Educating the Expatriate in Papua

Like many traditional societies in Hofstedes typology, PNG is also called a feminine society, in the emphasis it places upon relationships. The nation would be characterized very much as a high context culture, one in which relational status is very important when conveying meaning. How information is conveyed is more important than the actual wording of the message. Nonverbal language is very important in high context cultures, and it can be very difficult for cultural outsiders to translate the dominant cultural script into their own terms. The culture is very change resistant in PNG, and this is exacerbated by logistical difficulties, such as the lack of highly qualified IT and business professionals to teach current undergraduates to pass on information about new ways of doing business.

Behaviors, ethnocentrism, self-reference criteria

However, while it has been called feminine in terms of its valuation of relationships, an observer should know that for most of existence PNG has been plagued by warfare: “to ensure that war could continue in a sustainable fashion, tribes needed to create customs that allowed them to maintain relationships with neighboring tribes even while they were fighting each otherBoth tribes thoroughly enjoyed their constant state of war. It helped maintain group identity and perhaps controlled population” during times of famine (Cultural differences between Australia and Papua New Guinea, 2010, Convict Creations). War between tribes is thus accepted in PNG under controlled circumstances, and showing strong allegiance to ones allies is expected in the nation.

Ethnic or social personality

Collectivist societies are face-conscious and losing face is considered “humiliating and painful” (Kelegai & Middleton 2002: 13-14). “Most people will be offended if you walk by and greet without stopping for a chat. This communicates that you do not have time for them, do not care, etc. It is considered better to express a criticism through a colleague or friend, rather than face-to-face” (Papua New Guinea: Communication style, 2010, Culture crossing). When dealing with employees, direct criticism should be avoided, if at all possible, given that what might be acceptable in a westernized context would be considered a sign of profound disrespect in PNG. Additionally, businessperson must be mindful of the need to respect kin groups, and to show respect and deference to informal as well as formal authorities: showing disrespect to a member of an individuals kin group is often seen as tantamount to showing disrespect to the other individuals associated with him or her. Barriers between individuals are not as clearly-defined in the U.S.

, and the definition of ones self is heavily interdependent.

Business etiquette

In PNG, the family is of great importance as are family and friend-based alliances. A businessperson must understand that personality and who you know is often of greater importance than what you know. Both traditional as well as cash economies exist within PNG, and while the economy has been expanding due to the robust health of the commodity prices of many of the regions cash crops, the governments control, particularly over local areas, can be unfocused and diffuse (Papua New Guinea: Communication style, 2010, Culture crossing). The fact that loyalty is perceived to be owned to local rather than national authorities amongst the populace and what might be called bribery in other areas is considered a sign of respect may be frustrating for many westerners.

It is essential to be prepared for the customs of different clans and tribes: physical gestures of affection between friends tend to be more accepted in PNG, and a closer sense of physical space amongst business colleagues is accepted, but it is best to watch how natives of the region behave, especially towards members of the opposite sex, to avoid offense. In general, direct eye contact is expected and personal displays of friendship and affection, like inviting someone over to someones house, are expected to be accepted and reciprocated, and are a natural part of doing business.


Cultural differences between Australia and Papua New Guinea. (2010). Convict Creations.

Retrieved November 8, 2010 at

Kelegai, Limbie & Michael Middleton. (2002). Information technology education in Papua New

Guinea: Cultural, economic and political influences. Journal of Information Technology

Education, 1 (1): 11-24. Retrieved November 8, 2010 at

Papua New Guinea: Communication style. (2010). Culture crossing. Retrieved November 8,

2010 at.

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