Communicating with US Americans


P1280467Last year was a watershed for the field of intercultural communication, as it brought the publication of the Sage Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence. Edited by Janet Bennett, the very heavy and extremely useful two-volume set includes about 350 entries by a broad international, multi-disciplinary cross-section of professionals. I am proud to be included among them.

While the first entry I was asked to write delighted my soul, the second and third ones were much more of a challenge. I suppose Janet asked me because there are few people foolish enough to take on a topic as huge, as broad, and as problematic as Communicating Across Cultures with People from the United States. I am USA-born, currently living in Mexico. I love and am extremely proud of my birth country. I am also perplexed and dismayed by it. Such is, perhaps, the nature of a culture that includes 320 million people and nearly 4 million square miles!

The USA is so very misunderstood. Any of us born there, who travel abroad, know how it feels to wear the “brand” on our foreheads, to be seen as a “representative” of that “crazy” and yet “incredible” nation. Most people internationally feel a complexity of emotions about the USA and its culture. Many hold stereotypical views, and I saw the encyclopedia as a chance to help explain US culture a bit.

In the Cultural Detective series we have the excellently written Cultural Detective USA, written by the incomparable George Simons and Eun Young Kim. The Cultural Detective USA is a tool for developing cross-cultural competence and teaming; an encyclopedia entry is information and knowledge. Thus, the two work together and complement each other very well.

I highly recommend you purchase the complete two-volume encyclopedia, published by Sage in 2015, or ask your librarian to add it to their collection. It is a hugely valuable reference, one I’ve consulted extensively since it arrived last May. Here’s what Sage says about the full volume:

In 1980, SAGE published Geert Hofstede’s Culture’s Consequences. It opens with a quote from Blaise Pascal: “There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees that are falsehoods on the other.” The book became a classic—one of the most cited sources in the Social Science Citation Index—and subsequently appeared in a second edition in 2001. This new SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence picks up on themes explored in that book.

Cultural competence refers to the set of attitudes, practices, and policies that enables a person or agency to work well with people from differing cultural groups. Other related terms include cultural sensitivity, transcultural skills, diversity competence, and multicultural expertise. What defines a culture? What barriers might block successful communication between individuals or agencies of differing cultures? How can those barriers be understood and navigated to enhance intercultural communication and understanding? These questions and more are explained within the pages of this new reference work.

Key Features:

  • 300 to 350 entries organized in A-to-Z fashion in two volumes
  • Signed entries that conclude with Cross-References and Suggestions for Further Readings
  • Thematic “Reader’s Guide” in the front matter grouping  related entries by broad topic areas
  • Chronology that provides a historical perspective of the development of cultural competence as a discrete field of study
  • Resources appendix and a comprehensive Index

The SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence is an authoritative and rigorous source on intercultural competence and related issues, making it a must-have reference for all academic libraries.

My entry had to be very brief, as the 2-volume set includes over 300 entries. The publishers have given me permission to share my three entries, so here is the link for you to read Communicating with US Americans. I’m sure you’ll find many points you would have worded differently or added in, as nearly everyone has a unique experience of a nation with such a powerful presence on the world stage. I look forward to hearing your comments and additions!

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