Cultural differences in reviews: fact or fiction?

Cultural differences in reviews: fact or fiction?

We’ve all heard the clichés about the Italian temperament: Italians are supposed to be very passionate, using elaborate gestures and even swear words, for example in traffic. But are these clichés confirmed when we analyze negative hotel reviews of Italian customers, comparing them to Dutch or British reviews? In short, are there differences between languages? And why should companies like TripAdvisor be interested in the answer to this question?

Cenni and Goethals (2017) tackled the issue. In their study, they compared the language use of Italian, Dutch and British tourists in negative reviews about hotels in Rome. The negative reviews they analyzed on TripAdvisor don’t confirm the clichés. On the contrary, there are many similarities to be found between them, both in terms of content and of format.

In negative reviews, all three nationalities mainly complain about the accommodation and service, and they are most positive about the location. The style of communication also contradicts the clichés. Those who believe that reviews written by Italians might contain more temperament seem to be mistaken. Nevertheless, the study did find some subtle differences:

Do the Dutch not consider their language as international?

 A first difference is that the Dutch tend to address the hotel management less directly in their Dutch reviews about hotels in Rome. A possible explanation could be that they assume Dutch is not an international language and chances are slim that their Dutch reviews will be read by the Italian hotel managers. What they don’t seem to realize is that their reviews can be automatically translated.

Do the Brits downplay their negativity?

Compared to the Dutch and Italians, the Brits take on a more moderate stance in their negative reviews. They counterbalance the negative criticism by listing and emphasizing positive points. They will write something like: “On the positive side, the location is ideal, and the staff was very helpful.” Brits seem to find the use of polite strategies important, in order to make their negative reviews sound less harsh.

Are we as tourists milder for our fellow countrymen?

Cenni and Goethals were able to determine that the Italian tourists are significantly more forgiving towards the hotel staff in Rome than the Dutch or British tourists. This changed when the hotel stall in Rome was of a different nationality. This suggests that tourists are more tolerant and amicable towards their fellow countrymen and that they are less forgiving towards people with a different background.

More similarities than differences: from separate language groups to a ‘global speech community’?

The research performed by Cenni and Goethals clearly shows that cultural differences are minimal when formulating reviews. For companies like TripAdvisor, this is useful information. It means that travel platforms can fully commit to automatic translation in order to remove the barriers between language groups. Online reviews seem to have become an established genre which is shaped similarly across multiple languages.



Emma Duron

Febe Lamkowski

Celine Buytaert


Cenni, Irene, and Patrick Goethals. 2017.“Negative Hotel Reviews on TripAdvisor: A Cross-Linguistic Analysis.” Discourse, Context & Media 16: 22-30. doi:10.1016/j.dcm.2017.01.004.

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