Author Faults Americans for Ignoring Basic Cultural Differences in People

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Author Boye Lafayette De Mente claims lack of cultural interest and knowledge is the main cause of American problems with foreign countries, and suggests that familiarity with their "cultural code words" would help alleviate the problem.

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Former trade journalist and author Boyé Lafayette De Mente, internationally known for his books on the business practices, cultures and languages of China, Japan, Korea and Mexico, says that most American academics, businesspeople, bureaucrats and politicians have traditionally ignored the cultures of other people, and that this myopic attitude has been the source of most of our problems in dealing with foreign countries.

"Despite growing awareness among American business and political leaders that the values and behavior of people are created and controlled by their cultures--which differ from ours in many fundamental ways--knowledge of foreign cultures among mainstream Americans remains incredibly low, and is a clear and present danger to the United States," he adds.

De Mente says that the unique attitudes that became the defining characteristic of mainstream Americans prior to and following the founding of the country resulted in most of them being critical of other cultures and automatically assuming that not only newcomers to the U.S. but people everywhere should think and behave like they did.

"This attitude," he says, "gradually made most Americans blind to the cultural differences of other people, giving rise to the "ugly American" syndrome that has colored our relationships with all countries that are outside of the Christianized democratic sphere of the world."

A graduate of Jōchi University in Tokyo and Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona, De Mente been involved with Asia and Mexico since the late 1940s, first as a member of the intelligence services of the U.S. Navy and Army, then as a student, journalist, trade magazine editor, author, and consultant.

His first book, a pioneer work entitled Japanese Etiquette & Ethics in Business, published in1959 and still in print at McGraw-Hill, was followed by similar books on Korea, Mexico and China.
     De Mente then wrote a series of "code word" books based on the cultural nuances and uses of hundreds of key business and social terms in the Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Mexican languages.

"As a result of my experiences with manufacturers and exporters as well as people in general in China, Japan, Korea and Mexico I learned that their attitudes and behavior are directly related to culturallly pregnant terms in their languages, and that familiarity with these words provides a shortcut to understanding and dealing with them effectively," he said.

De Mente added that his "code word" books were designed to explain how the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Mexicans think and behave, why they think and behave the way they do, and how to interact with them.

Among the Japanese terms De Mente introduced to Westerners in the 1950s were wa (Japanese style harmony), nemawashi (behind the scenes negotiating), giri (inherent obligations, responsibilities), tatemae (a front or façade) and honne (the real thing; one's real intentions).

A list and synopses of all of his 50-plus books appears on his website


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