About Dianne Hofner Saphiere

There are loads of talented people in this gorgeous world of ours. We all have a unique contribution to make, and if we collaborate, I am confident we have all the pieces we need to solve any problem we face. I have been an intercultural organizational effectiveness consultant since 1979, working primarily with for-profit multinational corporations. I lived and worked in Japan in the late 70s through the 80s, currently live in and work from México, where with a wonderful partner I'm raising a bicultural, global-minded teenager (I hope!). I have worked with organizations and people from over 100 nations in my career. What's your story?

Are Emoji the Newest World Language?

World_Languages_by_Number_of_SpeakersHow many languages are there in the world? Do you know just how many have died off? Or will go extinct soon? How about this: do you know how to rescue those that are endangered? And what about new languages emerging in our world today? Are there any? If so, what are they? Do you know the world’s newest language? We put together this short quiz to get you thinking and test your knowledge.

When a language disappears, it often takes with it a great deal of the history of a community. It limits what scientists can learn about human cognition: fewer languages mean fewer data sets. Loss of a language too often means a loss of social and cultural identity, at least partially.

Much of the cultural, spiritual, and intellectual life of a people is experienced through language. This ranges from prayers, myths, ceremonies, poetry, oratory, and technical vocabulary to everyday greetings, leave- takings, conversational styles, humor, ways of speaking to children, and terms for habits, behaviors, and emotions. When a language is lost, all of this must be refashioned in the new language-with different words, sounds, and grammar- if it is to be kept at all. Frequently traditions are abruptly lost in the process and replaced by the cultural habits of the more powerful group. —The Linguistic Society

We’ve published here on this blog several instances of native peoples in the Americas breathing new life into their languages, cultures, ceremonies and traditions, and we’d very much like to encourage such efforts. If we all do our part, we can preserve, and help thrive, many of the endangered languages in our world. And what about new languages that are emerging? Some of them aren’t really “new,” they are just redefined. Here again from the Linguistic Society:

Consider the language formerly known as Serbo-Croatian, spoken over much of the territory of the former Yugoslavia and generally considered a single language with different local dialects and writing systems. Within this territory, Serbs (who are largely Orthodox) use a Cyrillic alphabet, while Croats (largely Roman Catholic) use the Latin alphabet. Within a period of only a few years after the breakup of Yugoslavia as a political entity, at least three new languages (Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian) had emerged, although the actual linguistic facts had not changed a bit.

Others, however, really are new. My guess is that the newest language in the world just might be emoji (絵文字), or the language of emoticons. “That’s not really a language!” you might be thinking. And, right now, I would agree. But there is a definite trend.

From iConji.com

From iConji.com

  1. Emoji is one of the 260 languages into which Herman Melville’s Moby Dick has been translated.
  2. The iConji project aims to build a successful successor to Esperanto, a language that unites speakers of any language.
  3. The emoji narration of Beyoncé’s Drunk in Love (view video below) has had millions of viewers.
  4. The Unicode Consortium has standardized hundreds of emoticons, and
  5. Members of the Noun Project are working on a visual dictionary—an icon for every object—and they currently have 60,000. You can be part of history and upload your own icon!

History of Emoji Very cool to me is how emoticons came to exist. It’s all due to the low-context, difficult-to-decipher reality of digital communication. Virtual workers in the early 80s found it wise to start labeling jokes with smiles :-) so that others wouldn’t misunderstand them. Soon after the smiley face came the sad face :-( and the wink ;-). Then, in 1999, NTT Docomo’s Kurita Shigetaka figured visual cues would improve the mobile phone experience. His initial efforts were inspired by manga, Japanese comics. These Japanese roots are why this language is called emoji: picture, 絵 (e), plus character, letter, or writing, 文字 (moji). We see Paleolithic cave drawings, Sumerian cuneiforms, and Egyptian hieroglyphics as languages, so hey, maybe emoji are, too. Do you speak emoji? I think this is also a generational culture difference; young people seem to speak it much more fluently than I. Guess I have some learning to do!

5 Things Mexicans Say to Avoid the Word “No”

Excellent article by Susannah Rigg

MEXICANS ARE VERY POLITE and can seem downright formal compared to residents of other Spanish-speaking countries. People greet each other in elevators, on buses, and shared taxis almost always with “con permiso,” — “with your permission,” — and “propio” — “you may grant your own permission, as you don’t need mine.”

I love all this about Mexican culture. However, it took me a long time to realize that, because of all the politeness, Mexicans really struggle to say “no” and will find any number of ways to avoid the accursed word. Here are just a few examples.

1. Yes

It’s very common in Mexico that yes means no….

Read more here

How to Get Promoted in 3 Hours

mexican-american flagsI’m going to tell you a real story, of an actual person, who was promoted to a management position from an administrative assistant position because of a three-hour workshop she conducted for her bosses.

How’d it happen? The woman, let’s call her Yolanda, worked for a very large multinational in Texas. The firm, of course, did a lot of business with Mexico. Over the ten years or so Yolanda had been with the company, she’d worked for a succession of bosses, most of whom did not understand Mexican culture and had committed many errors, losing opportunity and revenue, as well as credibility, for themselves and the company. Yolanda is Mexican-American, and her bosses’ actions used to frustrate and embarrass her. She could see that her bosses could be a lot more effective, she wanted to help, but she didn’t know where to begin to explain Mexican culture to her bosses. She was an administrative assistant, not a consultant, executive coach, or trainer.

Enter Cultural Detective. Yolanda looked over the Cultural Detective Mexico package. It made sense to her. She intuitively understood the values in the package’s Mexican Values Lens. She could tell stories from her own organizational experience to illustrate each value and correlating negative perception. Yolanda had so many stories, stories that were real, that had cost her company money and, in some cases, staff.

Yolanda got her four bosses to agree to a three-hour “lunch and learn,” during which she’d teach them about Mexican culture. She was excited, but she was also scared. She wasn’t a facilitator, she’d never studied culture or cross-cultural communication. But, she knew her organization, she knew her bosses, and she knew both US American and Mexican cultures. So, she gave the workshop her best.

At the outset of her seminar, Yolanda told her bosses a story—a story they clearly recognized from their own experience, a story of a time they’d been frustrated, and less than successful. They all knew the details; she had only to remind them of the event she was talking about. Yolanda drew a Cultural Detective Worksheet on the flip chart. She asked her bosses what they had done in that situation. Then, she asked them to think about why they had done what they’d done—what was the underlying “common sense” that motivated their behavior? That wasn’t so easy, but they did it. And it proved pretty insightful. They hadn’t consciously thought about the reasons for their actions, hadn’t spent time thinking about how culture-bound their behavior was. This was Yolanda’s first successful “aha” of the three hours.

Next, she asked them what their Mexican colleagues had done in the given situation. Yolanda encouraged her bosses to quote the words that were said and the actions the Mexicans took. Of course, her bosses said things like, “I couldn’t trust them,” “he wouldn’t tell me the truth,” or “they went behind our backs,” but on the flip chart she recorded the actual words and behavior of the Mexican colleagues. Yolanda then asked her bosses to do the same thing for the Mexicans that they had done for themselves. She said, “Maybe your colleagues really were dishonest, untrustworthy, conniving. But, for the sake of learning, for a few minutes let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. What could have been the positive intentions behind their words and actions? If we look at your side of this Worksheet, you have all positive intent, nothing negative. Let’s see if we can’t fill in their side the same way. Maybe at the end we decide to throw it all out, decide that they were just bad people. But first let’s see.”

Her bosses came up with several guesses—possible motivators of their Mexican counterparts’ behavior. Then Yolanda filled in a couple more, explaining the reasons these colleagues had probably acted and responded the way they had. Her bosses said things like, “That makes sense,” “I’d never considered that before,” and “so I did exactly the wrong thing; I shot myself in the foot!” Her bosses experienced their second “aha” of the workshop.

Next, Yolanda handed out a copy of Cultural Detective Mexico to each of her bosses. She walked them through the Mexican Values Lens, telling stories from her organizational experience. She asked them how they felt about each of the values, and reminded her bosses that each Mexican is unique—that the values in the Lens are societal tendencies. After introducing the Values Lens, she focused her bosses’ attention back on the Worksheet. Now they had lots of ideas about why their Mexican colleagues might have acted the way they did. And even more importantly, her bosses had lots of ideas on how they could have acted in ways more conducive to achieving their business objectives—to bridging cultures. A third round of “aha” learning was achieved.

The three hours sped by quickly. Her bosses learned so much. Their ability to do business in Mexico and with Mexicans was greatly enhanced. They learned about themselves, about their own personal and US cultural values, which enabled them to better explain themselves to any new colleague, whether Mexican, Chinese, or US American. And, very key to me, Yolanda’s bosses learned what a valuable asset she was as a cultural resource. They began using Yolanda as a sounding board, asking her to help them write emails and reports, and also to help plan strategy. Within a couple of months, Yolanda left her job as an administrative assistant because she was promoted to a more prestigious and much better paid management position. She achieved her dream of being able to travel for business, and she loved the kind of work she was able to do. Her company gained an employee who was confident and able to use her bicultural heritage in ways that added value.

Now, I’m not promising that using Cultural Detective will get you a promotion, but if you and your organization work across cultures—and what organization doesn’t these days—you will definitely gain a whole lot of skill and expertise by using Cultural Detective. Add it to your priority list! Start building your intercultural competence by attending one of our free 90-minute webinars, or subscribing to (and using!) Cultural Detective Online today.

A value for culture leads to business value

Dianne Hofner Saphiere:

Thank you for helping us promote and build intercultural competence, Marjorie and Don! Very nice article!

Originally posted on Marjorie Munroe's 5 Minute Mediator:

As a Canadian I am informal, consensus building, highly individualistic, and reserved before building trust and relationships through successful projects. I also define myself to a large extent by not being a Yank.

Do these generalizations sound familiar?

Cultural value lenses help us understand each other.

I learned from Don Rutherford, a facilitator who has consulted for many years with different organizations around the world, that identifying trends and generalizations about different cultures can help us work together more effectively. Don pointed out that generalizing vs. stereotyping is an important distinction.  Generalizing helps to make better decisions. For example, I generally know that if I leave the house at 8 to get downtown it will take me 20 minutes longer than if I leave the house at 9, and I organize my day accordingly.

Don produced the Canadian Values Lens for Cultural Detective.  When Don introduced Michelle and I to the Cultural Detectives Value Lenses we were struck…

View original 172 more words

Let’s Investigate What Makes Cultural Detective Unique

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Country Navigator™, GlobeSmart®, CultureWizard™, Cultural Navigator® and their logos are the property of their respective parent companies.

We get calls and emails every day, asking us how Cultural Detective compares with some of the other intercultural tools on the market. Thank goodness people are passionate about developing intercultural knowledge and skills, and that there are so many intercultural tools available! That’s a big change in the last two decades, and a huge step in the direction of building intercultural competence in our organizations, our communities, and ourselves!

Most of the well-known development tools in the field—Cultural Detective®, Country NavigatorTM, GlobeSmart®, CultureWizardTM, and Cultural Navigator®, among others, use a values-based approach to understanding cultural differences. Such a method has proven significantly more effective than a “do’s and don’ts” approach, because behavior depends on context. Thus, do’s-and-don’ts advice is frequently erroneous because it has little or no connection to a specific situation you may find yourself confronting.

In addition to a shared focus on values, these tools share the aim of improving cross-cultural understanding. That, however, is about where the similarity ends. Comparing Cultural Detective and the other tools on the market is difficult because, according to leading intercultural competence researcher Doug Stuart, “it’s like comparing apples and oranges.” Both fruits are tasty, and they go well together in a salad, but they are oh-so-different on nearly every other criterion!

Goals

Cultural Detective (CD) is a process-based tool designed to improve communication and collaboration. The other tools mentioned above are designed to compare and contrast cultures. There are strengths in both of these goals, and they can complement one another very well. But the differing goals make these tools fundamentally different species.

Dimensions

Dimensions-based tools allow users to easily compare whether Chinese are more group-oriented than Japanese or Brazilians, and how we personally compare with the national averages of each of those places. The creators of the best of these tools conduct a lot of research to produce statistically reliable comparison data. According to Doug, the strength and weakness of a dimensional comparison (for example, where a culture or an individual stands on Hierarchy vs. Egalitarianism) is that we get a clear general picture of how different two populations may be, but no specifics on how that difference looks behaviorally. The numbers on the scales produced by these tools are culture-specific, but the categories are universal and broad.

Process

Cultural Detective helps develop skill and strategy, both culture-general and culture-specific. The core method is a process designed for use and practice over time, in specific situations and multiple cultures, so that it becomes second nature. Thus, Cultural Detective provides appropriate stimulation at all stages of intercultural competence development. Users develop critical thinking skills to discern similarities, differences, and how best to leverage them for mutual benefit.

Context

Cultural Detective is contextually grounded—the method centers on stories or critical incidents. This reinforces the need to understand people as complex individuals who are influenced by multiple cultures including gender, generation, professional training, sexual orientation, spiritual tradition, organizational and national culture, and lived multicultural experience—not just passport nationality.

Inside-Out vs. Outside-In

Cultural Detective looks at culture from the inside-out. Values Lenses focus on the core values natives of the culture hold near and dear. These are the same values that often confuse non-members of the culture and get in the way of cross-cultural collaboration. This approach enables a native, or someone very familiar with a culture, to explain the culture in a meaningful way to a newcomer. We might consider these Value Lenses as extremely culture-specific “themes” (internal discourse, logic or “common sense”) that are intimately tied to behaviors, and easily and meaningfully illuminated through stories. A culture is a unique expression of these themes, which are difficult or impossible to capture successfully within broad global dimensions.

The other tools mostly look at culture from the outside-in, comparing national cultures according to well-researched categories such as Power Distance or Achievement/Ascription. A table of cultural dimensions that contrasts China and Japan tells you nothing practical about how people behave. Comparing Cultural Detective Values Lenses for China and Japan offers a completely different, immediately applicable line of inquiry: what are the underlying motivators of people’s behavior? Both approaches have their strengths, and many successful coaches, trainers, and educators use them in combination.

Self-Assessment

Many of the other intercultural tools on the market provide users a self-assessment, which, when completed, statistically compares them with their home society and other cultures. Users love seeing themselves, their values and style, especially when correlated with numbers or illustrated in a chart—it’s interesting and engaging.

Cultural Detective users reflect on their personal values, developing a Personal Values Lens that they can compare and contrast with those of team members, their own or other cultures. One approach is dimensions-based, the other based on qualitative analysis. Used in combination, one enhances the other. But they are two very different animals.

Experiential

Cultural Detective Online encourages learners to upload and analyze real stories from their own lives. Users can easily integrate the system’s Values Lenses and Worksheet into analysis of their personal critical incidents. They can invite team members to help them fine-tune the story and the debriefing. As Doug says, “While the cultural themes of Cultural Detective Value Lenses are very transparent to natives and, thus, easily illustrated by stories, the dimensions-based tools usually require an experienced cultural trainer to create ‘critical incidents’ illustrating universal dimension differences, which are more difficult to specify behaviorally across cultures (unless one is very familiar with both cultures). Simply summarized, universal dimensions are generic; they provide a good ‘first look’ at how different two cultures might be. To actually understand those differences as they play out behaviorally, we need the Cultural Detective’s Value Lenses.”

Cultural Detective is not your father’s intercultural tool, to paraphrase an auto industry advert. It utilizes a “culture-specific” approach, while simultaneously building users’ “culture-general” understanding. It provides not just a knowledge base, but a personal skill base from which to strengthen intercultural competence. Best of all, it can be used in a variety of settings to help facilitate intercultural communication and collaboration. Our global team of 130 continues to work hard to collaboratively build a productivity tool that will deepen your learning and jumpstart your effectiveness. Give it a spin! Join us in one of our upcoming free webinars to learn more, and receive a 3-day pass to Cultural Detective Online!

4 Methods of Learning Culture

cover_selfdiscovery copy

“…the things we take for granted can trip us up and cause untold discomfort and frequently anger.” Edward Hall (“How Cultures Collide,” Psychology Today, July, 1976.)

It is generally acknowledged that it is important to understand one’s own cultural values before we can begin to understand another’s worldview, let alone develop intercultural competence. Cultural Detective Self Discovery offers a way to investigate our own values through a series of guided questions designed to help us discover more about ourselves. Below is an excerpt from Cultural Detective Self Discovery by Dianne Hofner Saphiere, George Simons, and Kate Berardo in which we address various approaches to culture learning.

Why learn about such a complex thing as culture? Certainly no one can learn everything about every other culture or even about one’s own, so why try at all?

At a very practical level, having the ability to work across cultures is a key skill in daily life and the workplace. When we think about “culture” as different organizational departments, communities, regions, companies, nations, genders, or religions, we realize that we cross cultures daily and constantly.

While we can never learn everything about every culture, what we can do is know our own values and how they affect us. We can be determined to go beyond auto-pilot thinking and to question our assumptions. We can approach working across cultures with curiosity and the intent to learn about others. Doing all this helps us to communicate more effectively and to avoid misunderstandings that lead to bad feelings and conflicts. In communities, this translates into greater cohesion. In the workplace, it means higher productivity, creativity, and synergy.

Encountering people who see the world differently, act differently, and speak differently challenges us to understand others and become more open and creative.

As Cultural Detectives, we want to understand what makes people tick. So where do we begin? There are a number of approaches to learning about cultures:

The Etiquette & Customs Approach
First of all, it is useful to know about people’s customs and habits, for example, when and how they greet others. There are many books on this topic, from professional studies to popular travel guides. There are videos and websites that help us know how to behave in everyday encounters with people who are different from us. Knowing what behavior is expected in particular situations can help us enormously—we can more quickly feel comfortable and blend in a bit, and we can prevent some unintentional insults. The downsides to this approach are that it is 1) difficult to memorize a long list of do’s and don’ts; 2) too easy to misunderstand which situations call for which behavior; 3) too easy to act stereotypically—in other words, the rules will not apply in all situations; and, of course, 4) most people do not expect outsiders to behave like insiders. Learning customs and habits is one way of getting to know others, but is not the only—nor necessarily the most effective—strategy.

The Language Learning Approach
We can also learn the language of our colleagues, clients, students, or neighbors. This could mean anything from learning their slang or TLAs (three-letter abbreviations) to mastering Arabic, Mandarin, or Verlan. Language is, of course, a key to understanding how people think, how they see the world, and what is important to them. It is supremely valuable for communicating across cultures. But, learning another tongue takes a long time. Learning their language may not be a step that you have time to take before interacting with people from another culture. Yet, you will certainly benefit from picking up that phrase book and learning at least a few polite words. So what then?

The Cultural Dimensions Approach
Another approach is to learn models of culture that help alert us to those areas where in our differences are likely to show up and where the differences will make a difference. For example, some people have a deep respect for authority and hierarchy—the boss is important and is to be treated accordingly, while other groups are very egalitarian—in meetings it is hard to tell who the boss is or even whether there is one. Or, you find that some people are likely to proceed on their own as individuals while others are inclined to act only when everybody in their group is in agreement.

To catch sight of the broad range of differences within which people think and act, it sometimes helps to use the dozen or so dimensions of difference developed by Western intercultural researchers. These models can help us recognize, classify, and respond appropriately to differences. They are categories of the ways in which people may be different. But they do not necessarily tell us why these differences work the way they do, or how these differences are viewed by our colleagues and neighbors.

Some of these categories of cultural difference ask us to look at ourselves and others to see whether…
  • We feel in control of our lives and our world, or if fate, destiny or other forces outside of us have a decisive impact on our lives.
  • We think deductively or inductively.
  • We focus, when we first work together, on taking action or on forming relationships.
  • We believe that rules and laws apply uniformly to everyone, everywhere, or that rules and laws need to be applied differently in different circumstances.

You can learn more about such categories from the work of Edward Hall and Geert Hofstede, who are among the pioneers of modern intercultural studies.

The Cultural Detective Approach
A powerful way to understand the motives of others and ourselves is by learning about core values. As a Cultural Detective we want to know what lies behind peoples’ many differences and what drives the gestures, words, and preferences of the people with whom we interact. What better way to learn than to have people themselves tell us what they value and how it motivates them to speak and act? The Cultural Detective Method begins by looking at a culture’s core values as they are seen by the people in that culture and by people who have experienced the culture deeply.

We encourage you to learn more about yourself and your core values via the Cultural Detective Self Discovery package. It has been used extensively by educational institutions, businesses, NGOs, and individuals throughout the world, and is currently available in a printable PDF format.

We are pleased to announce that Cultural Detective Self Discovery will soon be available as part of your subscription to Cultural Detective Online. Watch here for details in the coming months!

Cultural “Madeleines”

Image from "Foodies," a blog by L. John Harris on Zester Daily

Image from “Foodies,” a blog by L. John Harris on Zester Daily

Another terrific guest blog post by CD Russia co-author Carrie Cameron, combining two of your favorites: food and literature. Smells and tastes evoke our deepest memories, and for Blended Culture people they can easily lead to a round-the-world reverie…

Perhaps you’re familiar with the famous madeleine of Marcel Proust’s A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past, or In Search of Lost Time, depending on the translation). The author takes a bite of a madeleine, a simple cookie, and the taste-memory drifts him off on a long reverie of his childhood, connecting him to the people and moments of long ago:

“…when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring…remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, by Anya von Bremzen, is not a cookbook, but a literary madeleine, evoking through food memories her childhood in Soviet Russia. It’s not about her favorite foods or emblematic Russian dishes. It’s about how a taste connects us with a moment in time and space.

Vobla, dried and salted Caspian roach fish, “brings out that particular Russian masochism: we love it because it’s such a torment to eat…I’d happily trade all Hemingway’s snails and Proust’s cakes for a strip of [this] petrified fish flesh.” A half-piece of black-market Juicy Fruit gum takes her back to the girls’ bathroom in elementary school, where she would auction it off to the other girls, having obtained it through some elite family connections. She describes salat Olivier as a “metaphor for a Soviet émigré’s memory… loosely cemented with mayo.” In her mother’s American kitchen in the 90’s, making the salat, she notes how “a taste of Lebanese pickle that uncannily resembles a Russian gherkin leads to a snippet from a Rodina song, which in turn rouses a political morality tale, or reawakens a recollection of a long-ago dream, of a fleeting pang of yearning.” Starting from these tastes and smells, the author skillfully depicts the cultural intimacies of a point in time and place which no longer exists, yet is very real and alive in her memory.

What tastes and smells evoke your cultural insights? What clues do they provide to other ways of life, and why?? Post your answers in the comments, and let’s compare!

I’m From….

Dianne Hofner Saphiere:

Sometimes our youth capture the depth and beauty, and reality, of experience more effectively than more mature adults. Personally, I loved this TCK/Blended Culture poem. Kudos to Adelaide!

Originally posted on Communicating.Across.Boundaries :

I’m From…by Robynn and Adelaide

passport-Adelaide

Adelaide is a sophomore in high school. She’s in grade 10. The Language Arts teacher wanted them to write a poem introducing themselves to her and to the class. It was a simple assignment. Five short stanzas. Two lines each. Begin each stanza with, “I’m from…”. Apparently the teacher’s included lines like, “I’m from the yellow kitchen, blue popsicles and red posies. I’m from the white house, the fenced yard, the barking beagle”.

It’s a good assignment.

Theoretically.

Unless where you’re from is convoluted. Unless you’ve inherited some confusion on that particular subject. Unless it’s too long of a story to be captured neatly in five short stanzas.

And then it’s not such a great assignment.

Adelaide cranked out a rough draft. The teacher read it over Adelaide’s shoulder. She cautioned her on being too vague. It wasn’t specific enough. It didn’t describe where Adelaide…

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Migrants Moving History: Excellent Short Film

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Image from the Daily Mail

 

“Europe faces an interesting set of immigration challenges and opportunities: Demographic pressures as many European societies age, a lively and at times tense policy and political debate over questions of identity and immigrant integration, and a unique policy environment that has knit 28 European countries together with regards to the management of outer borders, asylum, and other immigration-related topics.”
—Migration Policy Institute

Do you know that Germany has become the world’s second-largest destination for migrants, according to the OECD? Are you interested in the migrant experience? Multicultural identity? Do you work with people in transition? Are you particularly concerned with the challenges surrounding the changing demographics in Europe?  Have you considered what a future might look like if we weren’t quite so limited by nation-state thinking?

Then you definitely want to watch this terrific 23-minute movie, Migrants Moving History: Narratives of diversity in Europe, made with Hauptstadtkulturfonds out of Berlin. Even if you have seen it before, it is well worth your while. Though it was first aired back in 2008, the interviewees’ reflections on where they “belong,” on “betweenness,” on the differences between cultural and linguistic identity, and the benefits of multiculturalism, are thought-provoking; the video serves as a great starting point for discussion.

As one interviewee says, “Everyone gains from multiculturalism. We need an open discussion about how societies can better facilitate that.” It got me to thinking: which societies in the world proudly define themselves as immigrant societies, as multicultural? How did they get there? And how can we get more members of more societies thinking and feeling that way?

Let us know how you use Cultural Detective to make the most of multiculturalism where you live or work!

The Nasty (and Noble) Truth about Culture Shock

—And Ten Tips for Alleviating It (from our “Oldies but Goodies” series)

PolicemanThe Nasty Truth

I’ve behaved badly. It’s true, and I’m admitting it. Very publicly.

There was the time a police officer in Japan told me to move, and I stood my ground, passive-aggressively, staring him down, daring him to remove me.

There was the time at my son’s school here in Mexico, when I refused to go into a private office, insisting on talking (loudly) in the public lobby, because I was so very upset at the runaround the staff was giving me, and tired of being (privately) shut down.

Both of these were very culturally inappropriate. Heck, they were inappropriate by the standards of my birth culture! I behaved badly. I lost face. I upset others. I looked like a fool. I was ineffective. Why?

You could say these experiences reflect a lack of emotional maturity; despite my age I still have loads of growing to do. The case I’d like to make in this post, however, is that the stress of culture shock causes many people to do things we would never do in our home cultures, in a milieu with which we are intimately familiar and generally comfortable.

The Noble Truth

There are good things about this sort of “acting out.” Such meltdowns enable us to define and preserve our sense of self, identify our core values, realize how stressed we really are, so we can take care of ourselves and try to restore our equilibrium. Culture shock is also an indicator that we are indeed growing, stretching, challenging ourselves to get out of our comfort zone, and trying to adapt to new and different ways of being in the world. Thus, it is a highly worthwhile venture!

In the free download that accompanies this post, you will see a page titled, “Level of Acculturation.” This is one of those “Oldies but Goodies” that we occasionally release. Originally written back in 1989, the arrow on the page illustrates two polar extremes: the expat who makes great efforts not to acculturate, living instead much as s/he would at home; and on the other end, the expat who “goes native,” adapting to the local culture in every possible way. The key point of this piece of training material was to advise expats to try to strike a balance, to manage the polarity between the two extremes. It is important to maintain home-country connections for sanity and respite, and to build host-country connections in order to learn, grow, adapt, and fully experience one’s new home.

Please do not misunderstand me; I am most definitely not advocating behaving badly! I am, however, saying that such bad behavior happens all too frequently. The nasty truth is that inappropriate behavior, due at least in part to culture shock, is a fact of expat life that is all too often brushed under the rug. We refuse to talk about it. We may pretend it doesn’t happen, that it only happens to others, or we try to forget it did happen. We blame it on lack of competence. Of course we lack competence—we are learning and adapting to a culture that is new to us. And, it takes super-human levels of self esteem and emotional composure to navigate cultural adaptation without ever going over the edge, at least a bit.

Photo credit: Shelley Xia, USC

Photo credit: Shelley Xia, USC

What Is Culture Shock?

Culture shock is a continual, gnawing sense that things are not quite right. It is more appropriately called “cultural fatigue” or “identity crisis”: we become confused about how to accomplish our goals, and thus we start to feel powerless, to question our abilities, and lose self-esteem.

Culture shock does not result from a specific event or series of events. It does not strike suddenly or have a single principal cause. It comes, instead, from the experience of encountering ways of doing, organizing, perceiving, or valuing things that are different from ours. On some levels, this threatens our basic, unconscious belief that our encultured customs, assumptions, values, and behaviors are “right.” Culture shock is cumulative, building up slowly from a series of small events that may be difficult to identify or recognize.

General fatigue and exhaustion, susceptibility to illness, moodiness, headaches or upset stomach, weight gain or loss, irritability, restlessness, withdrawal, hostility—all of these can be signs of culture shock. A more extensive list of such symptoms is in the free download, which you are most welcome to use as our gift to you. Our only request is that you, of course, maintain the copyright information and url on the materials.

One of my friends and mentors, Bob (L. Robert) Kohls, explained the causes of culture shock in his 1984 book, Survival Kit for Overseas Living:

  • Being cut off from the cultural cues and known patterns with which your are familiar, especially the subtle, indirect ways you normally have of expressing feelings. All the nuance and shades of meaning that you understand instinctively and use to make your life comprehensible are suddenly taken from you.
  • Living and/or working over an extended period of time in a situation that is ambiguous.
  • Having your own values (which you had heretofore considered as absolutes) brought into question—which yanks your moral rug out from under you.
  • Being continually put into positions in which you are expected to function with maximum skill and speed, but where the cultural “rules” have not been adequately explained.

The W-Curve and Stages of Cultural Adjustment

Culture shock has often been introduced over the decades by using a curved line representing experience over time, either a “U-Curve” or a “W-Curve”—a sample graphic entitled “Stages of Cultural Adjustment” is included in the download accompanying this post. The idea of such curves is that our emotions go up and down as we adapt to a new home. First, we adjust superficially: learning our way around town, learning how to shop, cook, socialize, etc. Then, at some point, we are confronted with values differences that challenge us on very deep levels: a new and cherished friend seems to stab us in the back, or a work project we were confident would succeed crashes and burns, and we may have no clue why. At this point many expats return home (often at one year to eighteen months into the sojourn, according to many trainers), while others navigate their way through the challenges of shock to attain some level of ongoing effectiveness and adjustment to their new home. The U-Curve and W-Curve can be helpful learning tools, but research repeatedly shows they do not reflect reality. Actual expat experience is not nearly so neat, nor tidy, nor linear.

Kate Berardo, co-author of Cultural Detective Self Discovery and Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures, did a review of the literature on this topic, and offers a process approach for managing culture shock, which Cultural Detective first published back in 2010. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t read it, and know that these traditional models have been debunked; continuing to use them should be an informed choice.

Factors Influencing the Degree of Culture Shock

Nobody is immune to culture shock. The degree of culture shock that individuals experience varies, and can be influenced by a number of factors such as:

  1. Pre-departure expectations: Are they realistic, or overly positive or negative?
  2. Degree of change in environment, customs, language and values.
  3. Degree of personal commitment to the move.
  4. Amount of knowledge about the host culture.
  5. Flexibility: How adaptable is the individual by nature or experience?
  6. Emotional stability.
  7. Level of emotional support in new environment.
  8. Economic security.
  9. Availability of mental health services and support groups.
  10. Availability of tension relievers: How accessible are recreational facilities? Is it possible to pursue hobbies or other interests?
  11. Availability of worthwhile work.
  12. Acceptance of different values and beliefs.
  13. Ability to tolerate ambiguity: Is the individual able to tolerate situations that are unpredictable, puzzling or frustrating?
  14. Ability to be a learner: Is the individual curious about the new environment and open to learning about it?

As interculturalists, and those who work with international sojourners, I think it’s time we face up to the nasty truth: culture shock is real—it happens. And, despite the toll it takes on our relationships and our dignity, it presents an opportunity for growth and learning that we should take advantage of.

In looking through the incidents in our Cultural Detective series, most of them represent people managing their work in the best way they know how. All parties in the story have good intentions, but due to cultural differences they miscommunicate or work at odds to one another. In a small minority of our critical incidents, however, we see someone who is suffering from culture shock. They do or say something that, most probably, they would never do under more comfortable or familiar circumstances. They are probably tired, due to linguistic and cultural fatigue. They have suffered repeated blows to their self confidence: the educated adult that they are only knows enough to act with a child’s effectiveness in the new culture.

cultureshockTyttiBraysyHow Do We Manage Culture Shock?
And How Do We Deal With Those Going Through It?
(the key that’s never talked about)

Our goal is not to avoid difference and ambiguity, but, rather, to learn to bridge differences and harness them as assets. And, we want to help our colleagues, family members, employees and students while they are experiencing culture shock. How can we best do that? The free download accompanying this post provides you ten “Tips for Alleviating Culture Shock”, including such things as getting sufficient rest, reading in your native language, and cultivating a support network. Subscribing to and regularly using Cultural Detective Online will help you process your emotions and make sense of your experiences, using them as learning and development opportunities.

Another tool included in the download is a set of three worksheets on identity (“The Impact of Cross-Cultural Experience on Identity”). The first urges you to reflect on the identity you hold in various spheres of life and ways of being in your home culture(s). For example, how do you define your competence, what is your communication style, how does your occupation affect your identity, and how do you define and maintain your health? The second worksheet then asks you to reflect on how those same things might change when you relocate. The third sheet is useful for reflection before you finish your sojourn and return home. These worksheets are another tool for thinking about life transitions, differing contexts, workplaces and friendships, and how we and those around us change during our sojourns abroad.

Another key person in my early professional formation was Dr. Dean Barnlund. He taught me so much and, more importantly perhaps, inspired me. Dean focused on intercultural interaction and included art and photography in his approach, which resonated with me on so many levels. One very small piece of his work is a set of values continua that he assembled together with Kluckhohn and Morgan. I honestly can not remember if these were published in a book or shared with me in person, and my internet searches have not pointed me to their origin, either. I do know that I’ve always had their names on the bottom as originators of the tool, so the work comes from them. I see them as the precursors to the many dimensions of culture models in use in the intercultural field today. I used these continua for years to help teach people about basic cultural differences, to help expats reflect on what might be welcome changes for them, and what they might find challenging. I share it with you in the attached download (“Cultural Values Checklist”).

The final piece of material in the free download is “Culture as an Onion Skin.” I no longer use this metaphor, preferring instead the Personal Values Lens from the Cultural Detective Self Discovery. My chief concern with the onion-skin metaphor is that, when you peel back the many layers of an onion, nothing is left inside! If that lack of fit doesn’t bother you so much, the usefulness of the onion-skin worksheet is to help us think about our core values. What are the things that in life that are really important to me? I can note those that are near and dear, guarded closely, never to be negotiated, in the central portion of the onion. Then, I have other values that I still hold tightly, that are very important to me, but that are more amenable to situational variance. Those I can note on the outer layers of the onion.

Come on, be truthful now. Share with us one of your “I behaved badly” stories, and a bit about the journey you were on when it happened! Help us take the nasty truth out of the closet and into the light of day, so we can learn from it. Did the experience make you stronger? A better Cultural Detective? How did you learn to navigate your way through it?

cultureshockThis was reposted in the Velvet Ashes’ Culture Shock link-up. If the topic interests you, be sure to visit some of the other great posts, from other blogs, that are linked-up there.