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Hal Shubin <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Hal Shubin <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 12 May 2005 13:16:08 -0400
text/plain (212 lines)
I asked if anyone had data on differences between American and European 
users. I'm doing a usability study of software written in Belgium, in 
English, for European users; the company is about to bring it to the US. I 
wondered if there were other differences like being in a hurry (and 
mentioned that I'm from New York, where everyone's in a hurry).

Thanks to all.

					-- hs

From: "Damian Couch" <[log in to unmask]>

Interesting questions.

I have done research all over the U.S. as well as in Europe (Italy, German, 
England). In my opinion your issues are greater than just U.S. vs. Europe. 
Germans are very punctual and Italians reminded me more of Mexicans, 
expressing things with a lot of emotion but being far more relaxed about 
time schedules. When I say "relaxed" I worked with people that were several 
hours "relaxed" within a day. Plus or minus half a day duration was okay 
with some of them and we were only conducting research for a couple hours. 
As far as drop-off and pick-up things might be plus or minus a few days or 
even a plus or minus a couple weeks. Again Germans......within 60 seconds 
was fine.

In general......very general....I would say that Americans are more uptight 
about expectations regarding time schedules than a lot of the world. But as 
I previously wrote Germans are very exacting in every way including time 

Yes are you receiving this information from someone else living in the 
state of NY but I have only been here six years and am originally from the 
west coast. There are HUGE differences between the east and west coasts of 
the U.S. as well as HUGE differences simply between Rochester, NY and NYC, NY.

If your client currently sells the software they no doubt have a 
demographic for the SW defined. This might play a larger role in linguistic 
expectations than countries. We in the tech industry are very time rushed 
and time conscious but those herding cattle elsewhere might accept "in due 

If I can assist you with any country specific knowledge based on my 
experience feel free to contact me. I'm glad to share what I know.

Damian Couch
Usability Engineer
Eastman Kodak Company

Interesting topic Hal even without the usability angle. My experiences with 
people in general have been that Americans are in a hurry most of the time 
but not all Americans. I'm from the New England area and find that here we 
scurry around constantly whether we are working or not, though more so when 
we are working. And at work we have high standards for ourselves and others 
and we are critcal of lower standards. This is not a good thing but it is 
reality I think.

I don't believe the same is true on the West Coast, at least in the Silcon 
Valley area. I spent quite a bit of time working there over a period of a 
few years. In the workplace, they are much more laid back in terms of being 
in a hurry though not so much in terms of their quality standards.

I've worked with a lot of Europeans but have only been to Belgium for work. 
I find the Europeans to have a much slower pace and to be less demanding in 
the workplace of themselves and of their output.

That is all I can offer. I hope it helps.


From: "Wells, Christy H" <[log in to unmask]>


I ran some usability sessions in London in 2001 and I'm also a fellow New 
Yorker. Here are my observations: The Londoners were far more "polite" and 
reserved about giving feedback than midwesterners (where I do most of my 
tests). We hired a native brit to do the facilitation because I was worried 
about my US accent and American mannerisms. Our facilitator remarked after 
a session that one fellow was very "ballsy" meaning he was very assertive 
about telling us what was wrong with the product. And that in itself kind 
of cracked me up, because "ballsy" isn't I word even I would use in a 
business context! So - for all their polite nature there were significant 
differences in terminology and what was considered "polite." It kind of 
hammered home to me the differences across the ocean. Other than that - I 
didn't find anything huge - our major differences were in the business 
model and some of the language we had used on the screen.

One other thing - we were testing a B2B application so our client offered 
up some of their employees for the test. We had some free gifts for their 
time, but at least half of them refused the gift due to ethical concerns. 
The gift was worth about a $20 and they had to travel out of their office 
to a facility in another part of the city.

Christy Wells
Product Manager
Enterprise Rent-A-Car


From:         Anita Salem <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: European and American users
X-To:         [log in to unmask]
To:           [log in to unmask]

Hi Hal,

I've been curious about this as well.  Even though most of my user 
experience work has been in the U.S., I've noticed some big differences in 
Asian and Russian ESL users here in the US.  Some things I've seen are more 
requests for background information--not "just the facts ma'am".  I've also 
heard more comments about the lack of imaging and a sense of humor.  And 
then repeatedly I come across different understandings of common terms and 
applications (My favorite was when my test question about disposing oil in 
the street drains led the user to look under food. Couldn't figure it out 
until we talked and it turns out that in his culture they are very heavy 
users of cooking oil and that was his problem with "oil".)

In trying to look at these cross-cultural issues, I came across some work 
by Aaron Marcus, who has applied a popular Dutch anthropologist's (Geert 
Hofstede) work on cultural dimensions to web site design.  Hofstede's work 
looks at cultural similarities and differences across five 
dimensions--power, individualism, femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and 
time orientation.  I found Aaron's discussion of how this applies to web 
site design interesting, and I think Hofstede's dimensions are a very 
useful lens to look at any culture.  However, I'm not sure about the 
validity of the approach.  It seems to border on stereotyping and 
Hofstede's methodology has been criticized.

I haven't really spent the time to pursue Hofstede's theory and was 
wondering if any one has come across it and knows if it is a "credible" theory.

For those interested, the Aaron Marcus article can be found at:

Anita Salem

          customer-driven product development

From: "Gart, Mitchell" <[log in to unmask]>
To: "Hal Shubin" <[log in to unmask]>

One quick comment is that I don't think you mean European vs American, I 
think you mean British vs American, because, for example, "in due course" 
doesn't mean much to a French-only speaker.  So you're really asking about 
differences between USA English and British English.

- Mitch Gart

From: "Edwin van de Bospoort" <[log in to unmask]>

A friend of mine (former collegue), is currently working on your continent 
(I'm in Europe, the Netherlands) and I popped your Q to him. Here's the 
answer, hope it helps:
Edwin van de Bospoort

I don't have any articles or statistics to back me up, but I'm of the 
opinion that there is a difference in attitude towards software/websites 
between Europe and N/A. Just as there is a difference between NY residents 
and the rest of N/A :p I think they mostly boil down to cultural 
difference, and thus all statements that follow are huge generalizations.

Most of the commercial websites in N/A wouldn't stand a change in Europe 
because they simple do not look professional. Americans tend to focus more 
on content/functionality and accept the fact that a commercial company 
wouldn't spend their dollars on 'chrome', usability, and other 
nice-to-have's. They rather see a discount. Europeans expect a proper 
design. The site needs to breath the authority and solidity of a large 

And maybe Americans are more critical of missing functionality. But then if 
you compare for instance banking websites across the pond you may concluded 
otherwise. Personally I think there is more of a difference in attitude 
between rural and city people. A New Yorker will react much the same as a 
Londoner, whereas somebody from Townsville NY may find they have a lot in 
common with somebody from Lutjebroek NL.

What's also important in my mind, is the difference in infrastructure 
between the two continents. This is something you have to take into 
consideration when you use internet technology. Europeans are blessed with 
solid mobile networks and high speed internet throughout their continent. 
Whereas if you live in rural America you tend to have dialup (28.8kb modem 
is what we use as a design constraint). Mobile phones are not nearly as 
prevalent as in Europe and the service is spotty and limited. No internet 
on your phone. At best you will have picture messaging. If your application 
generates heavy traffic you may want to look into that.

If you want to localize your software, then there is a lot of stuff written 
up on that. IBM has a lot of experience in this area. Typically you'll have 
to make sure that the software is internationalized first (i.e. all 'local' 
information is insulated from the rest of the logic), otherwise you're 
looking at a _huge_ effort, and you may want to lower the bar (and have 
those NYers suffer. Oh well, they can take it. After all they put up with 
each other all the time;). 

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