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!

Communicating Across Cultures with People from Latin America

P1280469The SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence is a huge contribution to our intercultural field, a long overdue volume to which dozens of professionals from multiple disciplines worldwide have contributed. I am honored to be counted among them.

My primary expertise over the three-and-a-half decades of my career has been multicultural, virtual team effectiveness, global managerial competence, and Japan. Thus, when the Encyclopedia’s editor, Janet Bennett, called to ask me to author Communicating Across Cultures with People from Latin America, I was incredibly intimidated.

Latin America (México), has been my home for the past eight years. I absolutely love it here. I frequently travel for work and pleasure to other nations in the region. But Latin America is a fairly new professional topic area for me. However, I agreed to author the entry because I wanted to be sure that this region—so hugely important on the world stage today—was not overlooked.

There are interesting social, environmental, and political movements in Latin America that I don’t see happening elsewhere; the region has a lot to teach the world, an important voice to contribute. Sadly, outsiders often lump the region together into one monolithic whole. Yet the reality is that there is huge diversity within Latin America—and within each country in the region. Heck, it’s hard just to get people to agree which nations are included in “Latin America” and which aren’t!

The Cultural Detective series includes several excellent packages on Latin America, including CD Argentina, CD Brazil, CD Chile, CD Colombia, CD Dominican Republic, CD Mexico, and CD Latino/Hispanic. These are tools to help develop our skills, our abilities to work with and live in harmony with people from these cultures. Thus, they are excellent complements to the academic-oriented, knowledge-based encyclopedia entry.

I highly recommend you purchase the complete two-volume encyclopedia, published by Sage in 2015, or ask your local librarian to add it to their collection. 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.

The publishers have given me permission to share my three entries, so here is the link for you to read Communicating Across Cultures with People from Latin America. I would very much like to thank those colleagues who generously shared their expertise, differing viewpoints and experience with me as I worked on this entry: Patricia Coleman, Lucy Linhares, Adriana Medina, Fernando Parrado, and Shirley Saenz. Any errors are, of course, my own, but their input greatly enriched the finished product. Please let me know what you would add or reword!

By the way, if you are interested in Latin America, I invite you to join Fernando Parrado and me for “Latin America and Its Place in World Life” (Session I, Workshop 6) at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication, on the Reed College Campus, Portland, Oregon, July 13-15, 2016.

Diversely Gendered: Update to CD LGBT

World Gender Customs Map

Interactive map courtesy of USA’s Public Broadcasting System (PBS): http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/content/two-spirits_map-html/

I will admit to being stymied by the heated debates about mixed-gender public toilets. For those of us who travel, we know that there are so many places in the world with mixed-gender toilets. Sometimes one walks in past men urinating in order to reach a private stall. Of course, in other locations there is a stalwart bifurcation, a clear separation between men’s and women’s toilets.

I am reminded of a beautiful and wise concept that I learned about as a child. Growing up with Diné, or Navajo, friends in northern Arizona, I was privileged to learn so very much from their experiences, their families, and their culture. One of the transformational ideas for me was that of “two spirits”—that individuals can be both man and woman. Traditionally, this is a blessing, an honor. I can sure see why! Access to differing world views, and a broader emotional, cognitive, and expressive repertoire would be just some of the assets a “two spirit” gender might provide.

Across the planet this fluid or blended gender concept has many terms, some of which you can see in Independent Lens’ interactive “Map of Gender-Diverse Cultures.”  From the comments, it appears there remains a need for significant tweaking of the information provided, but it sure is a helpful start to a review of world beliefs and practices on fluid or non-binary gender identification. I urge you to take a look and do some clicking and reading!

Be sure also to subscribe to Cultural Detective Online or license the PDF package and spend some time with our newly updated Cultural Detective Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. It contains a wealth of useful information, and the approach helps us learn to partner across sexual orientations and gender identifications. It is absolutely one of the best resources of its kind. I am so proud of the international team that put it together.

A few years ago, PBS in the USA aired an interesting documentary entitled Two Spirits, directed by Lydia Nibley. It provides an introduction to the topic for those who’d like to learn. The film is available for rent or purchase from Cinema Guild, or via online streaming. In addition to the preview below, there are quite a few companion videos and activities on PBS’ website that are still available and free of charge. Thank you and kudos to all those involved!

 

Latin America and Its Place in World Life

3958-90321696-F367-EA4B-1108-B433EB1D3BCD.jpg_850This post, authored by Dianne and Fernando Parrado, was originally published on the ICI blog on April 6, 2016. Información en español.

Latin America is assuming its rightful place in the global arena, not only as a leading economy, but also as a model for innovative social movements.

This largest region in the world has long been admired for sharing its powerful music, dance, literature, visual art—and the only world heritage cuisine. Latin America has taken a key leadership role in exploring innovative solutions for restructuring societal inequity and promoting responsible development and the sustainable use of natural resources. Many of these efforts are based on popular, direct-democratic movements, including indigenous social movements.

However, the outstanding features of Latin America culture continue to be a sense of timelessness, an emphasis on the worth of personality, and an instinctive protest against the idea that success in business and the accumulation of wealth are superior to the acquisition of culture. Eleven Latin American nations include multiculturalism and multilingualism in their constitutions, and an additional four recognize indigenous rights.

The average Latin American thinks differently about such fundamental concepts as time, work, success, joy, truth, and beauty. In other words, it is life itself, not its possessions or achievements, that tend to be most worthwhile to Latin Americans. Being what you want to be is generally more important than getting what you want.

The Latin America worldview may hold the answers to many of the issues facing our world today, including climate change. Yet Latin America has often been culturally misunderstood. Important Latin American values such as communalism, expressiveness, celebration, and indigenous respect for the earth are frequently under-appreciated.

While often viewed as a single market with a shared language, religion, history, and culture, it is actually home to hundreds of languages and ethnicities, and diverse histories, geographies, economies, and political systems.

Latinos abroad bring perspectives and insights that can be used to generate innovative solutions and create vibrant, cohesive communities. As group orientation breaks down in various cultures worldwide, we must ask: Are we making the most of Latino talent? What do we need to do to be interculturally competent with members of the Latino diaspora?

We very much look forward to having you join us for this highly experiential workshop where we will explore the richness, complexity, irony, and promise of the hundreds of cultures that comprise Latin America. Taught by both of us, the workshop is called “Latin America and Its Place in World Life,” and it will take place July 13-15, 2016, during the 40th annual Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication.

During the workshop we will look backward: what Latin America looked like during the height of the Incan, Mayan and Aztec civilizations, what the conquista and the slave trade meant for the region, the gifts of resources and talent the region has provided, and how such history and heritage affects life in the region today. We will look at the present: how do people from different ethnicities, socio-economic levels and geographic areas communicate and collaborate, and how can we work and live with them more effectively? Finally, we will also look forward: what are some of the unique experiences and insights that Latin America has to share with the world, and what we can learn from Latin America to enrich our view of life?

Those of you who enroll in the workshop will receive a one-month subscription to the Cultural Detective Online, so you can use this resource during the workshop and have time afterwards to continue your learning at your convenience.

SIIC is one of the world’s premier venues for networking with and learning from professionals in the fields of intercultural communication and diversity. We trust you’ll join us for this annual learning opportunity! Click here to register for Session 1, Workshop 6, Latin America and Its Place in World Life.

Join Us for Some Awesome Professional Development!


DSC_0223

SIIC interns of the “Banana Crew of ’82” including Cultural Detectives Dianne Hofner Saphiere front and center, and Kathryn Stillings, half-standing with the curly hair. Also in the photo are the founders of the Stanford Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC): Cliff Clarke (back row, second from left) and King Ming Young (behind Dianne’s head), along with Jack May (back row, far left), administrative assistant.

My initial involvement with SIIC—then the Stanford Institute for Intercultural Communication—was in 1982, as an intern for Michael Paige. It is where I first met Kathryn Stillings, also an intern, who remains a dear friend and plays a crucial role with Cultural Detective. Several years later, the Institute relocated from Stanford University to the Intercultural Communication Institute, Portland, Oregon, keeping its “SIIC” acronym and changing its name to the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication.

The Institute has been an annual professional touchstone for me in the 34 years since. In 2016 it celebrates its 40th anniversary! Teaching over the years beside such pillars of intercultural communication as Dean Barnlund, Jack Condon, LaRay Barna, and Stella Ting-Toomey, among so many other incredibly talented, passionate souls, and having the privilege to call many of them friends, has been one of my professional life’s most treasured blessings.

BarnlundRenwickDianne

Some SIIC faculty circa 1990: Dean Barnlund, Nessa Lowenthal, George Renwick, Sheila Ramsey, Dianne Hofner Saphiere

This year, I am privileged to repeat a course I first conducted last year with Daniel Cantor Yalowitz, which was a hoot to deliver and extremely well received, called Gaining Gaming Competence: The Meaning is in the Debriefing (Session II A, Workshop 12). It will be a five-day course held July 18-22.

I am also thrilled about a brand-new course that I will be facilitating with Fernando Parrado, entitled Latin America and Its Place in World Life (Session I, Workshop 6), scroll down on the page). Latin America has so very much to offer today’s world, and is so very misunderstood; I cannot wait to work with participants to help develop our understanding of the region and the ways we teach about it. The topic is both timely and crucial.

Dianne_SIIC_FlyerI very much hope you will join me for either or both of these workshops; click here for financial information and a link to the registration page, or download a brochure for printing or sharing: SIIC_Flyer_Dianne. Here is a link to the full SIIC schedule.

Cultural Detective is also working in conjunction with the Intercultural Communication Institute to provide a 2-day facilitator certification workshop. This workshop receives kudos from even the most experienced intercultural trainers and educators. It will be conducted by Tatyana Fertelmeyster, July 23-24, in between SIIC Sessions II and III. We look forward to having you or your group join us! Click here for registration.

Righting Culinary Injustice

Photo © Johnathan M. Lewis

Photo of Michael W. Twitty © Johnathan M. Lewis

“I challenge you to find anyone in the history of the world who was enslaved and who revolutionized the food, sex lives, religion, dance, music, and aesthetics of the people who enslaved them—like Africans in the Americas did. The man and woman who became enslaved enslaved the palates of those who enslaved them.”
—Michael W. Twitty, food historian

Michael Twitty is aspiring to be the first US Civil War-era Black chef in 150 years. To that end, since 2011 he has researched, written, and, amazingly, performed the day-to-day labor of an enslaved person. Why? “It’s my job, using imagination, body, archeology, ethnography, anything I can, to honor and restore dignity to my ancestors.”

It is important that we not only honor the ancestors but provide a lifeline to contemporary communities and people of color looking for a better life in the new economy, a way out of the health and chronic illness crisis, and a way to reduce the vast food deserts that plague many of our communities. To honor the food past and provide for the food future is “culinary justice.”
—from Michael’s website, Afroculinaria

All over the world, people have lost and are losing proprietorship of their ancestral traditions. As Michael explains, “Spam colonized Oceania, Korean traditions were usurped during the Japanese occupation, there was the pseudo-history of the Columbian Exchange, Native Americans probably exchanged recipes with immigrants as they shivered under small pox blankets and dodged musket balls.” Too many people have no claim over their own heritage, no access to a field of heirloom vegetables that their ancestors brought to a country or a continent.

Maybe you have heard about Michael Twitty. I had not until I read a post by colleague Missy Gluckmann from Melibee Global this morning. Learning from Michael has occupied my entire morning, and I can’t tell you how thrilled and how moved I am by his work and who he is! Bless you, Missy and Michael!

Readers of this blog know that we often write about food (1, 2, 3, 4, 5); it is central to the soul of a culture. We also frequently write about cultural appropriation (1, 2, 3), from fashion to symbols to traditions, how to avoid it, and how to extend power and privilege, credit and honor where they belong—to origins and originators—while also continuing to be generative. Heck, bridging and blending cultures is what Cultural Detective is all about! Building on others’ work while honoring it respectfully and justly is a difficult line to maintain, however, one that requires ongoing dialogue, learning, and adjustment. Living as a gringa in Mexico, I learn more about that “thin line” on a daily basis.

Here in Latin America, where colonization and the appropriation of historic lands remain modern-day concerns, and the switching from heritage to GMO crops breaks my heart and worries many for our future, Michael’s work provides a much-needed vocabulary and conceptual framework. According to Michael, “In a world where oppressed communities worldwide are struggling with food security and economic inequalities, advancing culinary justice is essential to a better and more sustainable future for the global community.”

How does he define some of his terms?

  • Culinary Injustice: “When the descendants of historically oppressed people have no sovereignty over their culinary traditions, and essentially go from a state of sustainable production and ownership to a state of dependency, mal- or under-nutrition and food injustice. It results in feelings of shame for being under history’s boot heel, and puts distance between our past, ourselves and our future. Culinary injustice places originators in a tertiary and passive rather than a primary and active role in the transformation of culinary traditions, and results in fortunes being made for others”—those who oppress, appropriate, or innovate unjustly.
  • Culinary Justice: “Respect for truth and honesty in telling the stories and traditions of the oppressed. Reconciliation not blame, hope not guilt, the power of working together not avoiding one another. Ensuring that children of color have access to the land, ecosystems, clean water and legal protections to grow the heirloom crops and heritage breed animals of their ancestors. This results in a greater connection to nature, spirit, and our ancestors. Culinary justice enables the oppressed to become entrepreneurs, producers and providers by using their unique cultural heritage, and lifts communities out of poverty.”

Bridging Cultures via Culinary Traditions

Michael himself is a Blended Culture person, both African-American and Jewish, among, no doubt, many other identities. How does he bridge cultures? Again, in his words, “Food is extremely culturally connected and inherently economic and political. It is a proving ground for racial reconciliation and healing and dialogue. The responsible exploration of the Southern food heritage demands that the cooks of colonial, federal era and antebellum kitchens and enslaved people’s cabins be honored for their unique role in giving the Southland her mother cuisine.”

Think about this a minute. Here’s a culinary historian who has dedicated his life to reclaiming the Black culinary heritage of the Americas, especially in the US South. How do you think he might feel about someone, like, say, Paula Deen, celebrity chef and doyenne of Southern comfort food, who, when you think about it, has made a fortune off adapting (or appropriating) African-American recipes and traditions? In fact, Michael named one of his projects “The Southern Discomfort Tour,” to help us redefine how we think about what is commonly referred to as “Southern comfort food.”

Again, in Michael’s words, “I invited Paula Deen to dinner, at a plantation, to engage her as a cousin, not a combatant. The Cooking Gene seeks to connect the whole of the Southern food family—with cousins near and far—by drawing all of us into the story of how we got here and where we are going. There is power in food traditions for bridging the pseudo-boundaries of race.”

Bravo!

Michael talks about “identity cooking,” which relates directly to the Blended Culture that we as Cultural Detectives talk about. He tells us, “Identity cooking isn’t about fusion; rather it’s how we construct complex identities and then express them through how we eat. Very few people in the modern West eat one cuisine or live within one culinary construct. Being Kosher/Soul is about melding the histories, tastes, flavors, and diasporic wisdom of being Black and being Jewish. Both cultures express many of their cultural and spiritual values through the plate, and Kosher/Soul is about that ongoing journey.”

He talks about the Americas as “a culinary cornucopia unknown anywhere else in the world, where foods from Africa, the Americas, Eurasia, the Middle East and Southeast Asia met. Cooks from modern-day Ghana, Angola and Nigeria perhaps exchanged recipes with each other in their new Afro-Creole pidgeon English,” and here, paraphrasing him, sharing with one another how they adapt their ingredient list to the plants and herbs available in the Americas, as well as the palates of their new owners. “What results is not like anything they have cooked before, but is the essential truth of all of the parts.”

Remember when I told you that modern science is proving that memory is biological, that it crosses generations? Michael Twitty, with his one-man mission to reclaim African-American culinary heritage, recently found out through DNA testing that he his paternal ancestors were the Akan of modern-day Ghana. The Akan language, called Twi, has a word and an Adinkra symbol called sankofa. Sankofa means that we must go back and reclaim our past in order to move forward! You tell me Michael isn’t doing what his ancestors, and his genes, tell him needs to be done! Inside each of us, indeed, is a piece of the puzzle, an answer to the challenges facing our world!

Akindra-sankofa

The Akindra symbol for sankofa

Sankofa_bird

Akindra bird symbol for sankofa

Personal Learning (or Reframing) Points

What are some of the key points I learned, or reframed, from Michael Twitty this morning? Most of the below is verbatim from Michael via his videos on the internet.

  1. African slaves were not unskilled labor. They were brought to the Americas for their skills, to help build nations. They knew how to grow rice and cotton from West Africa, and brought it to the USA. We brought over 20 different African crops and animals to the Americas on slave ships. They brought their ability to cook. Post-slavery, they were the first generation of caterers in America, culinary aristocracy, cooking for the White House, embassies, highest society. Yet our children don’t know that!
  2. “Yam yam” is a Wolof word, the word enslaved women used when caring for white children in the big house, encouraging them to eat her food. Look in the dictionary under “yummy”: “origin unknown”? Black people!
  3. As new generations were born in the USA, kids’ palates changed. They don’t like guts, which of course contained the spirit, the soul, the essence of the animal that was sacrificed to feed us. We began to lose the mystical, the mythological, the metaphysical, and the magical… Those chitlins (small intestine): they contain the soul, that’s why it’s called soul food!
  4. Enslaved cooks from Central West Africa used spirituals to time their cooking; there were no clocks. To roast the meat, bake the bread… they’d reference the number of times they could sing the song before the food would be done.
  5. Rice in South Carolina made 10 out of the first 12 millionaires, all of whom were involved in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It took only two seasons to make the rice planters of Charleston millionaires. Charleston Gold Rice sells for $14/bag today, yet not one black person owns a rice field in Charleston. That’s food injustice.
  6. It’s important to respect and revive the culinary knowledge of the oppressed. It takes guts to insist that the chef act as a keeper of tradition, an advocate of memory, of ecological integrity, of ethnographic and historical respect, with contemporary awareness and a sense of urgency to acknowledge debt. Culinary reconciliation will lead to healing and a better life.

I’m sure you’d love to see Michael in action. Below is a video of an 18-minute presentation he gave to MAD, a Danish non-profit.

If you have heard Michael speak or, better yet, eaten some of his food, please let me know about your experience. Bless you, Michael Twitty! Thank you for helping make our world more respectful, equitable and just!

 

 

How Language Can Deceive

PERCEPTION AND DECEPTION COVER FACE 3“We’re all coming to be like each other. While there’s some truth to that, it’s also truth that in coming together so rapidly—with technology, migration across borders—we are unprepared for the contact between people and cultures we know nothing about.”

Joe Lurie recently spoke to a sold-out crowd at the Commonwealth Club of California. In this two-minute excerpt from that presentation, Joe tells the sad story of a woman looking for a job who isn’t hired, at least in part, because of her name.

We’ve published about the importance of names previously on this blog. While Joe and Fadwa’s story is anecdotal, it echoes the experience of thousands of others worldwide. You may recall the widely reported story of José Zamora, who was hired only after he changed the name on his resumé to “Joe.” According to Recruiter magazine:

Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback. This would suggest either employer prejudice or employer perception that race signals lower productivity.

The book, Perception and Deception: A Mind Opening Journey Across Cultures, tells hundreds of stories like this one, in an effort to help the reader develop awareness and understanding, so they can then use Cultural Detective to build their skills and competence. If you haven’t yet read the book, be sure to order it now. Better yet, order a copy for Aunt Margret or your Cousin Vinny, too.

War Zones and Cultural Disconnects

PERCEPTION AND DECEPTION COVER FACE 3Our book, “Perception and Deception: A Mind Opening Journey Across Cultures,” is getting incredible reviews and selling like hotcakes (or roti, sushi, tacos…)! Quite a few successful, internationally renowned professionals leading multicultural lives—a famous news anchor, an ambassador, journalists, professors—have written on Amazon to tell us how much they’ve learned from the book. Check out the reviews for yourself. As Joe tells us:

I wrote the book because I think that in this age of globalization, more and more cultures are coming together in ways for which we are not prepared. We don’t understand the real intent behind behaviors, behind images, gestures, and how we use our voices.

Perception and Deception‘s author, Joe Lurie, is born a storyteller. Most of his speaking engagements to promote the book have been sold out, including the one in the video below, taken at the Commonwealth Club of California.

Over the next couple of months, I’ll share excerpts of Joe’s talk there. This first clip, below, is four minutes long, and in it Joe discusses the cultural disconnects in modern war zones.

Perception and Deception is a great gift for anyone who would benefit from taking some time to reflect on what is really involved in communication across cultures, even or especially those who live and breathe it on a daily basis. Copies are available through Amazon.com or your local bookstore. Through more effective intercultural communication we can build justice, equity, respect, and collaboration in our world!

“Those who were dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
—F. Nietzche

Terrific Summertime Intercultural Movie: McFarland USA

MV5BMjMwNjY2Mjk5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODM2NTA0MzE@._V1_SX214_AL_Preparing to waste some time watching an in-flight movie as I flew to Europe from Mexico, I perked up considerably as soon as Los Tigres del Norte’s America came on. This film, McFarland USA, was not going to be a standard high school sports movie after all!

Todos son Americanos, sin importar el color
De América, yo soy, de América, yo soy

We are all Americans, no matter our color
I’m from America, I’m from America

The plot line:
Track coach Kevin Costner’s (Mr. White) temper has resulted in him and his family bouncing from one high school to another in a downward spiral of disenfranchisement from family and friends, as well as loss of self esteem and family cohesion. As the movie opens, Mr. White is forced to leave a (very white) school in Idaho for a very rural school in another part of the USA. His daughter’s first words as they pull into their new home? “Dad, are we in Mexico?” It turns out they’ve moved to the agricultural Central Valley of California. Living as a US expat in Mexico, their cultural confusion delighted my soul.

The initial culture shock:
Arriving tired and hungry, the White family heads to a restaurant in search of a burger. “We have tacos, tortas, burritos, quesadillas, tostadas…” recites the waitress. After several repetitions of the phrase, the family orders the only thing they apparently understand, tacos. They imagine their confusion has ended, but oh no… “Do you want asada, al pastor, chorizo, cabeza, lengua…?” While they are dumbfounded by the options, my family would be in heaven!

Low riders cruise the streets and Dad is scared he won’t be able to protect his family—bias incarnate. A rooster wakes them up at dawn, in stereotypical fashion, and a neighbor lady gives them one as a welcome gift. Dad finds a simpatico cultural informant in the local grocery store owner. They go from hating the Virgen de Guadalupe colorfully painted on their living room wall, to loving it.

Cultural adaptation:
Within a week of his arrival to their new home, Dad is fired from his position coaching football. His students’ reaction to the news? “Congratulations, Mr. White. They are treating you like a picker.”

A teacher now without a head coach position, Costner notices that many of the local kids run far distances as part of their daily lives—there isn’t any transportation other than one’s own two feet. He also realizes that the kids wake up early in the morning to help their parents pick crops, before they begin their second day later in the morning at school. The kids’ abilities impress the heck out of him; he is blown away that they have the stamina for both work and study, and disappointed when his students’ parents don’t support their kids’ after-school activities (they need the kids’ help in the fields).

Mr. White gets to know a couple of the local kids, and enlists their help to put together a cross-country running team. Part of his learning journey includes a day with the kids out picking in the fields where, as expected, Mr. White fails miserably.

The movie does an excellent job capturing Mexican values such as family, respect for elders, hard work, dealing with adversity, and joy in life. We watch with delight as Mr. White and his family learn invaluable life skills from their new neighbors and friends, and experience, for the first time in their lives, some of the joys of community and tradition.

The movie as a learning resource
McFarland USA is a predictable movie, rather stereotypical, but refreshing and timely. I found it a very worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours on an international flight, and would recommend it to you for summer viewing. I can definitely see using clips from this film in coaching, educational or training environments. Please let me know what you think.

Do you have a favorite cross-cultural movie, book or resource? Share with us your review!

The Wedding Quiz

800px-Indian_wedding_DelhiConsider this: it is your wedding day, and you are a young bride-to-be. Your family and friends have been planning for this event for months. Just as the ceremony is about to begin, your future husband has a seizure. What do you do?

  1. Immediately stop the wedding and accompany your future husband to the hospital.
  2. While your future husband goes off to the hospital, explain to your guests that there will be no wedding today, but everyone should enjoy a nice a party since they are already here and there is plenty of food and drink.
  3. Everything is prepared, so just select another man from among the guests in attendance to be your new husband, and go on with the wedding.

I didn’t make this situation up, rather it is something I read in the Times of India, “Groom unwell, bride weds guest in fit of rage,” which really made me think about my own reaction to the story and my own cultural assumptions.

This wedding took place in India. It seems that the bride–to-be and her family had not been told of the medical condition of the groom prior to the wedding. So when the groom had an epileptic seizure, she decided, right on the spot, to marry another guest at the wedding. Although faced with an unexpected and upsetting situation, the bride-to-be didn’t make a rash decision, but one based on long established tradition. However, to appreciate the logic of the situation requires a major shift in thinking by those whose main values related to marriage are derived from largely individualistic western values and practices.

The action made cultural sense to the bride and her relatives because the man she decided to marry was someone she and the family already knew well: her sister’s brother-in-law. From their collectivist point of view, hers was a very reasonable choice. A marriage in South Asia is not just a joining of two people, but a public recognition of mutual duties and obligations, which impacts possibly hundreds of people on both sides. That is why many marriages in South Asia are arranged—such an important event is too serious to be left to only two people. Family honor is involved, and it is the duty of the larger family and lineage to make an appropriate investigation of the groom’s side. Since the man who was to be the groom fell ill, and neither he or his family had revealed his medical condition to the bride, it was considered a sufficient breech of trust that the marriage could not proceed.

However, there was a cultural solution available. Since the newly designated groom was someone the family already knew well, and he was present, willing, and not yet married, the wedding could continue. It is not uncommon in South Asia for sets of sisters to marry sets of brothers over time because it is thought that the bonds between kin groups will be stronger because of those ties. Further, it is relatively common that if a wife dies, the bride’s family would consider it proper that the deceased woman’s sister might marry the widower. After all, the family is familiar and such a wedding would preserve the links between kin groups. Anthropologists call this kind of arrangement “sororate” marriage patterns.

Of course, in our story, when the bride’s former husband-to-be returned from the hospital, he was not pleased that his intended bride was now someone else’s wife. There is a bit more to the story, but I’ll let you track it down, if you are curious.

What was interesting to me were people’s reactions and interpretations—unfortunately, they aren’t currently available, but I took screen shots of the “comments section.” The range of opinions ran from total support of the bride’s actions, to shock that someone could make such a life-altering decision so quickly. Here’s a sampling:

  • “Very unfortunate incident and shame on the bride.”
  • “Good luck groom”
  • “Hats off to this brave lady…my salutes”
  • “The girls did the right thing. In fact, the girl’s family should sue the boy’s family for hiding his medical condition before they agreed to the marriage.”
  • “poor man…guess he can cope with this embarrassment.”
  • “Sad incident. The groom’s family is at fault keeping the bride’s family in the dark about the groom’s epileptic attacks. What followed after the groom fainted is really unfortunate. The bride’s family must also share a part of the blame for not making exhaustive enquiries before finalizing the marriage. The bride was lucky to find her match at the same wedding venue and got married happily.”
  • “Why parents keep such info under the carpet is a shame for parents and the youth of this century. They should have the courage and the conviction!”
  • “A bold lady…The bridegroom party got a fitting reply for not disclosing the medical condition of the boy…”
  • “How can a person take such an instant decision about her life?”

This is such a great incident to illustrate the Cultural Detective Method. What seems like an irrational action from one person’s view, can seem perfectly reasonable from another perspective. Not that I would recommend choosing a spouse this way! (Wow—that really reflects my US American perspective!)

india wedding