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Paula McLay

Charles River

Training Officer

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Cultural Differences


I've been asked to help my boss prepare a presentation that she's been asked to do at our Company's HR Leadership Conference.  (To last approx 30 minutes)

To let you understand our company HQ is based in Boston in the US.  Our site is based just outside of Edinburgh.  We are in the scientific field & the audience will be HR professionals from our sites across US, Canada, Japan & Europe.

The presentation is to be what are the cultural differences between Scotland & the US & how can we get the corporate HR team in the US to appreciate this.  I've a few ideas about stereotypes but I wondered if anyone had any other ideas please?

11 Responses

  1. define culture


    When you say ‘culture’ in this instance do you mean the general environment (eg outside the workplace) or the specific company cultural differences between the Boston and Edinburgh offices (working practices, attitudes, legislation etc)?

    Given that the organisation is multinational, what proportion of the staff at each site actually represents the ethnicity of the site location, eg are all the people in Edinburgh stereotypical Scots (and if so, is that Edinburgh Scot, Glasgow Scot or Highlander?)  Ditto Boston; are they all of Irish descent (Like Barack O’Bama) or do they come from a wider field?

    One presumes that there may also be some attitudinal differences between people with HQ roles and people in the more scientific disciplines, regardless of their country of work or country of origin. 

    There may also be differences (I have no idea about the history), if the Scotland site was at some stage an acquisition (similar to the cultural differences between ex Lloyds staff and ex TSB staff in the merged Lloyds TSB~apparently they still refer to people as "green" or "blue" depending on whether they were acquired or acquirer).

    All these will be valid issues over and above the obvious Scotland/US area.

    I imagine that your boss could bore everyone to death with a statistical analysis of ethnicity and attitude but I’d suspect that this could also be quite a lively and even interactive (if that is allowed) session if she aims more at making it relevant to the other sites you mention  in Europe, Canada and Japan.

    I hope this helps



  2. Language differences

    To lighten the presentation a little you could give examples of Scottish slang/idiom. There’s loads on this site

    There’s a lot of well known differences in what UK and US call things e.g. car boot and trunk, pavement and sidewalk etc but I doubt many of them have heard some of the Scottish words and phrases ūüôā


  3. Great topic but not enough time perhaps

    Hi Paula

    This is a really important topic so it’s a shame your boss has only 30 minutes.

    What is the intent of having people appreciate cultural differences?  I’m a Brit, based in Switzerland working for American company in an office housing 30+ nationalities.  Culture and cultural differences play a massive part in how we work together so I’m guessing your intent is about improving how you work together?  Improving collaboration or communication???  Ensuring fewer misunderstanding??

    As one of the previous posters suggested, keep it light and amusing.  It’s difficult to avoid generalizations and stereotypes in the time given – but acknowledge this.

    Maybe not a presentation but involve the attendees.  Perhaps have someone from each location create a "day in the life of…." to share with others – highlighting sameness and differences in their work and home lives???


  4. Thanks

    Thanks to everyone for their replies. 

    As you can see it is a challenge 30 minutes isn’t a long time.  The objective behind it is for people to appreciate the differences especially when it comes to communication.  Sometimes the US ask us to do things & our hearts sink thinking we just wouldn’t do it that way!

    I’ll take your comments on board.  Please keep the suggestions flowing!!



  5. naming of parts……


    A long time ago in a land far away I was a soldier….I was working with my Troop alongside an American unit who were hosting an event in Germany.

    Our instructions from them were to bring our Mess Kits with us to the event.

    Now for those who don’t speak Army, in the British Army "Mess Kit" is your best bib and tucker for a formal dinner, so we all turned up with scarlet bumfreezer tunics, breeches, and dickie bows.

    However, if you are an American soldier, "mess kit" is a tin plate, a knife, fork and spoon.






    oh, how we laughed at our mutual cultural faux pas.


  6. That made me laugh!

    Thanks Rus for that entertaining story – I like that it made me laugh.

    I might just use that!

  7. OK, here’s another real life one and perhaps a wee bit appropria

    One of my lads was a braw jock and he came to see me to ask for a leave pass.

    He mentioned as I was signing the papers that he was going back North to celebrate his father’s 50th birthday..

    "Have you bought him something good?" I asked

    His face lit up and he replied, "Oh Aye, Ah thought lang n har’, and Ah’ve got him herpes" 

    I spluttered.  "Herpes?"

    "Aye, Herpes" he replied, nonplussed.

    Struggling for comprehension I tried to confirm my understanding, "You got your father a  Sexually Transmitted Desease for his birthday?"

    He looked at me witheringly and said, "Nay, Troopy, ya loon, H E R P E S….he’s bin gan bald fer years, and now he looks lak a cue ball!"


  8. I was asked a similar question a few years back….

    …except it was for an English company with an American parent company. I was asked to ‘squeeze something’ into an already crowded training day.

    Iwas very fortunate as at the time we had an American senior manager, who agreed to join us for lunch and take questions from the group. It was fascinating listening to an American perspective of Brit culture! Could you find an American working in Scotland and interview them? Or even ask those in Boston what their perception is? You’d probably get a few choice quotes you could build pertinent points around.


    Wishing you the best!


    — Julie Cooper TSM Partnership

  9. Culture

    Get hold of "When Cultures Collide" -Richard D Lewis.

    Brealey Publishing,London.  ISBN 13: 978 -1-904838–02-9.

    Powerful,amusing and very very practical. I have a feeling that the fourth edition is now in Waterstones et al

    A good exercise once you have a profile of different culture sets,is to get the group to ask the easy question:

    What is that x culture tend not to like about y culture ….then

    What is it that x culture needs to do to GET ON better with y culture –

    and vice versa

     QED Training

  10. How we celebrate success?

    Paula, you may already have picked this up when you looked at stereotypes. I think a big cultural difference is how we celebrate success – both our own and other people’s. Julie

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Paula McLay

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