This paper presents a review of the literature relevant to the topic of intercultural communication in the hospitality industry. It begins with an examination of Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory, followed by a critique of Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions and Edward Hall and others’ theories of cultural awareness, concluding with a synthesis of the research on intercultural communication by leading commentators in this field. This analysis thus provides insight into the issues influencing the perception of politeness between the Spanish and English cultures in the hotel workplace.
In their 1978 and 1987 works on the theory of politeness, Brown and Levinson put forward a rational model of politeness, arguing that individuals across all cultures want to be approved of by others and free from unnecessary constraints, or positive and negative “face”, respectively (Greene, 1997). In response to their argument that politeness is a universal part of language, Watts (2003) contends that this theory is overly idealistic because it ignores the means by which individuals in society struggle with politeness in their interactions with others. He holds that these features of social interaction are more important than the role of politeness in intercultural communication. Using a practical example of politeness theory, O’Dowd (2003) conducted primary research examining the interaction of Spanish and English cultures in business situations and found that if participants perceived another person as being interested in descriptions of their own culture, they subsequently felt encouraged to communicate more but, if they felt their positive face was threatened by the other person showing a lack of interest in their cultural background, they were more reluctant.
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Geert Hofstede describes culture as the collective characteristics of members of one group of people (Hofstede, 2001; Hofstede et al, 2010). His theories search for meaning in the correlation between a country’s cultural indicators and his five dimensions of power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, masculinity and long-term orientation (Vinken et al, 2004). In his most recent work, Hofstede adds a new sixth dimension of culture called “indulgence versus restraint” and introduces the concept of a “moral circle” to the debate (Hofstede et al, 2010). In a 1998 article, Hofstede builds on his earlier seminal works (1980; 1991) and further specifies that the main criteria for comparison are values and attitudes, also known as “constructs”. He acknowledges that there has been much criticism of his methodology of using nations as the units for studying and comparing culture, but nevertheless contents that many nations contain a sufficient amount of comparable aspects. Hofstede suggests that cross-cultural misunderstanding is often based on the dimension of value variation between cultures, with the Spanish having a more group-orientated culture than the English. When an activity is planned by Spanish people,
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