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Perceptions of Animals across Cultures: Man’s Best Friend or Dirty Beast?

Matthew MacLachlan

10 Jun 2010

When living and working in another country, there are numerous things to consider apart from the more obvious ones of climate, language, religion, currency, etc. Some important considerations are less obvious. For example, do you have a pet or do you enjoy a hobby such as horse riding? Your animal or hobby may be perceived in a completely different light in another culture so it’s important to consider the significance given to specific animals in different parts of the world and general perceptions towards them.

One example which is often mentioned in popular press is the case of dogs. In some cultures, like the US or UK, dogs are loved and considered a great pet to have at home and with the family. In other cultures, such as those where Islam is the majority religion, dogs may be perceived as dirty or dangerous. Muslims’ treatment of dogs is still a matter of debate amongst Islamic scholars . While these animals are widely considered by many Western cultures to be ‘man’s best friend’, the Koran describes them as unhygienic. Muslims will therefore avoid touching a dog unless he can wash his hands immediately afterwards, and they will almost never keep a dog in their home.

In Iran, for instance, a cleric once denounced ‘the moral depravity’ of dog owners and even demanded their arrest. If you are an international assignee living and working in Saudi Arabia or another Arabic country, you should remember this when inviting Arab counterparts to your house in case you have a dog as a pet. This is just one example of how Islam and other cultural beliefs can impact on aspects of everyday life that someone else may not even question. A Middle Eastern man might be very surprised when going to Japan, for instance, and seeing dogs being dressed and pampered like humans and carried around in baby prams!

Dogs are not the only animals which are perceived quite differently from one culture to another. In India, for example, cows are sacred and are treated with the utmost respect. Conversely in Argentina, beef is a symbol of national pride because of its tradition and the high quality of its cuts. An Indian working in Argentina who has not done his research or participated in a cross cultural training programme such as Doing Business in Argentina may be surprised at his first welcome dinner with his Argentinean counterparts where a main dish of beef would be served.

It is therefore crucial to be aware of the specific values assigned to objects or animals in different cultures to avoid faux-pas or cultural misunderstandings, particularly when living and working in another culture. Learning how people value animals and other symbols around the world is one of the numerous cultural examples discussed in Communicaid’s intercultural training courses. Understanding how your international colleagues may perceive certain animals can help you ensure you aren’t insensitive and it may even provide you with a good topic for conversation.

Communicaid’s cross cultural training for relocation courses can be specifically tailored to meet the needs of your business and prepare your employees for any international assignment or business venture. Our courses are tailored to include all potential topics of interest and problems that might arise to prepare your workforce to deal with them appropriately.

Living and working abroad requires not only knowledge of the business culture of a particular country, but also a more in-depth understanding of its culture and wider traditions. Such understanding will facilitate fruitful relationships and successful business partnerships wherever you need to go.

© Communicaid Group Ltd.2010