She’s Been in 68 Countries in 21 Years

CarouLLou-LOGO What??!!!

I have been fascinated with CarouLLou ever since I met her online about a year ago. She and her husband have been global nomads together for 21 years (and on their own before that). They are, however, unlike any other global nomad I have ever met. Initially they would live two years in a given location—fairly normal, expatriate-type stuff. Over the years, however, as the internet came into being, as communication became easier, as it became possible to rent furnished apartments online, and as visas became more complicated (e.g., non-EU citizens may stay in Europe for six month per year, but only three months in a six-month period), CarouLLou and her “mystery photographer” became more and more nomadic, living in each location for shorter and shorter periods of time. Nowadays, they often stay in a place one-to-three months.

Do they feel like tourists? Well, they do some touristy things; they see the sights, particularly when a place is new to them. But, that place, at that time, is their home. Their only home. What they love is feeling like locals: eating where locals eat, discovering hidden treasures that only locals know about, and doing things even locals wish they could do.

Sound familiar? I know it’s true for me, and I’m confident it’s true for many of you readers as well. How often have we been told we are more Japanese or Mexican than many born to that nationality? Untrue, of course; a metaphor, of course—but a compliment that reflects a desire on the part of the global nomad to put ourselves in the shoes of other people.

In the video below, CarouLLou answers my question about feeling like a tourist vs. being “at home,” what home means to her, and she tells us an interesting story about their life in Venice.

Why do CarouLLou and her husband choose this lifestyle? Isn’t it difficult? It surely isn’t “normal”! To hear her tell it, the global nomadic life is almost addictive, with the constant stimulation of new experiences and learning. Below she explains why they live the way they do, and the advantages and downsides of their extreme global nomad lifestyle.

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Photo courtesy CarouLLou. Click on the photo to learn her packing tips!

CarouLLou and her love travel with one medium-sized suitcase and one carry-on each—65 kilos of luggage. Remember, those suitcases contain everything they own. It definitely puts the quantity of “things” I have in my 3-bedroom condominium to shame. And my stuff has been actively downsized for several years now! So many of us want to live simpler, lighter lives. CarouLLou definitely lives lighter, if not simpler, than most of us.

I am fascinated that all her belongings fit in one medium-sized suitcase and a carry-on, because CarouLLou always looks so gorgeous, so put-together, and so in her element—whether she is in Mexico City, Tokyo or Rome. How in the world does a woman look that great and own so few pieces of clothing and accessories? Her response seems a good guide for many of us.

I well know that the life of an entrepreneur, local or global, can get lonely and isolated if we’re not careful. We don’t have an office full of people to work with everyday, so we have to reach out and actively build community more than some others. The very creative CarouLLou found an innovative way to connect with like-minded people in new cities in which she lives: “brainstorm lunches.” Click on the link to read a full article about these, or view the video clip below to hear her talk about the fit between treasuring friends and family, and the life of a global nomad.

CarouLLou speaks four languages, but obviously she has visited a lot of places in which she doesn’t speak the language of the place. How does she get along? I asked her to share some tips with us on how to communicate and get what we need when we don’t speak the local language.

There are so very many countries in the world, and even though CarouLLou and her husband choose to live mostly in metropolises, how do they choose where to live next? How do they decide whether to go to a new place or revisit a previous “home”? And how do they agree? I love her answer; based on decades of experience, it provides a sound guide for any traveller or sojourner.

Are you curious to know whether, after 21 years of nomadic life, CarouLLou still experiences culture shock? Here is what she says about this challenge.

The Facts This couple has been in 68 countries by the UN nation-count, 82 countries according to the “Travelers’ Century Club.” They like urban areas, and tend to travel East to West, following the seasons. They have twelve or so absolute favorite cities in which they feel at “home” and revisit regularly, and they rotate favorite places with places they’ve never before been to.

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Photo courtesy CarouLLou

In 1994, CarouLLou and her husband began traveling, subletting their Montreal apartment, but in 1996 they announced to their family and friends that they were “jumping into the unknown!” They sold all of their belongings—minus a couple of suitcases full of personal items—and a FAX machine—to make their home portable.

How does CarouLLou support herself? She became “location independent” years ago with her marketing business, and then with her coaching business, because she could meet with her clients via fax and phone. (CarouLLou actually gave her clients and collaborators prepaid phone cards so they wouldn’t incur extra charges to communicate with her; how fast technology has changed!) She got her first email in 1998—quite late to the technology world, in my global nomad experience—and started a few online businesses as well as a photo site for her family and friends.

Currently, CarouLLou provides consulting on life potential, for start-up businesses, and marketing strategies, has several websites, some information funded by publicity, and others with affiliate partnerships (among them her travel site, as well as hotel booking and apartment booking sites). She loves fashion; in her blog and Facebook photos she always looks perfectly put together, and her looks are her own, yet change with each city in which she lives. She also has an online jewelry store to enable us to share some of her “finds,” and shares her inspired “looks” for various cities and sells clothes online. She is an investor, engages in currency trading, and has passive income from international organizations she’s set up over the years. CarouLLou also has several paper.li papers: Style, Nomads, and Travel.

Her philosophy includes:

  • “When we travel with an open heart, our world is full of hearts.”
  • “Don’t try to spend less, try to find ideas to make more! The more you spend, the more people benefit.”
  • “Remember the word currency comes from ‘current,’ so be in the current!”
  • “Work a little everyday, and do something special every day… and you will feel on vacation all your life!”

You can subscribe to CarouLLou’s blog, or follow her on most every social media. Like Cultural Detective, she has about 20,000 followers on social media, and she definitely shares our passion for cultural diversity and competence.

A New Tool and a New Mashup on Gender Relations

Global Gender Intelligence Assessment and Cultural Detective Women and Men
Guest post by Donna M. Stringer

Using these two instruments in combination could have ground-breaking results in the area of gender relationships in the working environment (and beyond). And if we can improve gender relations, it would be nothing less than a global revolution!

ggia_full_logoThe Global Gender Intelligence Assessment is a new online tool created by Barbara Annis and Alan Richter. It is an outstanding resource that measures gender attitudes and competence in the areas of Insight (Head), Inclusion (Heart) and Adaptation (Hands). These three constructs are combined with scores for Self, Others and World, giving you a 3 x 3 grid of nine gender-related competencies—each with interpretation and developmental suggestions. There are two versions of the assessment: one for general staff and one for leaders.

The most useful aspects of this assessment are the Interpretations and Personal Action Planning sections. These areas offer detailed, practical, and “doable” suggestions for building competencies. Many assessments provide “Developmental” suggestions that are so general that they read like “can’t we just get along.” The GGIA developmental options are different. They are well thought out and so varied that individuals from a wide range of cultural perspectives can find culturally effective and appropriate ideas to implement.

The assessment is also affordable at $11-$15/per person depending on numbers purchased. For further information contact Alan Richter.

coverWomenMenCulture Detective: Women and Men is, of course, not a new tool—it  was developed as the first non-national Cultural Detective package in 2007 and revised in 2010. One of the many advantages of CD programs is that they help people understand culture and their own responses to cultural differences. Exposing people to CDs is a developmental process: it is non-judgmental and allows participants to see the world through a different lens, shift perspectives, and identify ways to bridge the differences that might otherwise create conflict or mis-understanding. CDs take a general understanding and problem solving approach that allows cultural differences to be seen as interesting issues to “solve.” The Cultural Detective Women and Men allows people to explore gender differences in a manner that is fun but not personal. Once individuals are able to approach gender in this manner, they are ready for the next step: examining their own individual gender competencies.

Gender MUThe Gender Mashup!

As a developmental process, it would work beautifully to use the GGIA as a follow-up to the CD Women and Men. Having experienced a non-judgmental process of understanding and considering both one’s own and the “other” gender, and identifying bridging behaviors, most individuals would now be ready to complete an assessment that allows them an interpretation of their responses followed by outstanding strategies for personal development suggestions.

Regardless of one’s occupation, organization, or country, gender is a primary diversity characteristic—and one that virtually everyone encounters in life. As I have traveled and worked around the globe, virtually every organization has gender as a diversity and inclusion issue. Using these two instruments in combination could have ground-breaking results in the area of gender relationships in the working environment (and beyond)—and if we can improve gender relations, it would be nothing less than a global revolution!

Written by Donna M. Stringer, Ph.D.

Using Social Media to Rebrand Culture

What's the story...?

What’s the story…?

This is the sixth in a series. (#1#2#3#4 and #5 are here.)

Stories can be made to say what we want them to say. I went shopping this evening and, at the checkout, the cashier, seeing the bandage on my nose, asked what happened to me. To her horror, I explained it this way: “A couple days ago, I had an encounter with a young man, who had me held down and cut me with the blade that he had in his hand.”

Her reaction naturally changed to one of amusement and empathy, the moment I mentioned that the young man in question was my surgeon, and the immobilization was being strapped to the operating table! There is no untruth in the first story, but the discourse it calls forth depends on who the listener is, and evokes a substantially different discourse with the omission or addition of a few details. Had I told the same to my policeman neighbor, I’m sure a different automatic discourse would have sprung up for him, and he would have started to ask different questions, though, knowing him, I am sure he would have had a hearty, guys-will-be-guys laugh at the end. The key to the ultimate meaning of stories is intentionality. I was taking advantage of my strange appearance to lighten my pain and have a little fun. Understanding intentionality is the key to cultural competence, not just recognizing difference and learning to adapt behaviors to the situation.

How can new media be used to shape discourse and create culture?
We are forever telling stories, in old as well as new media. So, let’s move on from the question we discussed last time about what messages new-media themselves may bear. Let’s turn our attention to the second question, namely, how we use these media, deliberately or unconsciously to create, change or maintain certain forms of discourse as cultural building blocks. Can, for example, the interactivity of social media play an important role in reshaping cultural discourse and cultural identity? What has been done, accomplished, what is being done to create the stories that articulate today’s and tomorrow’s cultural realities?

Creating stories to do this is not new. We’ve created identity stories throughout history and we do it all the time. Recently a friend of mine sent me a photograph of mother dog instructing seven puppies, with a story which ends: “…and then the mean old kitty stole all of the doggie treats and ran down the street, and that is why we chase cats to this day.”

mean-kitty

This doggy story is humorous, because it is so true. Patriots and dictators, oppressors and the oppressed each create their own story, not only of who they are but of how they are defined in reaction to others, usually seen as “the bad guys.” They expect mothers and teachers to pass it on. In the USA, when the Berlin wall came tumbling down and the Communist bloc shrank, after a brief period of euphoria, we started to need a real enemy to feel good about ourselves. There had to be some bad guys, some rustlers out there. Though it is not essential, identity myths pick up currency by emphasizing superiority, whether racial, moral, military or cultural as well as by identifying outside threats.

Branding a Nation
Nonetheless, to discuss what is being done, or what we might do with contemporary media in this respect, it might be instructive to look at a classical case of rebranding, not of a product, but of a nation, something that occurred at a time when mass media could largely be described in two words: newspaper and radio.

Dr. Hatice Sitki, a colleague in Australia, has done impressive work on the marketing and branding of national identity. If you think marketing is not relevant to cultural identity, think again. The whole idea of marketing is to create a discourse, which people take as their reality, a discourse that usually deals with them, sometimes with them as citizens, but more often today as consumers. Using a national example can tell us about commercial branding as well. What Hatice did was study the mythology, the brand, the discourse of Turkish identity, and connect it to the search for European identity, a topic that has been surfacing from time to time since the creation of the European Union—usually in times of stress, like the current financial crisis.

The most interesting part of Hatice’s work was the description of how Kemal Ataturk (literally so renamed as “Father of the Turks) selected from the myths the stories of origins and heroes that existed in Ottoman lore, and recombined them, rephrased them into a discourse, which gave a “real” national identity to Turks. There had been a tribal identity, an ethnic identity for Turks before this, but in the Ottoman Empire there was no sense of a specific Turkish nationality or citizenship. One belonged to the Empire. It was just that way.

So Hatice took a look at the marketing of identity not only historically, but also in terms of the future potential of marketing to the EU. She went on to explore how some of the current myths could be rebranded, so that the discourse about Turkey not being really European might be shifted, even integrated with the myths and discourse of European identity. After all, if one really looks at the Ottoman Empire in European history, it’s played a powerful role. It was frequently an ally of European countries against each other. World War I was only the tragic final act in this drama. Yet today Europeans are struggling with, “Can it be a part of Europe? “Can it join the European Union?” European resistance to the idea, among other factors, seems to be fueling a return to stronger Islamic identity after three quarters of a century of existence as a proud secular republic in the Islamic world.

attaturk

When I first explored ideas about the flow of culture in a webinar addressed to a study group of the Project Management Institute, one of the participants from India remarked, “I think there’s a hidden morale in this presentation. At the PMI we need to understand the cultural difference, find common ground for all stakeholders to work as one.” How true, because if we think about image of the river, it’s carrying, integrating all these different waters, from all their different sources into one powerful flow toward the sea, and if we think of ourselves as collaborators in an organization, the diversity that our colleagues bring, whether personal, ethnic, or wherever it originates, as a resource.

The metaphor of the river is valid for understanding organizations as well as for exploring group and individual identity. Training multicultural teams to work in global environments, many of whom work almost entirely virtually, requires not only constant exploration of cultural discourse but efforts to shape a “third culture,” the agreed set of discourses by which team members will collaborate. Cultural Detective: Global Teamwork is an example of a tool that was developed by a virtual team to help teams identify and meet the key challenges of virtual collaboration. While such teams often have their own platforms, it is not uncommon for members to use social media to explore and solidify their connections with each other. In an academic context, it happens not infrequently that while students are provided with online tools by the university, many will eschew these for Facebook and other social media when they actually get down to working together on a common project, creating their group culture together on such sites. While we tend to think of deep culture as enduring and resurgent, we should not turn a blind eye to the functional but transitory cultures that are easily built as well as dismantled by new media tools. Even here it is a matter of sharing and shared discourse. If anything, impermanence may be a hallmark of much digital culture where the object of new media utterances is not to “build a monument more lasting than bronze” (Horace, Ode 3.30) but to learn habits that enrich the everyday with timely discourse for what we do to best meet our needs.

The river of discourse is a rich, rich resource. We need to know how to tap into its fullness. If not, the likelihood is what I described toward the end of the Culture’s Flow poem. It will flood over us, wash us away. I often think of colonialism and now rampant globalization as the human, cultural equivalent of burning down the rain forests. Most of us only see the destruction of environments from afar, but at the micro level what is going on is the extermination of species or discourse that will not return, resources that might play, in fact, very important roles in our well being.

We know that humans have created some very dangerous, even genocidal cultures, discourse about others that enables us to kill them en masse. Yet these realities and their consequences stem from our constructed discourse. Once we realize that we are enmeshed in all of these worlds of discourse, it asks us, how can we look at this, how should we look at what’s real, and, what’s really real may be simply our capacity to recognize different discourses for what they are, stories created in time to serve a purpose, hopefully to serve a good purpose, hopefully to help us succeed and survive in our environment. But so many of them have been dangerous; have been deadly, so it’s about getting the point that realities are ours to create.

What do new media bring to this challenge? A great freedom to question. Unparalleled contact with the diversity of others. A great liberty to seek out new discourses of identity. A vast universe of opportunities in which to discover, engage and enroll kindred souls. A limitless playground for new ideas and a place to grow up, space for our discourses to be questioned, to be reshaped, and to be created in unprecedented ways. The opportunity to create a critical mass of discourse that might just change some of the seemingly endless games we have been playing. The tools are there to shape our primitive discourses in ways that will humanely and constructively prevail. This will not happen by itself, nor will the media per se deliver this message. Rather it is we, the storytellers and our intentions, that will make a difference. Do new media guarantee change? Certainly, but not without risks. It is up to us, to our intentionality and our ability to share it that will determine the direction and results of that change.

This post originally appeared in the blog of the Center for Intercultural New Media Research and is provided with the assistance of its editor Anastacia Kurylo.

If the medium is the message, what is the cultural message of a new medium?

Oakland1976

Once upon a time a carriage return returned the carriage and a folder was made of paper and we dialed the phone with a dial and mail needed a stamp. New media have changed all that though we still use the old words…

This is the fifth in a series (#1, #2, #3, #4 are here.)

If, as we have been discussing, the new media, and in particularly social networks, have been delivering such an enormous quantity of conversations into our mailboxes and our minds each day, it is important for us to look at the process of shaping the culture that is involved here. There are, I believe, two dimensions to look at. The first is what these media, as media, manifest about the cultures that create them, as well as what their own cultural message may be. The second is how can new media be used to shape discourse and create culture? We will discuss the first question today and the second in next week’s post.

When asking, “What is the cultural message of a new medium?” I am looking at the media through the lens that Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan offered us when he enunciated his famous dictum, “The medium is the message.” While we can look at the abundance of new media tools, platforms, and connections and ask about their role in connecting contemporary culture, it will be important for students of communication to have a careful look at each of the new media to determine what kind of message it sends simply by being what it is and working in the fashion it does.

Here are some of McLuhan’s distinctions that might provide starting points: for example, his distinction between hot and cool media in terms of its impact on the perceiver as well as the intentions of the sender. Generally speaking, hot media engage one or more senses rather completely and demand little interaction, while cool media require more participation to fill the gaps. What media and aspects of new media operate in one way or the other? Does this say something about the propensity to contribute or to lurk? This will require careful research and study, so I have to be satisfied with simply calling attention to this side of new media and their possible impacts on the users (the medium is the massage). I leave it up to experts in academic communication departments and think tanks to provide the workforce that will help us to understand what is happening to us as end-users of each medium and how their extensive use may shape culture.

McLuhan himself offered a model, which could be another starting point for steering our impressions and generating research about what a medium may actually do and how it affects cultural discourse and behavior. We can examine the media we are using and ask ourselves:

medium

What changes when we use different forms of new media?

  1. What does it enhance, what is amplified, enlarged, intensified?
  2. What does it obsolesce, what drops in prominence or even disappears?
  3. What does it retrieve, what is recovered, brought back of what was previously lost or diminished?
  4. What does it reverse, what does it do when pushed to its limits?

Movement in any of these directions may affect the culture of the users, for example the mass availability of cell phones seems to have significantly increased frequency of communication in some cultures where people were inclined to be more taciturn in face to face situations. The documentary, McLuhan’s Wake, uses the cell phone as one example of these changes: the cell phone enhances the free use of the voice; it obsolesces the phone booth; it retrieves childhood yelling (to the point where we have coaches on the train that are “zen,” where cell phone conversations are forbidden); when pushed to its limits, it reverses freedom from the wire and becomes a virtual leash for those who cannot be without it. So the starting point for inquiry here is probably sharing your own experience with peers and across generations as to how your life has been affected, changed, as new media acquired more prominent places in your life and work. Such discussion should provide suggestions for more in-depth research.

How do new media emerge from culture?
McCluhan also observed, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” This should not surprise us as interculturalists, knowing that what we make in the world, scooters or cellphones, are products of our inner discourse. We make culture and culture makes us. When we’re talking about media, new or old, we are talking about ways we have projected our culture on reality. They are part of our culture.

So, the question is how, from what discourse, and from what need the development of new media tools and resources emerge. While the possibilities seem infinite, still what we create emerges from discourse we have about our needs and ourselves. Here’s an impossible question, but I find it fascinating to speculate on: what the Internet and new media would look like today, if their birth and infancy had occurred through the efforts of housewives rather than the exigencies of the 1950s military. How much to we have to feel threatened, in order to move forward?  Apparently quite a bit, at least given the prevailing expression of our primitive discourse.

Today’s dominant discourse, in the socially constructed global marketplace that we live in, is Darwinian, despite the niceties we would like to embellish it with. This is rooted in the more ancestral and primitive biological discourse of survival, which at its worst is Homo homini lupus—”Man is a wolf to [his fellow] man.” This, to say the least, is unfair to wolves. “Kill and eat!” Survival shapes the first layers of primitive discourse and the stories that it tells. If we accept some validity for Maslow’s hierarchy, we must sadly admit that much of the time decisions are made in its basement, out of real or fictive insecurity and fear for one’s existence. Despite our technology and ability to create abundance, we have not been able to significantly alter or transcend this urcultural discourse.

Consequently we live in a world where both primitive and high-tech slaughter, violence, and torture contribute to the opulence of the few and the deprivation of the many despite it being a place where, paradoxically, there is more than enough to go around. New media are enablers of war by drone and pinpoint assassination. To date social media have done little to change this culture of survival by violence, though they have already provided support to movements and counter movements, revolutions and counter-revolutions. Without a shift in our primitive conversations about survival, the best intended movements and revolutions ultimately re-create the problem that summoned them forth in the first place. Harold Robbins, in The Adventurers (later made into a rather bad film), shows us a cynical picture of how revolution follows on revolution as the starry-eyed thirst for justice, almost overnight, turns into the steely-eyed exercise of power. The novel is stereotypically set in Latin America, but as contemporary history is proving, it could be anywhere and everywhere.

So creating discourse and shaping culture on a deeper level is the perennial challenge facing humanity, even as our consciousness grows about how the internecine wars of tribes, nations and classes over resources now threatens the human race as a whole. Those who are comfortable enough, throw up their hands and say, “Well it’s just human nature.” Alternative discourses of faith and philosophy, aimed at turning “swords into plowshares,” are quickly appropriated by discourses of fear and power and used to set the people’s faiths against each other.  are fearful of cultural identity, of being labeled. This challenge of managing the larger social constructions of reality, what I have elsewhere called the “urcultures” has all too little been the focus of intercultural work and study, despite the fact that the kind of insight and tools needed to do this are more likely to be found in this field than in many others.

How new are our new media?
Do new media indeed bring something fresh to life or simply bring us more and faster same-old, same-old? Are they a “game changer,” a paradigm change or shift? Does the ease and abundance of communication change the shape of how we will think about ourselves or simply widen the channels for what we are already saying and doing or does it create a new dimension? Certainly given our understanding of the social construction of our realities, it’s we who are prone to bring the same-old, same-old to the construction and use of media, and we face each new development either with hope or horror, or both. There is strong tendency to look at new media as resources, goods, tools for power to be fought over, controlled, at the same time that we would like to see their accessibility is an enabler of democracy on a level not experienced before. If so, that would signal the arrival of a culture shift of significant proportions?

A SIETAR (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research) colleague of mine in Argentina, Natalia Sarro, has raised the question in a recent blog post as to whether we possess our stories, or whether they possess us. I am sure that the answer is, both! One of the prevailing discourses in the contemporary self-development movement at the personal level is that we must change negative stories into positive ones, limiting ones into liberating ones. This is becoming a sacred, almost religious discourse in US culture, whence it is rapidly globalizing. It is, as so many values in the US, focused on the individual, premised on individual salvation. One comes to the altar to profess one’s faith, whether it be in God or in Mammon. Both deities are pretty popular these days.

How do new media connect us, when they also disconnect us from each other and from our past?
McLuhan’s analysis of the effects of media raises interesting questions from a cultural point of view. One of these is whether the new media are creating a new sense of community in the human family or enhancing individuation—or both. Is there anything inherent in them that leads in one direction or another? Again my suspicion is both, hesitatingly said, hoping that users and scholars will offer reflection and research on if and how this is taking place. To what degree are the human connections that new media create, “real” or rather, avoiding the essentialist tone of that question, what is the nature of the reality they construct, how does it function?

A few weeks ago I was on an extremely crowded bus for the usual half hour ride home, which in this case took an hour and a half. As the bus left the station, standing room only, just about everyone under 50 (including a few over 50 like myself) was connected to their iPhone, iPod or iPad. Almost no one was talking to anyone else. When the bus ground to a halt due to road construction and traffic obstructions, gradually people put their handheld devices away and began talking to each other, both to peers and across generations, asking questions, telling stories related to our common plight. “You had to be there.” In other words, when the bus was reduced to a stop-start, mostly stop, creep, we grounded ourselves in the physical present and connected face-to-face. Sure, there were a few phone calls of the, “Honey, I’m going to be late” kind, but the focus had shifted from the distant and virtual to the here and now as people came to the presence of warm flesh and blood. I suspect this is an example of how stress reverts our discourse to more primitive levels, in this case one of tribal solidarity.

Another tantalizing question, raised by the emergence of new media, is that of the permanence, or at least endurance of the discourse and the stories that we create with them. This is about culture, what a discourse produces, its art and its arts and its artists, its architecture and literature. Fame depends on both memory and forgetfulness. It requires we hold the memorable and create the discourse that preserves it; prevailing discourse also demands that we forget those in the crowd in favor of those who stand out from the crowd. The charm of the tiny old streets of now high-rise Singapore lives in fewer and fewer of our memories. No future archeology is likely to reconstruct it. So inevitable we ask, “What human factors are the new media rendering obsolete?”

If you Google “Madonna”, most of the 230 million hits have to do with the singer, Madonna Louise Ciccone. You have to get a search a lot more specifically to find mediaeval or Renaissance paintings of the Virgin Mary, which would have been the culturally obvious meaning of “Madonna” for many only a few decades ago.

google

Will new media build on or over the cultural past? Will they create their own memorable cultural icons or lead us to a cultural fragmentation where identity is transitory and incidental? Should we worry about this? Culture is a discourse that requires consensus to exist. If, as Dominique Wolton insists, “Communication is cohabitation,” what is the human domestic architecture of new media for how we share the planet? We will look at the possibilities of rebranding identities that these media offer in the next post.

This post originally appeared in the blog of the Center for Intercultural New Media Research and is provided with the assistance of its editor Anastacia Kurylo.

Some Cultural Detective Training and Coaching Activities

Exploring how we value our own and each other’s cultural values–another step in CD sleuthing.

All too often we trainers are apportioned a less than useful amount of time for impacting the attitudes of our trainees. This affects our use of Cultural Detective as well as many other tools that we may choose or not choose to use under the pressure of diminished schedules.

When using Cultural Detective, I find it ever more important to differentiate what we do with the Values Lenses and the indigenous discourse that lies behind them from a lot of other intercultural training approaches that focus on dimensions and increasingly lead to stereotyping. When we speak about the values in Cultural Detective, it is important to remember that these have been developed through and by the inner language and feelings of the very members of those cultures that the instruments represent.

Nonetheless, when speaking of values, it is becoming increasingly common for us to have individual participants who question them, who do not identify with them, or who even dismiss them as stereotypes. Given that the best way of dealing with resistance in a pedagogical context (as well as many other contexts) may be to flow with it and direct its energies, I have developed a few approaches that I feel may help us in these somewhat challenging situations. I’ve described them as they might be used in a teaching or training context, but they may be adapted to individual and team coaching situations as well.

First, wherever possible, I use Cultural Detective: Self-Discovery, or at least an exercise or two from it, so that participants can at least claim some inheritance of cultural values and identify them as their own. This legitimizes the discussion of culture where it might be resisted. It usually overcomes or at least mitigates the participant’s temptation to see him or herself as acultural and the tendency to vaunt oneself as a global citizen, uncontaminated by inherited culture. This is not to deny, but to affirm the fact that TCKs and others like them may be digesting a smorgasbord of cultural influences as well as generating certain cultural features pertinent to their common experiences (explored in Cultural Detective: Blended Culture and CD Generational Harmony). Often elements of cultural identity are denied because they have caused pain in growing up and finding social inclusion. Once culture is legitimated as a topic of discussion and a relevant problematic for the individual being coached or the group being trained, other things become possible.

Here are some approaches that we use when one culture is trying to learn about another specific culture, as for example, when working with teams resulting from mergers and foreign acquisitions and installations. In such cases cultural conflicts and misunderstandings are often the elephant in the room, potentially touchy subjects. While Cultural Detective may be the ideal tool for pursuing understanding on both sides, it is not always a given that participants will spontaneously identify with the values of their own culture as they are presented in the Cultural Detective materials.

So, let’s say, for example, that we are dealing with German and US cultures, either in an organizational relationship or collaborative team. Daimler-Chrysler has already demonstrated that even a good bit of upfront diversity work and intercultural instruction may not be adequate to deal with our own deeply rooted values and our perceptions of others unless they are continually identified and addressed. Thus the Cultural Detective process must be mastered and practiced and in many cases facilitation must be applied on an ongoing basis until a functional collaborative culture is established. This can take quite a while.

Facing the possibility of denial of difference as well as the possibility of participants rejecting their own or the others’ cultural Values Lens as stereotypical or just plain wrong, here are a few strategies that I’ve found to be successful. Perhaps some of you have already discovered these on your own. If so, I would be interested in hearing your versions.

  1. Evaluating the strength of the discourse and the value that sums it up. I ask participants to study their own culture’s Lens and then rate on a scale of 0 to 5, weak to strong, their own sense of how they’ve personally appropriated and express in everyday words and actions each of the values described. Then I ask them to share this with their compatriots as well as with the representatives of the other culture who are participating with them. This is a matter of not only sharing their numerical rating of the values, but talking about how each cultural value expresses itself in their thinking and behavior, as well as what parts of it don’t seem to fit or which they don’t like to identify with. This may or may not resemble or relate to the “Negative Perceptions” found on the Lens itself.
  2. Identifying commonalities: Following this discussion, I ask the individuals of each culture to study the other culture’s Lens and to do two things. First, again on a scale of 0 to 5 to assess whether, and if so, the degree to which they identify with each of the cultural values of the other group as found on the lens. Then, secondly, and this is extremely important, to identify and jot down the keywords of their own inner conversation or discourse about the importance they accord to the values they seem to share and the ways in which they may practice each of them.  Thirdly, depending on the size of the group, ask them to share their results either individually, or to conduct a discussion within their same culture group and then have the groups report out their results to each other. Here is where the essential value is gained from seeing how people would express their appropriation of elements belonging to the other culture.
  3. How do we like to be treated? Given adequate time, here is another very valuable activity that could occur at this point, but might be even better to use after the group has resolved a critical incident or two. Ask each separate culture as a group to meet together to discuss and identify and list both the attitudes and kinds of treatment that they appreciate coming from the other culture, as well as those kinds of speech and behavior that they may find uncomfortable or even damaging to the collaborative and social relationship they are trying to create with each other. The previous activities at various points are likely to lead toward the identification and discussion of stereotypes, giving rise to another possibly useful activity. I have found that frequently trainers and teachers, perhaps out of a misguided sense of political correctness avoid the discussion of specific stereotypes or stereotypical expressions, missing a valuable learning opportunity.
  4. Investigating stereotypes: We’ve long accepted the fact that stereotypes contain a kernel of truth, but that the perspective with which they are expressed maybe overgeneralized and conducive to negative judgment. So, instead of dismissing stereotypes out of hand, we can use them as starting points for deeper discussion and further understanding. So, when stereotypes surface, I ask participants to discuss questions like the following ones:
    • What is the truth in them, however small? What do you think brought them about in the first place? What perpetuates them? What insights or cautions do they deliver to us? What is the discourse that we carry about self that makes them true for us when they are about us?
    • What exaggeration do they contain? What is the discourse that makes them noxious, conflictual, etc.? When are they likely to be painful or damaging? What limits do they place on our knowledge and our inquiry about others?

So, as I mentioned above these are some of the useful practices that I keep in my tool bag for enhancing the effectiveness of Cultural Detective.  It would be good to hear what others of you have developed or ways in which you view similar activities.

Cultural Appropriation — A Cultural “EF”ective Story

I want to share with you a very exciting “Cultural Effective” that has just come to my attention. It is a wonderful story that shows the power of saying our truth, listening with heart, and taking action on what feels right.

It seems a southern California-based fashion house, Paul Frank, hosted a huge party/event with a Native American theme. They seem to sell (or to have sold) quite a few products that include adaptations of native designs (the designer, Paul Frank, is also a cartoonist).

The people at Native Appropriations, among others, complained about cultural appropriation of native designs, and the Paul Frank company reached out to them to ask, learn and take action! They have not only issued an apology but yanked photos of the event and removed all native designs from their product line!

I don’t know the people over at “Native Appropriations,” but the work they are doing indeed looks wonderful! And kudos to Paul Frank for their openness and even eagerness to learn and develop!

There are so many ways we can inadvertently offend one another. Refusing to take offense but rather to tell one’s truth without blame or judgment, and then to be greeted by someone fully listening and wanting to hear and learn from that truth… What a great example they have set for us!

Appropriation is a slippery slope. I can think of several times in my life when a colleague or friend kindly and generously gifted me with traditional dress from their home. I wanted to wear it, to demonstrate my thanks and to show respect. And, in others’ eyes, wearing such dress, when I am not from that place, can insult. So many times appropriation begins as a compliment, as admiration. And so much is in the eye of the beholder.

While I have no direct knowledge or involvement in this story, it appears to be a good example of going beyond “political correctness” to really listening to and collaborating with one another.

Oldie but Goodie: Map of Key Cultural Differences

Intercultural communication is about how we can communicate effectively with one another. A frequent approach to improving intercultural communication is to develop our understanding of ourselves and of others. And probably the most common way of doing that is to teach about cultural differences, often referred to as the “dimensions of culture.”

There are many different versions of the dimensions of culture. I generally find them valuable as tools to help us compare cultures, or to cognitively learn about ourselves and others. And I also find they really limit us. While not intended this way, their use has a tendency to reify culture, to cause us to think about culture as a “thing” rather than a process. It’s why I’m such a fan of the Cultural Detective Worksheet: it’s a process for understanding self and others, for leveraging similarities and differences in order to collaborate in more innovative, rewarding, and satisfying ways.

Enough about that. This post is about cultural differences. In my training one of the ways I talk about cultural differences is to ask people to think of them as a map of the terrain, and to use them as a scanning tool. In a given interaction, which difference(s) got in the way? For example, was status important for her and not for me, and I just missed it? Was it a different sense of responsibility that really upset me? Maybe he likes to do several things at once, and I’m more one-thing-at-a-time? Was it the fact that I don’t think religion belongs in the workplace that caused him to think I’m not trustworthy?

That is how the map above came to be. It is a graphic summary of some of the cultural differences or dimensions, at least as I saw them back in 2008. It is available for you to use freely under a Creative Commons license. You can introduce the various cultural differences to your team and then, when you get mired in cross-cultural miscommunication, you can take out your map of differences and decipher just which dimension might be causing the problem. Or, maybe it’s something not even on the map.

Just click on the link above for a larger image, and to download the accompanying 11-page article entitled, “Detecting the Culprits of Miscommunication: Values, Actions and Beliefs.” Please feel free to copy and distribute, as long as you retain the copyright and source url.

I’m really interested to hear from you about how you use the dimensions of culture to promote effective interaction. What are your tools and techniques? Your dos and don’ts? And what do you think about this “map of the culprits of miscommunication” idea?

Cultural Differences in Dining Etiquette Again Get a Child in Trouble

Recently another sad story about dining etiquette across cultures has been in the news.* This time it involves cultural differences over how to use a spoon and fork, and involves a Filipino family living in Canada. Fortunately this child, Luc Cagadoc, was not removed from his family, but his mother, Maria-Theresa Gallardo,  explains that the school’s reprimands for Luc eating in a typically Filipino way have negatively affected his self-esteem as well as his performance in school. She won her case before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal (the judge ordered the school district  to pay the family $17,000 in damages), though the case is now in appeals.

Once again, a terrific Cultural Detective has filmed a video about how Filipinos eat with a fork and spoon in combination. This was evidently the behavior that led Luc’s school lunch monitor to conclude that he “ate like a pig and should learn to eat like other Canadians.”

Thank goodness Luc’s Blended Culture mother responded very constructively. She says, “We’ve been travelling around. I’ve been showing him different ways of eating, and saying there’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing.” Unfortunately, she says, her son can’t shake off the incident. “I think it’s going to last him a lifetime to remember what happened in that experience that he had.”

Have you ever gotten in trouble for “poor” dining etiquette that was due to cultural differences? Come on, share your story!

* Earlier we reported to you about an Indian family living in Norway, whose children were removed from the family home. One of the reasons cited was that the children ate with their hands. In response to that post, one of our authors made a terrific video about how to eat with one’s hands. Eating with one’s hands is, of course, the norm and custom in many cultures.

People To People International Working with Cultural Detective to Diversify Chapter Recruitment

Over the past several years I have enjoyed developing a professional and personally meaningful relationship with the People to People International organization (PTPI). For those of you who are not familiar with PTPI, the organization was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 and is now run by his granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower. Their mission is “to enhance international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities involving the exchange of ideas and experiences directly among peoples of different countries and diverse cultures.” They are a dynamic group of dedicated staff and thousands of volunteers in over 135 countries truly working to promote the benefit of people working and living cooperatively together throughout our world. They are known by their tagline, “Peace Through Understanding.

Last year in November Cultural Detective had the privilege of sponsoring and designing the student curriculum for the PTPI Global Youth Forum 2011 (GYF). We focused on designing curriculum that would readily engage about 130 students and GYF leaders and most importantly inspire them to explore building relationships outside of their perhaps “look and act like me” group of students and friends in their local communities. Based on the testimonials of both students and teachers, we feel we did a pretty good job!

This spring I’ve been asked to present the Cultural Detective Method to PTPI Board Members and the PTPI Community at Large so they can focus their attention on recruitment of diverse leaders and members. In the upcoming session I hope to show how generational differences as well as national cultural differences impact with whom we as individuals may naturally gravitate to, which can limit the growth opportunities possible by confidently reaching out to people of multiple cultures. Stay tuned for more about the event in a future post!

Talent Development Huge Topic For Keeping Employees

It’s commonly known (but not necessarily budgeted for during economic downturns) that talent development serves many purposes. Successful organizations use talent development for employee attraction and retention as well as superior employee performances. Recently, in discussing how best one of our site license clients could leverage Cultural Detective in one of their employee networks, the client mentioned there is a big push for employee development again, now that the economy is coming back. Their focus is on keeping people by teaching the skills that support inclusive and collaborative teams.

Cultural Detective is a phenomenal tool for teaching both of these skills and applying them on a global, as well as domestic level. As Janet Bennett points out in her article, “Culture General or Cultural Specific? That is the Question!“, “Rare is the professional arena where we face colleagues from only one or two cultures. Instead, each of us operates with a wealth of cultural diversity that is rich, complex, and challenging. This reality suggests that learning a single specific culture serves us well, and learning about cultural difference in general serves us even better.”

So developing employees to operate effectively in an inclusive and collaborative environment can be accomplished by learning the core Cultural Detective Method which builds the skills of knowing oneself, understanding others and building cultural bridges. As Janet goes on to say, “Cultural Detective® provides both the necessary culture-general breadth of application across many cultures while developing the culture-specific depth. The Worksheet provides a unifying and consistent process for examining yourself and others, and for bridging differences as assets. CD develops intercultural competence by simultaneously improving culture-general and culture-specific expertise in a variety of realistic contexts. By examining key cultural similarities and differences in a culture-general way, we come to know ourselves, and are able to compare and contrast our own perspective with that of others. By focusing the Values Lens on a specific culture, we enhance our capacity to untangle problems, negotiate differences, and look below the surface within and across cultures.” And through this process we can understand how to be inclusive in our multicultural environments and collaborate with those we don’t necessarily share common experiences and work styles.

With feedback like I heard from our client it seems talent development is perhaps again ready to be supported both financially and in practice — let Cultural Detective be your tool-set for achieving an inclusive and collaborative workforce!