Cross-cultural communication in a postmodern business environment: the role of French language and culture in New Zealand-French business relations
In international business, notions of homogeneity and standardisation are promoted as necessary parts of the globalisation process. “One world” is equated with “one language” and English, portrayed as the global lingua franca, is seen as the only language needed to operate successfully in world markets. Using Jean Baudrillard’s theory of the cyclic superposition of the singular, universal and global as a framework and applying it to the business communications between New Zealand exporters and their French buyers, this thesis questions the beliefs underpinning Anglophone reliance on English, and the value of this reliance, in a postmodern business environment. It first examines historical shifts in attitudes to and use of both dominant “universal” languages and individual “singular” languages and finds that tensions tend to arise when dominant powers try to impose, in an imperialistic fashion, their language on the “Other”. It argues that the universal ideals of unity and openness popularly associated with globalisation are myths expounded by Anglophone big business, which, as the advocate of English as the language of international commerce, fails to recognise the hegemonic implications of its discourse. Through both qualitative and quantitative field research, it reaches the conclusion that, aside from a lack of attention paid to foreign languages in business, international business writers offer outdated and often erroneous cross-cultural advice for doing business in France. This cultural guidance is tainted by both the universalist/structuralist frameworks employed by the writers as well as their own inherent cultural assumptions, and is found to be of little use to New Zealand business people. By reviewing previous research, the thesis determines that New Zealand business has demonstrated a slight shift in attitude toward foreign language use in recent years. The results of my survey, designed to gauge the present attitudes to and use of French among New Zealand exporters, show that while some firms have embraced the idea of using French in business, most are still reliant on English for day-to-day business communications with their French customers. In the view of the latter, however, this behaviour does not foster efficient and equitable business relations. For the French, a New Zealand exporter prepared to use French in the French market would have a competitive advantage. Set in the context of Baudrillard’s paradigm, the thesis demonstrates that within the New Zealand-French business relationship the perpetual struggle between local and dominant languages continues to be a critical issue that requires urgent redress.