What time should we meet?

This cross-cultural dating mishap (in response to this post, and building on this thread) is a true story submitted by Erin in Sydney:

I have many cultural mis-step stories in general, but the only one date-wise I can think of is this one when I was living in Chile. (Warning: it’s not hugely funny or unique!)

First date: I turn up “on time” (Chilean time, e.g., 45 minutes late). He turns up on time (gringa time, at the agreed time). He was a bit peeved that I made him wait so long.

Second date: I turn up on time (gringa time). He turns up on time (Chilean time). This time I had to wait nearly an hour.

We ended up pololeando (a Chilean word meaning “dating”) … though the timing thing was always an issue.

Thank you, Erin. Everyone, we are eager to hear a few of your “mis-steps!” It is our belief that sharing our Cultural DeFectives with others can even the playing field a bit, showing that intercultural competence is a lifelong enjoyable learning journey rather than a static state.

Miscommunication: Too Much Cultural Sensitivity!

This cross-cultural dating mishap (in response to this post) is a true story from UC Berkeley’s International House, submitted by Joe Lurie:

A German male student and a Guatemalan female student have agreed to go out on an evening date beginning at 8pm. Both wishing to make a good impression, decide to leverage their cross-cultural skills and sensitivity when dealing with approaches to time. The German fellow, normally stereotypically monochronic — 8 means perhaps five to eight — arrives at 8:45 only to find the anxious, somewhat distressed Guatemalan woman saying, “Where have you been? I have been ready since 7:50  as I wanted to be sensitive to your cultural clock.”

Adopting each other’s styles provoked an amusing disconnect — but in this case, not serious. They are married today!

Thank you, Joe! Reminds me how often I used to bow in Japan when my colleagues would simultaneously stick out their arms in anticipation of a handshake.

Favorite Cross-cultural Dating and Pickup Mis-steps

We’ve all had those dating, or invitation to date, “miss”es. Those times when cultural differences send unintended messages of the “I’m interested” variety. Many of these are funny, and fun to share. Come on, share some of yours, the kind that are safe for public consumption, of course.

A few of mine that come to mind:

  1. In a jungle lodge in northern Thailand, we spent the day on elephants, walking the river.  I remember smiling at one of the young guides. That night, after dinner, I climbed up to my sleeping bag, only to find it already occupied! NOT what my smile had intended to communicate at all!
  2. And, on the topic of smiles, it also caused problems for me in Italy. As I was leaving my room in the morning, the door to the room next door was open. I’m US American-born. I smiled at the guy sitting on his bed. That night he knocked on my door at 2 am, and kept knocking. Sob story told to me through the door about how his mother had just died, he was sad, and needed to talk to someone. Stupidly, I let him in. Incredulously, as he started to touch me, I started nervously laughing (I had spent a lot of time in Japan, and had picked up a tendency to laugh when nervous or tense …) Gratefully, my laughter must have offended him, because he left my room quite quickly after that.
  3. I am straight, but when I lived in Tokyo, I absolutely loved joining friends to go to the gay bars in Shinjuku-sanchome. We had great times dancing and laughing the night away! The guys didn’t seem to care I was hetero. So, when a girlfriend in San Francisco invited me to accompany her bar-hopping the lesbian bars of the city, I was excited. However, by the end of the night, I was depressed: not one person at any of the places we’d visited had asked me or joined me to dance, yet she’d danced the night away. “Well, Dianne, you do have that ‘I’m not lesbian’ sign on your forehead.” Funny I hadn’t noticed that sign when I’d powdered my nose earlier…
  4. Finally, this one from Brussels. Touring around the city, no doubt with a map in my hand, a young Belgian offered to show me the sights. “I don’t have money to pay a guide today,” I responded. “No, no, just as friends. I have free time. I’ll show you around.” After walking around and enjoying ourselves, we had a simple dinner and a beer. I offered to pay. “No, no; this is my city. I will pay.” So he did. As we got up to leave, I noticed my little purse was missing from my bag. I looked around for it, but it was not in the restaurant. My new friend helped me retrace our steps, to see if we could find it. Nothing. That’s when I noticed it: the omamori, or Japanese good luck charm, attached to my little purse. It was hanging out of his pocket. “Do you have my purse in your pocket?” I asked. My new friend threw the purse at me, shouting, “I toured you around all day! And you can’t even buy me a beer!” Then he ran away.

Ok, everyone, I’m looking forward to hearing a few of your “Cultural Defective” dating mis-haps. And for all of us to reflect on what we learn from these often funny and painful experiences. Please share your story via the form below, or in the comments. Thanks for helping us build a better world!