Your "cultural calendar" - Intercultural Insights
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Your “cultural calendar”
March 12, 2015
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Transform your foreign contact’s calendar into a powerful tool for cultural communication and cultural discovery.

cultural calendarFive years ago, an American bank decided to organise its first roadshow in China during the first week of October. The date had been scheduled well in advance in the company president’s diary and all of the top experts were on the starting blocks.

The aim of this event was to enable the bank to establish a foothold in the Chinese market. I received a phone call from a friend working there, clearly panicking. No one had been able to find a translator available for the presentations. The list of clients and prospects attending the event was all too short. The upcoming trip was off to a bad start. It soon became clear why: it was the national holiday and one of the Chinese population’s three weeks’ holiday.

How many business trips have been ruined because someone forgot to check the calendar and how may emails have been sent without giving the slightest thought to the other person’s culture?

Public holidays & culture

Calendars and diaries are such an essential part of our day-to-day lives that we barely notice them, believing that this is something universal, shared by everyone. But when we look closely, we can identify five types of events which vary enormously from country to country:

  • The national holiday
  • Religious holidays
  • Holidays related to the country’s history
  • Colonial heritage
  • Traditional holidays

Through a country’s calendar, we can discover a new culture, sharing the other nation’s key moments, discovering its history, understanding its traditions and finally communicating with its inhabitants, our colleagues and friends, whether near or far. So why not give greater emphasis to our contacts’ calendars, making them a genuine source of dialogue and sharing? Let’s look at the different stages involved in doing so.

Specific calendars

Each culture has its own specific calendar

Apart from the Gregorian calendar, i.e. our own, adopted as an international standard and shared above all by Westerners, many countries have a calendar specific to their own culture.

The Russians for example celebrate Christmas day on January 7 as the Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar which is 13 days out from our Gregorian calendar.

As another example, the date of the new year is not shared by cultures which operate based on a lunar calendar, and there are many of them! Consequently, the Chinese New Year known as the Spring Festival, begins on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar and ends on the 15th day with the Lantern Festival (between late January and late February)

In Muslim countries, the start of the year occurs during the month of September or October, based on the Muslim calendar known as Hijir, this day corresponding to the first day of the month of Muharram. For their part, the Zoroastrian Persians celebrate the start of the year at the time of the Spring Equinox. Here, we have just a glimpse of the huge diversity of our world and its cultures.

Each culture has its own history

A nation’s history is recorded through commemorative events. These are intense, moving moments celebrated by people sharing a common history.

In the United States for example, these dates symbolise certain key steps in the building of the nation. They occur on Monday to enable those Americans with few holidays to enjoy long weekends. Here are just a few: Martin Luther Day, famous for his struggles to achieve human rights, is celebrated in the United States on the third Monday in February. Columbus Day, on October 12 celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the United States and Presidents Day is held in honour of the American presidents on the third Monday in February.

In stark contrast, let’s examine the Japanese calendar. Here, we find Ocean Day on the third Monday in July, to celebrate the sea and the richness and wealth it has brought to Japan. There is also Culture Day on November 3 which honours the arts, academic achievements and culture. Additionally, there is Children’s Day, traditionally a day for little boys, on May 5, which celebrates childhood and joy. These celebrations differ widely from those in the United States. They also reveal the Japanese preference for nature and the arts.

Religious festivals are found in the calendars of each country.

They often constitute a common theme and also a cultural foundation. Here too, the world’s countries express their religious diversity. From state religions, as in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia which significantly influence social customs, to the coexistence of several religions and communities within the same country, as is the case with Singapore, the calendars do not all use the same dates. The Singaporean calendar includes Muslim, Indian and Chinese religious dates not forgetting the heritage of their colonial past. The three communities work together for the benefit of all. This is a source of great pride in Singapore!

As for the calendar in Hong Kong, a former British colony, this includes British religious festivals, in addition to the famous Boxing Day on December 26, the Chinese New Year, the Dragon Boat Festival, and, more recently the national holiday of the People’s Republic of China on October 1. The colony has therefore retained its colonial heritage, also embracing its more recent history with China.

Don’t forget the King or Queen’s day.

Several countries celebrate this event. Apart from the important symbolic nature of this day, the festivities are usually happy and an opportunity to sell off anything surplus to requirements, as is the case in the Netherlands on the King’s birthday. We should remember that in 2014, Queens Day was renamed Kings Day in honour of Wilhem Alexander.

Bear a thought for the national holidays.

Many countries have had to fight or struggle at different periods in their history to achieve and defend their independence and to exist on the geopolitical scene. Keep in mind their history and pay careful attention to these dates. They will thank you for it.

Don’t forget to take your Cultural Calendar with you!

Convert your national calendar into an international cultural calendar. Select only the main countries with which you deal. In doing so, you will discover not only an excellent travel planning resource but also a great means of learning more about their culture.

This tool will also help you communicate more effectively with others as you’ll be able to strike up conversations at the right time, to send out congratulations or best wishes by e-mail on the right dates and talk about topical subjects relevant to your contacts’ interests.

About author

Laure Dykstra

Laure Dykstra

A consultant and trainer in multicultural management and leadership for five years now, I today assist managers who are going to work abroad or working in complex cultural situations, to improve their international management skills. My 22 years in an international environment, in management posts in an investment bank have enabled me to work, negotiate and communicate with more than 30 cultures. I am nevertheless specialised in Asia and northern Europe, as demonstrated by the articles I publish regularly for the Le Cercle les Échos, Gestion&Finance, Classe Export and the book currently in the draft stage about the United Kingdom, on which I am working for Éditions Afnor. My teenage years in England, my marriage to a Dutchman, my studies in Chinese at the age of 18 and several long overseas assignments in Asia gave me a certain taste for exploring international languages and cultures from an early age.

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