This has already been semi-covered here and here to an extent (but not to my satisfaction).


Like it or not, the presumed cultural context of this site is likely that of a generic American office. So if someone asks, "What are some guidelines for appropriate social drinking in a work-related context?", we should probably assume they added "...in an American office" afterwards. As the related questions above point out, this is so incredibly dependent on culture.


As much as we can discuss adding tags for various regions, or adding cultural-context to our answers, new users will most likely ignore any such conventions and just end up going on the assumption that this site mirrors their situation (most likely US office work). And anyway, do we really want answers to have a section saying, "Well, here (in Uganda) we..." in response to a question that is most likely not from anyone involved with Ugandan office culture, and isn't clear that it is referring to Ugandan culture?


I'd like to add some points to the FAQ to tackle the cultural-context issue:

  • Questioners: If you don't state your cultural context clearly, we will assume you work in a Dilbert-esque American office
  • Answerers: If your answer is not based on a Dilbert-esque American office cultural-context, please be clear about what the context is
  • Answerers: Alternative cultural perspectives can add insight in to the question so long as they are properly labeled. Many people work in offices with people from many cultures, and/or companies that span multiple continents.
  • Commenters: The world is bigger than your backyard. Do not judge an answer by the culture it talks about, judge an answer by its clarity and quality. You may not agree with giving horse meat as a souvenir to your coworkers, that doesn't mean it's a bad answer if it is clear that is a good idea if you're in Japan.

The general point is that we should have a "default" assumed context for all non-specific questions and answers. We should encourage broader cultural answers so long as they are properly labeled. And we should be clear that the goal is to judge the usefulness of the answer within its context, not make a judgment on the practices of the culture.

  • 1
    You've put your finger on one of my pet peeves about this otherwise useful site. Most of the questions here cannot be answered without some knowledge of the culture of the workplace in question. Even if the OP makes the incorrect assumption that everyone works in the U.S.A., there are significant regional differences here as well. I do think that the FAQ should have some sort of guidance on this issue. Mar 12 '13 at 19:54
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    I see another bias in the site: almost all answers are given by/ and useful for those who work in an "anglosphere" firm. Apr 8 '13 at 17:23
  • While I love your idea I do not think these are actually appropriate for the FAQ... though I think they should be. May 8 '13 at 13:30
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    Downvoting because of "Like it or not, the presumed cultural context of this site is likely that of a generic American office." which implies that this attitude is somehow ok. In other words, Americans don't need to specify their location, but people from other countries have to do so. The Workplace is an international site, not an American site.
    – Masked Man
    Feb 24 '18 at 17:46

I agree with all the points in your solution but the first one.

We shouldn't be assuming anything about what culture people are in, if its not clarified and is important to the question then a comment should be left asking the OP to edit it in. After all the purpose of comments is supposedly to add value and clarity to the problem at hand.

Your other three points are very good, you say we should clarify the context to make sure it is useful to the right people and not judge it based on its culture, but the first seems to break this trend, lending more towards assumption than i think we should.

I guess the idea of having answers such as 'In Uganda' and 'In England' is because this site is supposed to be able to provide answers that will be useful to the current asker and to future askers, If someone asks about X in America and someone asks about the exact same thing in England in a seperate question, it would get closed as duplicate fairly quickly i can imagine.

I personally would prefer one question with all of the answers over one Question and Answer per culture, per question

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    I would love to have culturally labeled answers and non-culturally ambiguous questions, but at the end of the day, each question would then require the first comment to be, "What culture are you working in?" which means it should just be a required field, no? The required field could have a default based on IP address or the like which could save some headaches, but at the end of the day either it is mandatory (and should be built-in to the UI), needs to be asked each time, or it needs to be assumed.
    – jmac
    Feb 27 '13 at 23:19
  • I agree but its going the wrong way about it, we shouldnt be seeking culture specific questions , we should be seeking culture non specific answers. And yeah everyone will assume, but they assume its their OWN culture, which will give a variety of answers that will help a greater proportion of people
    – user5305
    Feb 27 '13 at 23:30
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    Which is why having an FAQ stating "this is the default" will at least inform people that they can (a) be specific about their culture, or (b) not be specific and have the above be assumed. And all questions are by nature culture-specific. There are very few questions which will have the same answer in the US/Western Europe/Eastern Europe/Asia/Africa (speaking as someone who's worked in 4 out of 5 of those places).
    – jmac
    Feb 27 '13 at 23:35

If context is necessary in order to properly answer a question then leave a clarifying comment on the question asking the asker to make an edit to clarify the missing details.

As for assumptions, it's a bit ethnocentric to assume that every asker is in the United States, regardless of whether that is statistically true or not. As RhysW mentions, even if we get answers from different viewpoints, as long as they answer the question and back up the answer with facts, references, specific expertise, or some experiences that happened to them personally, then the answers are useful to future visitors.

I'm not sure adding anything to the FAQ would be helpful, and I'd want to hear from others on that point before taking any actions.

With that said, clarifying the perspective is indeed important, and I would think it would be a necessary component of a good, solid, Workplace SE answer in order to satisfy the back it up rule. Thus, adding a clarifying comment to answers that miss this detail and encouraging answerers to fix it would be a great way to help alleviate this problem.

  • There is going to be a majority culture represented on this site. It is in English. It is on the internet. That greatly limits access for a majority of cultures on the planet. We can assume UK, or Australia, or Canada, or India if you'd like, but these are all very different cultures that require different focuses. I myself have been in Southeast Asia for 10 years, and am not advocating something easier for myself. At the end of the day, people will assume if there is no default stated, and that's why I believe stating the default will lessen confusion.
    – jmac
    Feb 27 '13 at 23:21
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    Hi @jmac, I'm sure people do make assumptions, and that's just human nature; however, we can't take an official stance on supporting an official locale on The Workplace SE, as that contradicts the global nature of Stack Exchange. I really appreciate you bringing up this issue and encourage you to keep coming up with ideas and possible solutions! :)
    – jmort253
    Feb 28 '13 at 4:52
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    I'm all for the global nature of SE. And I believe that should be promoted. And I'm certainly not suggesting to moderate/regulate on the basis of a single cultural view. If it isn't possible to take an official stance, could we at least add a caveat such as "Despite its global nature, X% of our users visit from (list of main countries) and approach many problems from that context as a default. We encourage you to be clear about your cultural context, especially in cases where it differs from those X%."
    – jmac
    Feb 28 '13 at 5:54
  • I have to agree with jmort253 we cant take an official 'default' stance or it WILL be misinterpreted by some in the wrong way, and its just not worth it given the large reach of sites like this. Should SO assume a default programming language? should travel assume a default location? should rpg assume a default game? given that this site is based on culture (of the workplace) we cant assume a default one
    – user5305
    Feb 28 '13 at 9:11
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    @jmac - I could see possibly adding something encouraging askers and answerers to keep cultural context in mind, as this could get people thinking about how their perspective may be different. However, in terms of listing percentages of traffic from country X, there are two challenges I see: First, those numbers could shift over time and become outdated. Second, they could add more bias to any assumptions that may or may not already exist.
    – jmort253
    Feb 28 '13 at 17:27
  • @jmort253 From my perspective, the bias/assumptions are already there. There are two possibilities, (A) eliminate the bias, or (B) explain that the bias exists and suggest ways to improve the quality of the site while acknowledging (but not condoning) the bias. I can't see (A) happening quickly, so I'd rather go with (B) while working on (A). You may disagree, as is your prerogative.
    – jmac
    Feb 28 '13 at 23:38
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    @jmac the problem with getting people to specify a culture is this. we would then have to have a question for each person who wanted to ask the identical question but from the perspective of a different culture, there would be too many duplicate questions just looking for the answer from a different cultural perspective, atleast this way all the answers are in one question, nice and tidy
    – user5305
    Mar 1 '13 at 14:12
  • That is a good point, and I think that should be (generally) avoided, but if the culture isn't specified, or the question relies greatly on culture, is it best to have a single question that may not meet more specific needs? Or are culture-based questions too 'localized'?
    – jmac
    Mar 2 '13 at 4:26
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    @jmac - To answer your question, it depends. Sometimes a single question can suffice while other times several questions with some key differences can be helpful. I'd be hesitant to mark a question that included culture as too localized as many cultures are huge. I see too localized as being reserved for those cases where the answers will be useless to an extremely large majority of future visitors, almost to the point where only the asker would benefit and no one else. Hope this helps! :)
    – jmort253
    Mar 2 '13 at 22:58

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