Sikh Captain America

Vishavjit Singh in Central Park NYC as Sikh Captain America, photo by Fiona Aboud

Vishavjit Singh in Central Park NYC as Sikh Captain America, photo by Fiona Aboud

I recently came across the best “Cultural Effective” (yes, that’s a play on “detective”) I’ve seen in a long time! He has my deepest respect, and he has me rolling on the floor laughing, as well.

I found him via an article that had a photo of a skinny, long-bearded Sikh man posing as—wait for it—Captain America! He had his shield, tights, and turban on, and was ready to fight for justice. Of course it got my attention. I absolutely loved it! The article was an interview with Vishavjit Singh, an engineer, writer, educator, activist, costume player, and the artist behind the terrific series, SikhToons.com.

totally biased avengersIf you think Sikh Captain America sounds interesting, how about a complete set of Totally Biased Avengers, fighting for justice and equity in our world? They are the brainchild of the talents over at Totally Biased, and include Asian Thor, Black Black Widow, Gay Hulk, and brown Jesus Christ. You readers know that Cultural Detective is awfully cool and helpful, but these Avengers may have us beat, lol. Do yourself a favor and watch the video below. But be careful, you will laugh out loud.

Getting back to Sikh Captain America, however, you have got to check him out. He, er, rather, his alter-ego, Vishavjit, is doing wonderful work in the world! Take a look at his terrific flip book on turbans, for example. Visit his website or follow him on social media to see his latest cartoons and other ventures. I especially appreciate how he teaches people to respond to bias respectfully, rather than sinking to the same level of ignorance or, worse, anger. He demonstrates patience, intelligence, empathy, humor, and both visual and verbal communication skills—definitely a superhero combination!

Vishavjit made a cartoon explaining the road he followed to get to where he is today. Those of us interested in the pathways to reconciling Blended Culture identity will no doubt resonate with it. The lightness yet levity with which he operates in the world is especially impressive when you consider he survived the civil unrest that resulted in the deaths of so many Sikhs in India.Autbiography_Perspectives_DA_edit

Way to go, Vishavjit!!!! Bless you! It is a pleasure to be with you on a journey to build intercultural respect, understanding, and justice in our world. And you seem to be having so much fun doing it!

Rajel messouab ta hed ma y sed lou el bab. “All doors open to the person with good manners.”

morocco_purchWe are pleased to be publishing a wonderful addition to our series, Cultural Detective: Morocco. It’s perfect for those working with Moroccans, or wanting to do business in or relocate to Morocco. Perhaps, however, you are like me: you have seen tourist posters, watched Casablanca, eaten at Moroccan restaurants, and dreamed about visiting this seemingly exotic place. If so, then you will also enjoy wandering through our new package, even if you have no immediate plans to visit or do business in Morocco—at least not when you start reading the package!

One of the delightful things about Cultural Detective: Morocco is the feeling of almost participating in the culture that begins as you read the introduction. The oral tradition of Morocco is clear throughout the package, and the stories and examples show the hospitality and warmth of the people. To truly navigate successfully within Moroccan culture, you will need the advice of an inside perspective—a cultural informant—to help you develop and maintain the relationships and connections so necessary to doing business in this fascinating country. Cultural Detective: Morocco can provide you with that ongoing guidance, with ideas to save you from being unintentionally rude, and with suggestions that may help you communicate more comfortably and successfully with Moroccans. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Cultural Detective: Morocco has truly been a “labor of love,” coming to fruition due to the determination of two very dedicated professionals, Catherine Roignan and Youssef Zahid. Currently, one author lives in France and one in Morocco; both have a great deal of international experience, both have more than full-time jobs, and both have family responsibilities that take up every spare moment. In spite of these challenges, they wrote, revised, and wrote some more.

What is even more remarkable to me is that they wrote in French and then translated their work into English so I could read it. I made suggestions, did some editing, and then my suggestions were translated back into French for their consideration. (While the current version is in English, we will soon publish the French language version.) Of course, part of the authors’ discussion was also about Arabic words, as they explored the nuances of Moroccan culture and the particular choice of words used to describe it. This was a truly multilingual, multicultural creation process, weaving observations from inside and outside of the culture, and shifting worldviews as the authors worked to share the culture of Morocco with us.

One of the Moroccan values highlighted in the package is Daba baada (the present comes first): the only thing one can be sure of is today; one cannot know what tomorrow will be like, as things may change at any moment. We hope you will take the time today to explore this terrific new package, either via the PDF version or by viewing it as part of your subscription to Cultural Detective Online.

Three Never-Again Opportunities!

CustomBackgroundImage-1.jpgTo celebrate SIETAR USA’s 15th anniversary, Cultural Detective is partnering with SUSA to offer an incredible win-win contest. Want to get six months of service for the price of one? How about 20 months of service for the price of 12?

1. SUSA 15th Anniversary Contest: Detect Opportunities for Cultural Bridging

  1. During April subscribe for one-month to CD Online, giving you access to the complete packages including Values Lenses for more than 60 cultures.
  2. Upload your original critical incident on CD Online, do a debrief, download it all as a PDF, and then submit to SUSA@culturaldetective.com.
That’s all you need to do. What do you get out of it?
  1. Upon receipt of your completed Incident and Debrief, Cultural Detective will upgrade your one-month subscription to six months. This means you will get 5 months of Cultural Detective Online free!
  2. CD will determine Incident and Debrief winners, who will receive a one-year subscription to Cultural Detective Online!
  3. Winning Incident and Debrief will also be showcased in a webinar in which winners can promote their services/organization as well as teach others.
2. April SIETAR USA Member Product Discount In addition to the contest, SIETAR USA is offering their members a code for a 15-month subscription for the price of 12 months. If you are a SUSA member and participate in the contest, you’ll end up getting 21 months for the price of 12! Now that’s a YOU WIN! contest!

3. SIETAR USA 15th Anniversary Conference Proposal Submissions Being Accepted Through May 4th!

Want to earn the opportunity to present at this historic 15th annual conference, October 14-17, 2015 in Orlando, FL.? Session proposals will be accepted through May 4th. Be among the field’s leaders and submit yours now!

Join Us at SIETAR Europa in Valencia!

Logo_updatedHave you registered for the SIETAR Europa conference in Valencia, Spain May 21-23? The conference is the leading gathering of interculturalists in Europe, and is attended by many professionals from around the world. It is known for the quality of presentations and the intellectual exchange.

“This congress welcomes all those whose life and work puts them at the interface of cultures, from the perspectives of economy, society, and education with the aim of reshaping intercultural discourse, questioning our current cultural paradigms and exploring new thinking to help us navigate complexity in our emerging global world.”
—SIETAR Europa

Since our founding, the Cultural Detective Team has been committed to transparency, professional development, and vetting by our peers, and this congress will be no exception. Cultural Detective will have a huge presence at the congress, and we sincerely hope to see you there!

Firstly, Tatyana Fertelmeyster will conduct a Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification on May 18th and 19th. So many of you who live in Europe ask us for European-based certifications, so here is your chance! This is the only one scheduled in Europe this year. Attendance is limited, so please register early.

Also on May 19th, Pari Namazie and I will have the pleasure of conducting a pre-conference workshop, heavily based on Cultural Detective tools, entitled Blended Culture Identity, Global Ethics and their Value for Leadership and Teaming. I am very excited about where this workshop will take us. Ethics and authenticity are of crucial importance to cross-cultural leadership and teaming, and are too often overlooked.

A third CD-based session will be held on Saturday, the 23rd May at 10:00: Firearms in US Society: a Case Study about the Role of Interculturalists in Polarized and Politicized National Conversations, by Jeffrey Cookson and myself.

You’ll find pre-conference and concurrent sessions by Cultural Detective authors Marie-Therese Claes, Patricia Coleman, Heather Robinson, Catherine Roignan, George Simons, Jolanda Tromp, Rita Wuebbeler, Tatyana and myself, plus sessions by CD translators, certified facilitators and partners. We look forward to meeting you or reconnecting with you in Valencia!

Learn more about the city of Valencia.
Take Cultural Detective author George Simons’ diversophy® quiz on Valencia.

“If you act like a ripe plum, bats will eat you.”

(Proverb submitted by Lamar Gaye, Minnesota, USA, to BBC NEWS Africa website, Africa’s proverb of the day, 29 December 2014)

I so love proverbs—they give a view into a culture that cannot be obtained through any other source. They are tiny stories, gems in the midst of daily life. Although often I only read them in translation, they still provide valuable insight into my own and other’s values and worldviews.

Imagine my delight when I found a collection of African proverbs, contributed by folks from all over, to a site by BBC NEWS Africa. Featuring proverbs sent in during January 2015 and December 2014, I think you will find at least one that delights you or provides fresh insight into a situation.

800px-Monkey_family_in_moss_tree

By Irvin Calicut (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

“Monkeys do not advise their young ones to be careful on trees. They just remind them of the distance to the ground.”
—Sent by Geoffrey Kosgei, Nairobi, Kenya to BBC NEWS Africa website, Africa’s proverb of the day, 5 November 2014

Did you know that buried within each Cultural Detective package are proverbs and sayings to illustrate the culture’s core values? We periodically convert some of these to graphic format and share them on social media, archiving them on the Cultural Detective Pinterest board and Facebook page. Our authors have fun remembering what their parents or grandparents said to them, and often are surprised when they find out they were each told the same thing—or a close variant of it—even though they grew up in different circumstances!

These “childhood messages” often echo in our minds for years and continue to influence who we are today. We may even find that our core values are reflected in those proverbs and sayings that were shared by important people in our past. Our popular package, Cultural Detective Self-Discovery, uses our favorite proverbs and sayings as one method to investigate our own personal values. Cultural Detective Online now includes Cultural Detective Self-Discovery, which allows you to build your own Personal Values Lens—just as beautiful as the others contained within our series—using a variety of investigative methods.

Of course, there are books with collections of proverbs, but the ones I like best are those that I happen upon in everyday speech. Keep your ears open and let us know what gems of wisdom you hear—from yourself and those around you!

Cognitive Dissonance or Duality?

Either OrShall we, as team members or neighbors, do something “my way” or “your way”? When in Rome, do we do as the Romans do, or as headquarters wants us to do? As organizational effectiveness consultants, diversity and inclusion practitioners, or as intercultural trainers, educators and coaches, so much of what we do is to help people learn to manage differences. “Either-or” thinking is appropriate when there are answers that are independently correct. Do we need to get to the top of the mountain? A helicopter, hiking, tram, or driving are all possible “correct” solutions to our problem. What shall we eat for our lunch together? We both may enjoy sushi, tacos, or lasagna; a choice is probably much better than eating them all in the same meal. Solutions to many of the issues that face us in daily life, however, involve the interdependence of two or more “right” answers. Children should learn to share and to take care of themselves. A new business may need to build market share (which requires ongoing investment) and get a return on its initial investment. An NGO needs to follow global protocol and provide services in a locally appropriate manner. A teacher needs to correct students and encourage them. These are not either-or choices; the “correct” answer involves “both-and” thinking—the type of thinking that Ash Beckham discusses in the video below. But such thinking—holding contradictory ideas simultaneously and accepting them both as “correct” and even “necessary”—is often distrusted. It is sometimes seen as evasive or indecisive. George Orwell coined a name for it with a very negative connotation: “doublethink,” which was the result of brainwashing by the state in his novel, 1984. “Both-and” thinking requires more effort, and involves mental and sometimes also emotional stress. Thus, we get the term “cognitive dissonance.”

“Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.” —wikipedia

That’s why the work of interculturalists and diversity and inclusion professionals is so very important. Working or living together effectively involves give-and-take; it is a process. There is not one “right” way and one “wrong” way. Sometimes we may do it your way, sometimes my way, and hopefully, many times, we are creating better, more innovative, effective, and enjoyable ways to do whatever it is we need to do, by using the unique talents that all of us have to offer. And that, of course, is what Cultural Detective is all about—learning how to collaborate and work together, while recognizing that there are often many “right” ways to get things done!

Part of the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up

SIETAR Europa, a Profile, Valencia, a New Book

SE Journal coverThe March-May 2015 issue of the SIETAR Europa Journal is out today, and I thought some of you might want to take a look. Pari Namazie conducted a lengthy interview with me when I was last in Vienna, and it is published in the journal on pages 3-9. I find it flattering, embarrassing, encouraging and mortifying, all at the same time. It is humbling to have the honor to be profiled in this way. Thank you, Pari and Patrick Schmidt, editor. Perhaps it will give you insight into some of the experience that has contributed to Cultural Detective.

Also very important in this issue is news of the upcoming SE Congress in Valencia, Spain, 21-23 May. Please plan to attend! There are a wealth of terrific pre-conference workshops, including two focused on Cultural Detective, as well as incredible concurrent sessions, all in the gorgeous setting of Valencia. The full schedule is not yet posted, but you can register for the Congress now and then register later for any pre-conference workshops you want to attend. I hope to see you there!

Finally, I’m very excited that my old friend Joseph Shaules has published his much-anticipated book, The Intercultural Mind, and George Simons has written an insightful review of it on page 16.

You can find the issue of the Journal here.

Lampooning Leads to Apology for Sensationalism

2015.1.27.BF.COMMInaccuracies in journalism are of increasing concern to me, as is the idea that so many consumers of communication media fail to use their critical thinking skills, and, rather, believe a sensational report without checking facts. Journalists can easily fuel people’s worst fears, feeding an “us vs. them” mentality. I spoke about this in my recent Charlie Hebdo post.

If we are to create a world for ourselves in which we respect, understand, and value one another, one in which we are able to cooperate in sustainable ways, we need accurate and thorough information on which to base decisions. We need to be able to discern “gray” areas, and think things through from different perspectives.

On a slightly divergent thought track, I occasionally marvel at how powerful the visual arts, comedy, movies, and performances are in generating a paradigm shift in the general population—the sort of paradigm shift that is needed if we are to develop intercultural competence. I feel that news media should help us think things through by gathering facts, but all too often, it is the arts that help inspire us to do so.

Recently, a post crossed my desk that brings these two ideas together for me in a salient way. One of our Cultural Detective series’ authors—Basma Ibrahim DeVries—shared a link on Facebook to a story that resulted in truth telling. A major news outlet was forced to admit its multiple errors and publicly apologize for their inaccuracies, perhaps, in part, stimulated by a French television comedy show—Le Petit Journal!

Fox News interviewed someone who presented as fact that there are “no-go zones” in Europe—places in which Islamic law supersedes local law and non-Muslims fear to go. “No-go zones,” viewers were told, included the entire city of Birmingham, England and a half-dozen key areas of Paris. Fox also made various other claims, which met with widespread criticism from the likes of British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the threat of a lawsuit from the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.

Le Petit Journal was quick to offer its humorous and yet informative rebuttal. Below is a clip of the show, in French with English subtitles.

I live in Mexico, and over the past five years I’ve experienced the negative impact that sensationalism and inaccurate, biased reporting can have on a country and its people.Often, this media bias is not confronted.  In this instance, however, Fox actually issued four separate apologies in one day for portraying Muslims in a negative light.

“Fox News took time out of four broadcasts on Saturday to apologize for four separate instances of incorrect information that portrayed Muslims in a negative light.
—CNN

Once Fox News apologized, our French comedy show, Le Petit Journal, had to gloat, of course. They lampooned Fox with great gusto while munching on super-sized popcorn and soda. Click on the link to view the video.

I am happy to hear that Fox News was forced to apologize for their biased and false “reporting.” I am grateful to know that the public expression of outrage and humor can still have some effect, however fleeting it might be. If, like me, you’d like to read more about the poll Fox cited, that one in six French citizens support ISIS, you might reference a much more insightful piece about it, published by the Washington Post.

The Cultural Detective Method helps people separate facts—what people see and hear—from interpretations, or what the facts mean to a person observing them. Our values influence how we interpret the facts—the meaning we give to the situation. Given personal and cultural differences, the facts may mean different things to different people. This is normal and to be expected. However, what we want from journalists is, to the best of their ability, the specific details and essential data necessary for us to understand a situation more accurately and thoroughly. Situations these days are often complex rather than clear-cut. Reporting on complex realities is difficult in the best of circumstances, and we applaud those ethical journalists who work to make it happen.

Thank you for accompanying us on this journey to build intercultural competence. Together, we can build international understanding, respect, and justice.

Happy Thorri! Celebrate our new CD: Iceland package!

CD Iceland coverIt’s hard to believe that we have finally completed the Cultural Detective: Iceland package! This project spans more than five years, with some stops and starts. After working long hours in Iceland, in the USA, and on Skype, the emphasis was always on finishing what we started with high quality. We were both certain that, in spite of our busy work schedules, other duties, and familes, it would sort itself out, and we would manage to complete this project.

2014-10-23 12.10.15

Erla on the left, Thorunn on the right

We were introduced to each other on a beautiful sunny day in Iceland in 2008, and that very day Thorunn asked Erla if she would be interested in collaborating on the Cultural Detective: Iceland project. We immediately “clicked” and decided to meet again and discuss the idea of working together. Throughout this collaboration we learned a lot about ourselves, about each other, and about our culture and what it means to be an Icelander. Through thick and thin, stressful moments, a lot of laughter, travel between Iceland and North America, we established a wonderful friendship for life.

It is perhaps fitting that Cultural Detective: Iceland is announced on Facebook during Thorri season, when Icelanders celebrate in ways no one else in the Western World celebrates: by eating fermented food and using anise or caraway-flavored snaps to help swallow it!

Þorrablot dinner

Þorrablot dinner

This mid-winter season in Iceland is called Þorri (Thorri), and according to the historic Icelandic calendar it starts on January 23rd with Húsbóndagur (Husband Day) and ends on February 22 with Konudagur (Women’s Day). At this time of year, Iceland is cold, dark, and windy. But because the sun rises at about 9:30 am in the morning, it is a whole lot better than in December, when it rises at 11:30 am—so it is time to celebrate as a way to get through the Thorri season! The celebration is called Þorrablot or celebration of the Nordic God Þór (Thor).

These parties are usually attended by people belonging to the same social group such as a fireman’s association, an association of people from a particular fjord, or people who work for the same company, etc. The entertainment varies from a stage performance, to a comedian as Master of Ceremonies, to people making speeches and reciting Icelandic poetry, and usually ends with lots of dancing and singing of national songs. The staple foods at these parties are pickled ram’s testicles, boiled sheep’s head, blood sausages, liver pudding, smoked and cured lamb, and dried fish. Some people have to be “manned” into eating these things, and some parties have these delicacies as side dishes rather than as the main dishes.

Below is a video of Þorrablot at CCP, an international company headquartered in Iceland. A new employee from Denmark has been invited to this celebration. Can you imagine his culture shock?!!

So how do we translate our wonderful yet, at times, strange culture into a manageable frame for others to understand? This was our task as co-authors. It was not easy, but surprisingly rewarding. After interviewing foreigners living in Iceland, and Icelanders working abroad, we began to see the values system emerge.

We struggled quite a bit about which values to highlight through the Icelandic Values Lens. The more we talked to people, the clearer it became to us that Icelanders hold their language as central to the culture. So strong is this value that Icelanders believe that for anyone to be able to work in Iceland, even in menial jobs, they need to learn the language. To support this value, Icelandic companies who hire foreigners generally offer Icelandic lessons during the lunch hour.

Every culture has some things that cannot be translated. In Iceland, one of those things is the phrase, “þetta reddast,” literally translated into English as “it will work out.” However, in English, this phrase seems more of a hope than a reality. In Iceland, we understand the phrase to really mean “things will sort themselves out” and, in the end, they always do, somehow.

Because immigration is making the country more diverse and the travel industry is growing, there is a definite need to enable Icelanders to be more open and knowledgable about cultural differences and gain cultural competency. In addition, Iceland’s economy is export-driven and becoming more integrated into the world economy, so it is important for outsiders to learn how to work with these very direct, honest, and hard-working people with a great sense of humor.

Cultural Detective: Iceland is now included in Cultural Detective Online and also available in a printable PDF format. We are looking forward to using CD: Iceland in universites, companies, organizations, and any place people want to learn about our culture. If you get a chance, we hope you will visit our beautiful country. Meanwhile, we encourage you, a curious Cultural Detective, to learn about Icelandic culture by exploring the new CD: Iceland package!

Vinnan göfgar manninn. “Hard words break no bones.” (Icelandic Proverb)

CD Iceland coverI have the best job in the world: working with our Cultural Detective authors—I always learn so much! Recently, I had the pleasure of working with our authors on the Cultural Detective: Iceland package—the most recent addition to the CD series. This is a culture I know nothing about, therefore, I had no preconceived notions about how it would be to work with these bright ladies, or what I would learn.

Fortunately (from my US American point of view), being direct and straightforward is generally considered being honest, and is highly valued in Icelandic culture. When discussing a topic, everybody tends to share ideas (without evaluation) and then the best course of action is chosen. Questions are answered directly, and disagreement usually is not considered a personal attack. To those from a less direct culture, this style of communication may feel rude and blunt, while to Icelanders it’s just contributing their ideas.

The authors shared a delightful example of language and culture being intertwined: Icelanders do not use the word “love” as US Americans do. Their word for love is used in relation to family. It is a “very expensive/high value” term with a special use for a special purpose. Therefore, the use of “love” was very confusing to our authors when they first arrived in the United States. They were surprised that people loved their pets, loved ice cream, loved a movie, etc. In contrast, one of the authors told me that if her husband ever said he loved her, she would know she was dying! She told me, “Icelandic husbands love their wives so much that they almost tell them!”

This relatively small country (population 320,000) has seven universities, the oldest parliament in the world, and dynamic, high-energy, optimistic people. We look forward to introducing you to CD: Iceland, and a culture whose Viking roots impact the freedom and respect for the individual that are the heart of Icelandic values today. Be sure to check it out, put it to good use, and let us know what you think!