Reaching across the Divide

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These days we see, hear, and read about divides—political, racial, religious, economic, etc.—all the ways we are different from each other. It often seems these differences are exploited and amplified to encourage disagreement and conflict. It is hard to combat the feeling that we are living in a time of strong opinions and large cultural differences. But there have been previous situations of large cultural divides and evidence that people have bridged those cultural gaps in wonderful ways.

On a recent trip to Astoria, Oregon, a small town on the northwest tip of the state where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, I was reminded of how the town’s history is unusually multicultural. Of course, the first inhabitants were native peoples who lived in the area for thousands of years prior to the first Europeans arriving in 1792. The explorers Lewis and Clark and members of their cross-continent expedition spent the winter of 1805-06 in the area. By 1850 the town had 250 inhabitants, a large city for the time, and by 1920 it boasted over 14,000 residents— the second largest city in Oregon.

Astoria was noted for being very cosmopolitan; timber and fishing brought immigrants from around the world including Finns, Swedes, Chinese, and East Indians, among others. In fact, the influence of the Finns was so strong that street signs were in English and Finnish—the only bilingual city in Oregon at the time.

I ran across a story from Oregon folklore that illustrates the influence of the Finns on Astoria. Like most such handed-down stories, one likes to think they are describing the original situation accurately.

“A 16-year old girl from Finland, who had traveled to the US to live with her grandparents in Astoria, arrived unmet at the RR station. Failing to see her grandparents and unable to speak English, she slumped down on the wooden platform of the depot and began to sob. Seeing her anguish, a Chinese passerby paused to ask what was wrong. Tearfully, she told him. “Where do your grandparents live?” he asked. She took from the pocket of her dress a slip of paper and gave it to the man. “I know where this house is at,” he said. “I will take you there.” And he picked up her suitcase.

As they walked, the girl asked, “How is it that you speak Finnish?” “In Astoria,” the Chinese good samaritan replied, “if you do not speak Finnish you had better move elsewhere.” [from: in search of Western Oregon, Ralph Friedman, 1990, p. 3]

I found this story delightful and a great illustration of life in early Astoria. And a wonderful example of making an effort to reach across the divide.

But what could a Cultural Detective see in this story? I could imagine the young woman exhibiting the Finnish value of Sisu (Perseverance) by making the trek by herself. And perhaps the Chinese value of Jia ting (Family) influenced the gentleman’s decision to help the young lady. And/or maybe, as an immigrant himself and a Blended Culture person, he recognized the challenges of landing in a strange place with no one to meet you. Contextuality (It all depends) is an important Blended Culture value.

Once the Cultural Detective way of viewing the world becomes a habit, you can apply it in all sorts of circumstances, past and present. Using a Cultural Detective approach to viewing history can inform us of the issues that both “sides” faced in any interaction. And remember that “history” can be that discussion you had with your co-worker last week!

In these times of deep divisions, it is useful to understand the underlying values that impact a situation in order to figure out a solution. Using the Cultural Detective Online provides immediate access to the values of over 60 cultures, providing a roadmap for discovery, offering clues and a process to sort out challenges and to build bridges across divisions. We don’t have to always agree, but as interculturalists, we should definitely do our best to understand one another.

Satisfacción de los Clientes Internacionales

web2Un tercer video tomado del webinar “Desarrollando habilidades interculturales en  profesionales globales”, el 24 de Octubre 2013, en cual cuento la historia de una empresa Chilena que intenta importar parte de su producción de China. Por falta de no desarrollar las competencias interculturales requeridas, no son los primeros en llegar al mercado con el nuevo producto y conlleva la pérdida de mucho dinero y la reputación de la empresa en el mercado. Desafortunadamente es una situación muy común—una  que Cultural Detective te ayuda a evitar.

Por favor, cuéntanos tu historia…

Historia 1

Historia 2

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! (What do you call a witch at the beach?)

mid-autumn6The Mid-autumn Festival — 中秋节, often called the Chinese Moon Festival, is held on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, when the moon is at its roundest. It is the second most important Chinese holiday after lunar new year, and celebrates the Chinese value on home and family — 家庭. People travel from far and wide in order to be able to spend time with extended family.

Customs on this day include moon viewing and appreciation, getting together with family and friends, eating moon cakes, reciting poems, dragon dancing, and lantern riddles.

Lantern riddles are a terrific exercise for Cultural Detectives, teaching us to think beyond our normal habits. They are also an engaging cross-generational activity. Many thanks to cultural-china.com for the riddles below. I’ve selected a lucky number, eight of them, for your enjoyment. Take your time and guess, then scroll down past the moon cake recipe for the answers.

Lantern Riddles:
  1. Which is faster, hot or cold?
  2. What building has the most stories?
  3. When is your mind like a rumpled bed?
  4. What do you call a witch at the beach?
  5. They are twin sisters of the same height. they work in the kitchen, arm in arm. whatever is cooked, they always try it first.
  6. When I slap you, I slap me. When I hit you, my blood flows.
  7. It will follow you for 1000 miles and never miss home. It desires neither food nor flowers. It fears not water, fire, knives nor soldiers. It disappears when the sun sets behind the western mountains.
  8. Half is above ground, and half is in the ground. Half is solid, and half empty. Half is white, and half green. Half is eaten, and half thrown away.

Moon cakesWant a recipe to make your own moon cakes? Try this one!

Answers to the Riddles:
  1. Hot’s faster; you can catch a cold.
  2. A library
  3. When it’s not made up.
  4. A sandwich
  5. Chopsticks
  6. A mosquito
  7. A shadow
  8. A scallion

Happy Mid-autumn Festival, everyone! Please share with us your favorite holiday traditions or riddles.

Myanmar, A Guest Blog by Victor Garza

Guest post by Cultural Detective China co-author Victor Garza

Many of you know Victor as an excellent photographer and world adventure traveler. He has just published another travel piece, this one on Myanmar. Despite the heartbreaking news about Buddhist violence in that country, I know many of us would love to travel there. You can click on the images below to enlarge them.

Where have you traveled to lately? Please, share with us your adventures!2013.5 36 2013.5 38 2013.5 37

Catalysts For Intercultural Conversations and Insights: Advertisements

Lipton tea Chinese flowersThis guest blog post is written by Joe Lurie, Executive Director Emeritus, University of California Berkeley’s International House.

Recently, I taught a course attended by Chinese and French students on the intercultural challenges of marketing across cultures. Midway through the course I asked students to select a print, web or YouTube ad describing how the following items reflected cultural preoccupations, values and behaviors in their cultures:

  • the product being promoted
  • the selection of words in the headers
  • the images and colors being used to reinforce the message

After analyzing the ad as a reflection of one’s culture, the student was to ask a fellow classmate from another culture why the ad would or would not work in their culture. In one example, a Chinese student demonstrated how Lipton tea is marketed in China. He noted that no tea bag was explicitly shown, as tea bags do not speak to the traditional way of preparing tea in China, and so not the best way to convince people to drink the Lipton product in China. Rather, the image was of green tea flowing from a cup on its side, producing green images in the style of Chinese paintings of mountains, fish and flowers, each with a particular symbolic value in Chinese culture. Lipton tea Chinese mountains The French student who was interviewed had no exposure to traditional Chinese painting and saw not lovely images, but rather incomprehensible splotches! He added that the ad would not work in France as tea drinkers are generally accustomed to black or brown teas.

Color in many other ads revealed the power and status implications of yellow in China, yet something to beware of in France where it often suggests infidelity. Below from a French student are two different ways that Volkswagon is promoted in China and France, reflecting a powerful individualistic/collectivistic contrast, and a terrific way for students to engage in a conversation of cultural discovery: Below you will find an ad for a cleaning sponge selected by a French student, revealing what the student felt is a preoccupation with sex—reflected in explicit and other seductive ways in many other ads for other products in France. Sexual suggestions, so graphically portrayed, would not, according to the Chinese students in my class, be acceptable in Chinese product promotions. And in a French ad for BMW, a man is  shown making love to the body of a woman whose face is in fact a BMW!

BaijuuA Chinese ad for a very strong 38% alcohol rice beverage portrayed a bottle whose shape was interpreted by the French as a perfume bottle, and so it would not be a convincing way of promoting an alcoholic beverage there.

The bold red color signifying affluence and status for the Chinese was seen as over the top by the French students, who noted a preference in the French aesthetic for far more nuanced, muted colors. This prompted a spirited conversation between the Chinese and French in which it was revealed that ads with very high alcoholic content are discouraged or banned in France, but visual ads for condoms were common there, though not generally acceptable in China. That conversation ended with a comparison of toasting custom—the French “drink and sip” vs the Chinese GAMBAY or “bottoms up”—ALL at ONCE!

Should readers of this blog try this approach in their intercultural classes and training sessions, I hope you will consider sharing the fun and insights here….

—Joe Lurie
Executive Director Emeritus at the University of California’s International House, Joe is currently a cross-cultural communications consultant, university instructor and Cultural Detective certified facilitator. Contact Joe via email or LinkedIn.

Research Findings: The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace


IC Skills importance
Culture at Work: The value of intercultural skills in the workplace
—A survey conducted by the British Council, Booz Allen Hamilton and Ipsos Public Affairs, of HR managers at 367 large employers in nine countries: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Jordan, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States (US)

The Report’s Conclusions

“Our ability to engage successfully with other countries, organisations and people will depend to a large extent on whether we possess the necessary intercultural and foreign language skills to make fruitful connections, whether in trade and investment, charity/NGO programmes or as government and international organisations. This is fundamentally changing the way in which employers value and seek to develop intercultural skills in the workplace.”

“More and more business leaders are identifying real business value in employing staff with intercultural skills. These skills are vital, not just in smoothing international business transactions, but also in developing long term relationships with customers and suppliers. Increasingly they also play a key role within the workplace, enhancing team working, fostering creativity, improving communication and reducing conflict. All this translates into greater efficiency, stronger brand identity, enhanced reputation and ultimately impact on the bottom line.”

“Employers believe that intercultural skills are integral to the workplace.”

“A common challenge shared by employers around the world is finding employees with adequate intercultural skills. Given that the operating environments of all organisations is increasingly global, it comes as no surprise that employers need employees who can understand and adapt to different cultural contexts.”

What is the international reality in the workplace?

The research shows that employees in most large companies surveyed engage in extensive interaction across international borders.

More than two thirds of employers report that their employees engage frequently with colleagues outside of their country, and over half say that their employees engage frequently with partners and clients outside of their country.

THE BUSINESS VALUE OF INTERCULTURAL SKILLS
Intercultural skills provide business value and help mitigate risk.

The research shows that HR managers associate intercultural skills with significant business benefits. Overall, the organisations surveyed are most interested in intercultural skills for the benefits they bring—benefits that carry significant monetary value to employers:

  • Keeping teams running efficiently
  • Good for reputation
  • Bringing in new clients
  • Building trust with clients
  • Communicating with overseas partners
  • Able to work with diverse colleagues
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased sales

Employers also see significant risk to their organisations when employees lack intercultural skills. Top risks that organisations surveyed are concerned about are:

  • Miscommunication and conflict within teams
  • Global reputational damage
  • Los of clients
  • Cultural insensitivity to clients/partners overseas
  • Project mistakes

How do the organisations surveyed define “intercultural skills”?

The graphic below shows the words employers used, with size of the block equating to frequency of use.

define%22interculturalskills

The terms employers use to define intercultural skills
Source: Telephone/face-to-face surveys of public sector, private sector and NGO employers responsible for employment decisions. Base: Ipsos Public Affairs, 2012: Global (n=367).

In particular, employers highlight the following as important intercultural skills that they look for in job candidates:

  • the ability to understand different cultural contexts and viewpoints
  • demonstrating respect for others
  • accepting different cultural contexts and viewpoints
  • openness to new ideas and ways of thinking
  • knowledge of a foreign language.

How employers rank different skills in terms of importance

valuedskills

Graphic © the original report, with yellow highlights added by Cultural Detective.

How does the research indicate these skills are developed?

Most employers report encouraging their staff to develop intercultural skills through in-house training, meetings and events. However, employers also say that educational institutions could do more to equip students with intercultural skills.

The findings suggest that policy makers and education providers could do more to contribute to the development of a workforce with the necessary intercultural skills through interventions, such as prioritising:

  • teaching communication skills
  • offering foreign language classes
  • availability of opportunities for students to gain international experience
  • development of international research partnerships.

This research suggests that there is significant opportunity for employers, policy makers and education providers to work together to strengthen the development of intercultural skills to meet the needs of an increasingly global workforce.

Appearance Can Be a Life or Death Matter

Immediately when I heard about the attack on the Sikh temple in Wisconsin (USA), the first thought that came to my mind is that the shooter must have confused Sikhs for Muslims because they wear turbans and grow beards. There have been many similar incidents, one of them in 2002 when four teenagers burned down the Sikh temple Gobind Sadan in New York. The teens told authorities that they believed the temple was named “Go Bin Laden” (!!!)

Similarly, Christian figures and nuns may be mistaken for Muslims, with their loose outfits and head coverings. A picture taken in Jerusalem may confuse many, for it can be very unclear who is Jewish, who is Muslim and who is Christian. I have asked lots of my friends and they often think that the three Morrocan Muslim girls in this picture look more like Jewish women because of their headscarf style and their dress.

Almost everwhere I go in the world, people on the streets mostly call me Chinese. I have embraced a business idea of producing millions of T-shirt that say, “Everything is made in China. NOT ME!” and sell them to desperate and angry Japanese, Korean, Singaporean and Vietnamese tourists. I’ll probably be rich and earn enough money to travel more.
When I was in Syria lately, immediately upon stepping into a neighboring house, Abdullah my friend shouted out even before the host could see my face: “She is not Chinese!” Very wise of him, because the man we were visiting belongs to the opposition, who is of course very pissed off with China and Russia for their support towards Assad’s government.
Looks do matter, regardless of how superficial they are. Of course no one should be killed, and most religions have love and respect at their core. It can be detrimental and become a matter of dealth and life in this age of speed, in which people only have time to watch, not to think, and news is more important than knowledge.

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Remember Mao Zedong’s wife, Madame Mao, who had an acting career in Shanghai before becoming China’s first lady? Looks like that may be happening again.

Read the story and watch a few clips.