Text Analytics Answers – Is All Culture Becoming American? Part 2

Tom H. C. Anderson
March 28th, 2017

Defined in Their Own Words: 11 Cultures, 10 Countries & Eight Languages  

In Part 1 of this series, I provided a top line from our analysis of comments from more than 15,500 people spanning 11 cultures in 10 countries and eight languages in response to one question:

“How would you explain <insert country> culture to someone who isn’t at all familiar with it?”

After translating and analyzing these data with OdinText—an exercise that took fewer than two hours—we discovered that across cultures, by and large, one of the defining characteristics of almost every culture represented in our sample is that it is multicultural, suggesting that there may indeed be some validity to the argument that globalization is having a “melting pot” effect on cultures around the world.

Of course, multiculturalism/diversity was far from the only common attribute that people mentioned across cultures (it was simply the most prevalent one); it took quite a few commonalities mentioned across cultures to generate what we saw in the aggregate visualization we shared in Part 1, which showed by graphic proximity how alike or dissimilar the 11 cultures in our sample are and which, not coincidentally, put U.S. culture at the relative center of it all.

Not surprisingly, though, we also found that every culture retains unique characteristics in the eyes of its respective members. Today we’re going to look closely at what those similarities and differences are for each culture.

Cultural Characteristics in Their Own Words

Each of the charts below contains primary cultural descriptors—features/attributes/topics—identified by OdinText at the country/culture level compared to the mean aggregate for all countries/cultures studied in the sample.

U.S.A.

Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet are surprisingly NOT top-of-mind for Americans. In fact, only FOUR people out of 1,500 mentioned baseball. Instead, we found that Americans overwhelmingly view their cultural identity in terms of freedom and multiculturalism/melting pot.

Visualization is a powerful and important tool for telling a story through data in research today, so just to offer a little variety I rendered the same data in a spider chart. What do you think? What does this visualization say about U.S. culture compared to the international aggregate?

UNITED KINGDOM

The Brits are well known for their humor, and apparently they consider it a key part of their cultural identity. They are also a little unusual in that Brits closely associate their culture with a culinary staple—fish & chips—something we had expected to see more of across cultures, but did not.

 

AUSTRALIA

It’s almost cliché, but Aussies are laid back and they know it.

 

BRAZIL

Brazilians are keenly aware of their cultural diversity and they think trendiness and sexiness set them apart.

FRANCE

Recall that in Part 1 yesterday I noted that terms like “French,” “American,” and “Spanish” turned up in people’s descriptions and that for our purposes here they weren’t terribly useful? Well, this is one case where the use of the term “French” speaks volumes.  The French are unusually self-aware and see their culture as being so distinctive and pronounced that little explanation is actually needed. It’s almost self-evident in their minds, so they assume that characterizing something as “French”—“French cuisine,” for example—is sufficient to describe their culture.

MEXICO

Mexicans explain their culture in terms of tradition and vibrancy—color, beauty, flavor.

SPAIN

Like their neighbors in France, Spaniards have a sense of their culture as being highly distinctive. Lifestyle featured prominently here—things like siesta, the beach and sunshine, etc. I personally found it interesting that the Spanish simultaneously see diversity/multiculturalism as a key facet of their culture.

GERMANY

Asked about their culture, Germans point to beer, but there isn’t much in the way of fun or frivolity beyond that.  They also consider their culture to be versatile/flexible, orderly/rule-abiding and efficacious.

More importantly, comments from our German sample had a conspicuously lower incidence of actual cultural features than those of other cultures. This would seem to indicate that Germans are somewhat uncomfortable talking about German culture, which isn’t entirely surprising. Obviously, there’s a great deal of sensitivity and angst around discussion of German identity today as a legacy of Nazism. Remember also that until relatively recently Germany was two different countries. What German culture is, exactly, post-reunification may not be entirely clear to Germans, themselves.

JAPAN

The Japanese were unique in many ways, not the least of which being that describing their culture proved exceedingly difficult—and a very different kind of difficult from what we see in the German analysis. A significant number of Japanese respondents characterize Japanese culture as something that almost defies description and must instead be experienced to be understood. The Japanese also see their culture as being rigid and extremely pronounced and comments suggest that the Japanese find great comfort in rules. Indeed, this is the only group in our sample where not a single person mentioned “freedom.”

CANADA (English)

I promised you 11 cultures. To illustrate, here’s a side-by-side comparison of French Canadians and English Canadians.

For residents of English-speaking Canada, multiculturalism is a huge facet of their culture, while tradition is apparently less important. Canadians also take their national pastime—Hockey—as a cultural hallmark (unlike their neighbors in the States who, again, hardly mentioned baseball).

CANADA (French)

I promised you 11 cultures.

French-speaking Canadians (aka the Québécois) are, of course, quite dissimilar from their English-speaking countrymen in many ways. First and foremost, they’re fiercely French—so much so that “Frenchness” is more important to their cultural identity than it is to the actual French in France!

This concludes Part 2 of our international culture expedition.

In Part 3, I’ll share the fascinating results of OdinText’s emotional analysis of this comment data. What people say about their respective cultures, analyzed for significant patterns of emotion, tells an entirely new story! Join us for Part 3 tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Part III – How Emotions Speak Louder than Words

 

@TomHCAnderson – @OdinText

PS. Have questions about today’s post? Feel free to post a comment or request more info here.

About Tom H. C. Anderson

Tom H. C. Anderson is the founder and managing partner of OdinText, a venture-backed firm based in Stamford, CT whose eponymous, patented SAS platform is used by Fortune 500 companies like Disney, Coca-Cola and Shell Oil to mine insights from complex, unstructured and mixed data. A recognized authority and pioneer in the field of text analytics with more than two decades of experience in market research, Anderson is the recipient of numerous awards for innovation from industry associations such as CASRO, ESOMAR and the ARF. He was named one of the “Four under 40” market research leaders by the American Marketing Association in 2010. He tweets under the handle @tomhcanderson.

12 thoughts on “Text Analytics Answers – Is All Culture Becoming American? Part 2”

  1. Note: I’ll be adding an additional chart above comparing English Speaking to French Speaking Canada later today. Emotional differences will be covered in tomorrow’s post.

  2. No surprise that “tradition” didn’t rank highly for Canada – for many it’s a thinly-veiled reference to something more like, “holding on to offensive/colonial values beyond their sell-by date”.

  3. Seems odd that the USA’s neighbours are further away than European countries. Maybe proximity drives the need to differentiate ourselves form you? (for canada & mexico). Australia? I think they just march to the sound of their own drummer 😉

  4. Very interesting data. Tom, is there a reason why some countries have a longer list of cultural associations than others e.g. Mexico vs Germany? Were the lists edited before publishing or are they illustrated as-is by the program?

  5. @Rene about 200 topics/features/attributes were identified at first. In these charts for sake of brevity, only those features with the biggest difference from the mean have been included (all are significant statistically btw). If a country has more features showing, it’s because they have more features that are significantly different than the overall aggreagate.

  6. I think that the French are indeed very, very distinctive. Although they can catch up with and adopt trends that come with globalisation, they interpret them on their own terms and based on criteria that are highly rated in their culture, in particular a strong sense of aesthetics, and a cerebral way of analysing things. Globalisation can’t change that…

  7. A problem with your chart is that some of the descriptors that you have as individual items can be combined because they say virtually the same thing, about the same idea.

    For example, ‘history’ and ‘tradition’. Or, ‘friendship’ and ‘welcoming’. Or ‘best’ and ‘awesome’. And there are a few others.

  8. @Art Some of them probably could. Think it depends on the beholder though, for some history and tradition for instance may mean different things. For me it does, tradition might mean folk costumes etc. whereas history is what goes in history books… It’s easy enough for analyst to treat either way in OdinText.

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