-three of the fifty original countries in his study. The Buddhist/Shinto Countries of Taiwan and Japan have LTO as the most closely correlating Dimension.


Comparisons between Singapore and Italy: Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions:



















Based on the statistics above, there are several differences between Singapore and Italy which will be discussed in as of the following.

Power Distance Index (PDI)

Power Distance (PD) refers to the degree of inequality that exists, which is being accepted, among the people with and without power. A high PD score indicates that the society accepts an unequal distribution of power and people would not go beyond their place in the system. A low PD means that power is shared and equally dispersed. This means that society members view everyone as equals.

Application: According to the Hofstede’s model, in a high PD such as Malaysia (PD of 104), employees from the lower management position would probably send reports to top management, who will have a closed door meeting where only a few leaders attends. In a low PD country such as Austria (PD of 11), the power are equally distributed among the lower and top management.



High PD

Centralized companies.

Strong hierarchies.

Large gaps in compensation, authority, and respect.

Acknowledge a leader’s power.

Be aware that you may need to go to the top for answers

Low PD

Flatter organizations.

Supervisors and employees are considered almost as equals.

Use teamwork

Involve as many people as possible in decision making.


Based on the PDI, Singapore has a higher PDI than that of Italy. Even though, Singapore and Italy shares the same aspects of hierarchy and a common trait of downward communication, Singaporeans tends to be more respectful to the senior management and elders. On the other hand, Italians are more outspoken in their speech and they love to ridicule authority and with people who are in positions of power (http://students.depaul.edu/~jborger/#Individualism). To Italians, breaking petty rules are a form of entertainment. However, breakings of rules are uncommon in Singapore.

Individualism (IDV)

Individualism (IDV) refers to the strength of ties people have to others within the community. A high IDV score indicates a loose connection in the society. Countries with a high IDV score there is a lack of interpersonal connection and little sharing of responsibility, beyond family and perhaps a few close friends. A low IDV scores means the society have strong group cohesion, and there will be a large amount of loyalty and respect for members of the group. The group itself is also larger and people take more responsibility for each other’s well being.

Accordingly to the Hofstede’s model, countries such as America have high individualism/collectivism dimensions and they are more individualistic. (http://www.nysscpa.org/cpajournal/2005/905/essentials/p62.htm) There are collectivistic dimensions countries in Central America such as Panama and Guatemala where the IDV scores are very low. Marketing campaign that emphasized benefits to the community would most likely be understood and well-received.




High IDV

High valuation on people’s time and their need for freedom.

An enjoyment of challenges, and an expectation of rewards for hard work.

Respect for privacy.

Acknowledge accomplishments.

Don’t ask for too much personal information.

Encourage debate and expression of own ideas.


Emphasis on building skills and becoming masters of something.

Work for intrinsic rewards.

Harmony more important than honesty.

Show respect for age and wisdom.

Suppress feelings and emotions to work in harmony.

Respect traditions and introduce change slowly.


As individualism is being defined as societies connecting people are considered loose, individuals in Italy are only responsible for themselves and their immediate family members (http://students.depaul.edu/~jborger/#Individualism). However, Italians have also minimum views on collectivism in such whereby under people collective cultures are born into a group and they will remain the same members of that cohesive group for their entire lives. (http://students.depaul.edu/~jborger/#Individualism). On the other hand, despite the similarities of Singaporeans on their views on individualism, being a multi-racial society, Singaporeans are more on the side of being collective; in such whereby man is to be judged not by his own character, actions or race. (http://freedomkeys.com/collectivism.htm)

 Masculinity (MAS)

Masculinity (MAS) – This refers to how much a society sticks with, and values, traditional male and female roles. High MAS scores are found in countries where men are expected to be tough, to be the provider, to be assertive and to be strong. If women work outside the home, they have separate professions from men. Low MAS scores do not reverse the gender roles. In a low MAS society, the roles are simply blurred. You see women and men working together equally across many professions. Men are allowed to be sensitive and women can work hard for professional success.

Application: Japan is highly masculine with a score of 95 whereas Sweden has the lowest measured value. According to Hofstede’s analysis, if you were to open an office in Japan, you might have greater success if you appointed a male employee to lead the team and had a strong male contingent on the team. In Sweden, on the other hand, you would aim for a team that was balanced in terms of skill rather than gender.




High MAS

Men are masculine and women are feminine.

There is a well defined distinction between men’s work and women’s work.

Be aware that people may expect male and female roles to be distinct.

Advise men to avoid discussing emotions or making emotionally-based decisions or arguments.


A woman can do anything a man can do.

Powerful and successful women are admired and respected.

Avoid an “old boys’ club” mentality.

Ensure job design and practices are not discriminatory to either gender.

Treat men and women equally.


Based on the model of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions, Italy has a higher level of Masculinity than Singapore. Many Italian men are still treating women with gallantry and value machismo. (http://students.depaul.edu/~jborger/#Individualism). Despite women entering the workforce, the numbers are kept minimal and only a few are in a higher management. Responsibilities of Italian women are mainly to cook, clean and care for the children


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