“From Tacos to Sushi to Satay: My Cultural Adventure through Mexico, Japan, and Malaysia”

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This blog builds on my previous two posts detailing my experiences as I left Mexico and then comparing Mexico to Japan as I departed Japan. Now, in Malaysia, I continue to reflect on these diverse cultures, guided by Erin Meyer’s work on “The Culture Map” as a backbone theory. Despite my English background, my extensive travels have influenced my perspective, allowing me to connect deeply with various cultures, especially those prioritising relationship-based trust.


 Experiencing Mexico: A Vibrant Beginning


My cultural journey began in Mexico, where life is celebrated passionately and fervently. Mexican culture is vibrant, expressive, and steeped in rich traditions. The warmth and openness of the Mexican people are immediately apparent, with social interactions marked by a high degree of expressiveness and emotionality.

In Mexico, trust is built through personal relationships. Business interactions often begin with informal conversations, where individuals get to know each other on a personal level. This relational approach to trust makes Mexico’s social and professional environments particularly engaging. For example, it is common for business meetings to start with discussions about family and personal life, creating a solid foundation of trust before diving into business matters. The sense of community and the value placed on personal connections make Mexico an incredibly welcoming and dynamic.


 Leaving Japan: A Reflection on Structure


Two weeks ago, I bid farewell to Japan, a country where politeness, respect, and structure permeate every aspect of life. Japanese culture is characterised by a high degree of formality and a deep respect for hierarchy and tradition. Japan exudes a sense of order and calm from the meticulously organised public transport to the ritualistic tea ceremonies.

In Japan, trust is often built through consistent performance and reliability rather than through personal relationships. This creates a high-context communication environment where much is understood without being said explicitly. For instance, a simple bow can convey a multitude of meanings, from gratitude to apology, depending on the context. While this approach can stifle open confrontation and creativity, the discipline and meticulousness ingrained in Japanese culture offer significant benefits in terms of efficiency and reliability.


 Discovering Malaysia: A Cultural Melting Pot


Now, in Malaysia, I find myself navigating a fascinating blend of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influences. Malaysian culture embodies the politeness and structure reminiscent of Japan while embracing the friendliness and openness akin to Mexico. This unique mix creates an environment that is both respectful and approachable.

In Malaysia, trust is built through a combination of relationship-building and performance. The concept of “gotong-royong” (mutual aid) reflects the communal spirit and the importance of cooperation. This is evident in the workplace, where teamwork and collective effort are highly valued. For example, in business settings, it is common for team members to share meals and engage in social activities outside of work, reinforcing trust and camaraderie. However, like Japan, Malaysia strongly emphasises hierarchy, which can sometimes inhibit the free exchange of innovative ideas. Yet, the diversity of cultural influences fosters a degree of openness to discussion and relationship-building that is less formal than in Japan but more structured than in Mexico.


 Cultural Theories and Comparisons: The Culture Map

Erin Meyer’s “The Culture Map” provides a framework for understanding how cultures differ in their approaches to trust and communication. Let’s explore how Mexico, Japan, and Malaysia map on her cultural dimensions and complement each other despite being thousands of miles apart:

  1. Communication: Japanese culture is high-context, relying heavily on implicit communication. While more explicit, Mexican culture still values non-verbal cues and emotional expressiveness. Malaysia strikes a balance, incorporating elements of both high and low-context communication. For example, while Japanese meetings might rely on unspoken cues and reading the air (“kuuki wo yomu”), Malaysian meetings blend direct discussion with respect for subtlety.
  2. Evaluating and Trusting: In Japan, trust is earned through consistent performance and respect for hierarchy. In Mexico, trust is built through personal relationships and emotional connections. Malaysia combines these approaches, valuing both relational and performance-based trust. For instance, a Malaysian business deal often involves both rigorous due diligence and multiple social interactions to build mutual trust.
  3. Leading and Deciding: Japanese leadership is hierarchical and consensus-driven. Mexican leadership is more flexible and relationship-oriented. Malaysian leadership integrates these aspects, emphasising both respect for authority and the importance of personal connections. This is evident in the decision-making process, where Malaysian leaders may seek input from the team while maintaining a clear hierarchical structure.
  4. Disagreeing: Japan’s high-context culture often avoids direct confrontation. Mexico, while expressive, tends to prioritise harmony in disagreements. With its diverse influences, Malaysia encourages open discussion within a framework of respect. For example, disagreements in Malaysia are typically handled with tact and diplomacy, balancing directness with sensitivity to maintain harmony.

Personal Insights and Conclusions


Navigating these diverse cultural landscapes has been an enriching experience. My personal culture doesn’t map neatly to my home country, England, because I have spent many years travelling the world and working in various cultures. I communicate in business in a very low-context manner, valuing clarity and directness, while in personal relationships, I lean towards high-context communication, appreciating the nuances and unspoken elements. This dual approach allows me to build trust through relationships and connection, making working in relationship-based cultures such as Mexico, Japan, and now Malaysia particularly enjoyable.

Each culture, with its unique strengths and challenges, offers valuable lessons. Mexico reminded me of the importance of expressiveness and personal connections, Japan taught me the value of discipline and harmony, and Malaysia showcased the beauty of cultural diversity and communal spirit.

Embracing diversity and fostering an environment where ideas can flow freely yet respectfully can lead to innovative solutions and a more harmonious world. As I continue my journey, I am eager to learn more and share these experiences, hoping to inspire others to embrace the richness of cultural diversity.


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