Currency as a frame of a reference

Currency as a frame of a reference

When you read the title of this post I bet you were thinking – what does currency have to do with cross-cultural communication?

A frame of reference refers to the notion we each interpret the world differently from our unique, personal experiences in life. It’s like we’re looking through a pair of tinted glasses. Of course, there are many aspects of the culture that we grew up in that form our unique tinted lenses: Exploring these is an important part of understanding cross-cultural communication.

Well I have made a recent discovery. The currency of my country is a significant frame of reference for me when overseas.

Specifically, I’m talking about shopping. Visiting India, there can be no doubt that I did a LOT of shopping. But I am a savvy shopper and I like to make sure that I’m getting a great deal (especially when you can bargain). So in my head, (or admittedly, more often on my phone’s calculator), I was always converting Indian Rupee back into Australian Dollars. On reflection, a light bulb went on: how do I decide whether something is expensive or cheap?

Even within one’s own country, the answer to that question will be relative. For example, someone earning not much might think a $20 T-Shirt is expensive. Someone earning a lot might think that it’s extremely cheap. There will also be other factors, like how they were raised etc, that will influence this.

SO why is this important when in another culture? Well, I went shopping with a friend from India. Whilst I constantly had to convert into dollars, she mentioned she had to make sure she didn’t do that, because she earns Indian Rupee, whereas I earn dollars. Because of the conversion rate, almost everything in India seems cheaper than Australia. But if I was living in India, and not comparing to Australia, then of course some of those things would seem expensive.

I hope I’m explaining this properly 🙂 Basically, my frame of reference of whether something was cheap or expensive in India, was to compare it to the prices in Australia and what I consider cheap/expensive there. So you can imagine that this would have significant impact in cross-cultural communication. For example, in business dealings, what is considered cheap versus expensive may significantly impact the bottom line of a business, or how gifts are received, or how dinners at certain priced restaurants are perceived.

It is always surprising how many aspects of culture are not visible, yet so important to communication. Discovering them, experiencing them and learning from them is what gets me excited about cross-cultural interactions!


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