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n.b. I'm creating this post as a guide and canonical reference for why an answer to a question that lists a different culture may not always be appropriate and acceptable.

As you may already have heard, Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange is a place for asking and answering questions about specific social interactions. Sometimes, answering these questions may prove to be a little bit difficult, answers will always require knowledge and awareness of the specific circumstances surrounding the situation, and the society and culture from within the situation is formed. For this reason, we also expect the same from questions as well.

Answers to questions will generally derive from your personal experiences, or from credible references that you have found elsewhere. Under the site's Back It Up! Rule, this is required.

But sometimes, you just may not be familiar with the culture, society, or situation that the asker is in. You may feel compelled to answer with your own experiences or knowledge, even if it may not be relevant to the question. Answering with "related" ideas is wrong, and we are here to tell you why.

The issue of "related answers": Why your Pakistani answer may not work for India.

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There's been a lot of chatter about the need for cultural sensitivity of this site, and the need for the community to understand that their experiences may not apply to others. The context for this has been stated very well by HDE2286868, in his answer to Just the facts ma'am. Or reigning in answers:

Talking about a different country might not help anyone. If I ask a question about Y in, say, Trinidad, and someone gives me an answer about Y in Indonesia, then there's no guarantee that that answer will ever help anyone else. Who knows if an Indonesian will ever have this problem? That's my counterargument to the fear that limiting questions to one country will lead to an explosion of questions on the same topic but for different places - the odds of people in so many different regions having the same questions are slim.

Trinidad and Indonesia were used as examples there because they offered good contrast. But what about answers for countries that appear to be culturally and societally similar? For the rest of this answer, I'm going to use the three largest countries of South Asia: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.


Measuring Cultures Objectively

You're probably wondering, but wait Ziz! India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were once united, and they've grown together! You're right, but also wrong. Each country has different demographics and politics. Even within each country, there are stark differences between cities and states. The state of Kerala, India is very different from the state of Gujarat, India. Even the Pakistani cities of Islamabad and Karachi can have many differences.

That said, all three countries, states and cities do have elements of culture that are common. They have similar faith traditions, they may have common languages (despite the fact that India along has over 1700 languages), diverse peoples... This is also something that can't be ignored.

But I haven't really provided you with many examples. So I'm going to show you Geert Hofstede, who was an anthropologist who created the Cultural Dimensions Theory. The theory attempts to objectively determine cultural tendencies and attitudes through six areas:

  • Power Distance: The idea that people have different roles and statuses within society. High scores generally indicate acceptance of hierarchies and defined social positions.
  • Individualism and Communalism: The idea that people focus more on how to help themselves, than their communities.
  • Masculinity and Femininity: "Masculine" societies tend to have more competition and achievement, whereas "Feminine" societies tend to focus more on quality of life, generosity and caring for others. (Yes, I know the terms aren't accurate)
  • Uncertainty Avoidance: High scoring societies tend to have strict social norms that must be followed - how much society will embrace change and differences.
  • Long-Term Orientation: The tendency for society to look to the future, and how "fluid" society can be to change.

Now that you have an overview of the theory, how do the three countries compare?

Hofstede Evaluations: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh

Source: https://geert-hofstede.com/india.html | Add Pakistan and Bangladesh to the chart to replicate the graph

I'm not going to give you an analysis of each culture under the theory, but the graph displays quite well that each three cultures have both their similarities and differences, despite being from the same region and often being classed together.

The point is, cultures and societies can be awfully different, even if they appear to be similar.


How this affects our answers

Since all of our answers need to be supported by credible reference or personal experience, and now that we've established that even cultures that we consider to be similar may be very different, there are still a few points to keep in mind:

  • First off, nobody is going to have the same experiences as everybody else. Don't read this too literally, and find a difference that you can find between an answer and a question.

  • Second, you can still always provide an answer to your question with a "related" question. In many situations, the answers could be the same! What you need to make sure, is how you're answer is relevant - since you're not coming from the same background, you need to establish this connection

  • Nothing else. Keep answering in line with the Back It Up policy!

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    The "back it up policy" doesn't seem to be a settled issue, and the link you point to seems to say that pretty directly. This one may be a better fit: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/q/1255/16 – apaul Jul 24 '17 at 3:58
  • @apaul34208 Oh yeah, I was going to do that. Looks like I forgot! I'm changing it to this: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/a/181/16 – Zizouz212 Jul 24 '17 at 4:15
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    Still might be better to wait for the post/rule to have more support before using it as a reference. – apaul Jul 24 '17 at 4:17
  • @apaul34208 I see where you are coming from... The reason why I'm slightly reluctant there is because the focus is on whether answers deriving from personal experience is okay, whereas the latter is dealing with the entire answer quality standards in general. – Zizouz212 Jul 24 '17 at 4:19
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    There seems to be a missing bullet point: only five of the six cultural dimensions are defined. – Peter Taylor Jun 6 '18 at 9:48

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