Cultural Appropriation of Day of the Dead?

©1.IMG_0542You may know that I am US American born, and that I live in México. The latter is a huge country overflowing with diversity, art, and tradition. México is the world’s 13th largest economy, home of a growing middle class. Here in Mazatlán where I live, “Day of the Dead” is a big deal. Many families and businesses decorate altars and visit cemeteries to honor, remember, and often party with the dead. We have a huge street walk with marching bands and flowing beer, and a beautiful event involving dance, music, and poetry in our historic theater. Many locals and immigrants paint their faces and dress up.

However, not many of us here realize that there has been quite a backlash outside of Mexico to the cultural appropriation and commercialization of Day of the Dead by non-Latinos.

I first realized how “hot” Day of the Dead was on my recent visit to a US liquor store. There, I was astounded by the quantity of Day of the Dead- or calaca-themed beer and liquor! To be honest, skeletons and skulls in and of themselves seem to be popular, and anything Mexican (amigoslucha libre….), Spanish (Don Quixote), or mystical (voodoo) as well. The commercialization is, indeed, real. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Living here in Mexico, where we are privileged to be steeped in the traditions as well as the festivities, I hadn’t realized the concerns about appropriation of Day of the Dead until I read a post by one of the bloggers I follow, Aya de Leon, entitled, “Dear White People/Queridos Gringos: You Want Our Culture But You Don’t Want Us — Stop Colonizing The Day Of The Dead.”

In reading her excellent article and researching the matter a bit more, it seems that most Latinos are proud of this holiday. They understand that recognizing the dearly departed is a universal desire. Most are happy to share and ready to welcome us into the Día de los Muertos traditions, which have existed since Aztec times. But they most definitely and understandably resent our taking on the traditions as our own and transforming them into something they’re not — emptying the traditions of their soul. She writes:

And the urge to colonization is born when your own land and resources have been taken over by the greedy and your cultures have been bankrupted. Halloween has a rich history as an  indigenous European holiday that celebrated many of the same themes as Day of the Dead, but you have let it be taken over by Wal-Mart… You have abandoned Halloween, left it laying in the street like a trampled fright wig from the dollar store.

Take back your holiday. Take back your own indigenous culture. Fight to reclaim your own spirituality.

Please. Stop colonizing ours.

Aya gives examples of Day of the Dead festivals organized by non-Latinos in which Latino voices and faces are not even present! She talks of a sort of Cinco-de-Mayo-ization (my words) of Day of the Dead, in which white hipsters wear calaca face paint, stand amongst broken marigolds listening to white bands, and drink gentrified, holiday-themed micro-brews, without so much as a thought to what the true tradition is or means. She explains, and rightly complains, that we love Mexican culture when it’s convenient and fun, but not when it involves advocating to solve undocumented immigration, illegal gun exports, or rampant femicide.

So where, exactly, is the line between participating in and honoring Day of the Dead and appropriating or colonizing it?

Cultural appropriation is often used as an accusation, implying theft. But cultures, their traditions and artifacts, often aren’t clearly distinguishable. Throughout history people have intermingled, shared, and been inspired by one another.  As an interculturalist, I’m all about diversity, integration, collaboration, creativity. There is nothing inherently wrong in us learning from and building on one another; that is actually, rather, a really good thing!

The problem, Aya tells us, is many who are welcomed to the Day of the Dead table are poor guests. We don’t sit at the table; we take the table over. We don’t pay our respects, acknowledge our hosts, or say thank you. We need to be conscious that if we organize themed events, we should use them as opportunities to showcase Latino artists and musicians, and we should hold the tradition with reverence, respect, and a desire to learn and honor.

In an insightful piece in Quartz, Noah Berlatsky tells us that the problem with cultural appropriation is racism:

“There’s nothing wrong with Elvis loving and imitating Jackie Wilson. But there is something wrong with the fact that Elvis is hailed as the King of Rock n’ Roll, while most people barely know who Jackie Wilson is…

White performers, like Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus, use twerking in their videos on the way to becoming more successful and awarded than the black women who developed the style in the first place. When the white borrower, predictably, earns more accolades than the borrowee, artistic freedom and admiration is transformed into something much more problematic…

While country music loves black music, it mostly excludes black artists, in the sense that those artists are not considered central, and their contributions aren’t recognized.”

Therefore, all of us need to be vigilant to extend power and privilege, credit and honor, to the origins and originators, not just to those who adapt. However, our modern-day systems are skewed against us. Those who write a book are credited with ideas expressed by others; individuals and corporations can copyright and trademark something that has a long tradition and belongs to a group of people.

Did you know that Disney even attempted to trademark Day of the Dead? They were making a movie called Day of the Dead, and wanted to trademark the title. Thanks to huge response to a petition on Change.org, Disney rather quickly pulled its application. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, here’s what some of those opposing Disney’s trademark application had to say:

“Our spiritual traditions are for everyone, not for companies like Walt Disney to trademark and exploit,” wrote Grace Sesma, the petition’s creator. “I am deeply offended and dismayed that a family-oriented company like Walt Disney would seek to own the rights to something that is the rightful heritage of the people of Mexico. This is a sacred tradition. It’s NOT FOR SALE,” wrote Consuelo Alba, of Watsonville, Calif.

The trademark application was “odd” to Evonne Gallardo, executive director of the Boyle Heights art center Self Help Graphics. The center puts on one of the largest Day of the Dead celebrations in Los Angeles and has been sponsored by the Walt Disney Co. “The right thing to do is not to attempt to trademark a cultural and spiritual celebration,” Gallardo said. “I have yet to see a trademark on Christmas or Hanukkah.”

The movie was re-titled to “Coco,” no doubt so that Disney could trademark the title and create a website. One of the most spirited activists to oppose the trademark application was cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, creator of that incredibly powerful graphic above. In a great act of corporate listening and learning, he was recently hired on by Disney to work on the film about which he protested! Our speaking up to defend our heritage can have positive results! The movie is being made, showcasing a beautiful tradition, and it now includes more representation from the very culture it portrays.

Today as I started to write this post, I read an interesting article in The Atlantic: “The Do’s and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation.” In it, Jenni Avins provides six recommendations to prevent appropriation, including involvement of and engagement with members of the culture. She points out that cultures are fluid and constantly changing, so we can’t ask that they stay frozen in time. On the other hand, foreign passion has often helped preserve native traditions, arts, handicrafts, music, dance, literature and even languages. Like Aya, she highlights the importance of acknowledging and honoring the source, the origin, of cultural arts and traditions. Jenni also provides two “don’ts”: never wear blackface, and never use sacred artifacts as accessories.

If you celebrate Day of the Dead, please, participate in and enjoy the festivities, and use the opportunity to truly remember those who have preceded us in death. Day of the Dead provides a perfect time for us to learn from our Mexican and Latino neighbors and friends, and to share with them a human universal: remembrance and longing for those we’ve loved and lost.

I would heartily welcome your sharing with us stories of when you felt torn between wanting to participate in or honor a culture, and fearing that you were appropriating. For me, I quickly remember two different occasions when esteemed colleagues gifted me beautiful and expensive native dress, and requested that I wear it during training. I just couldn’t. I felt comfortable to wear their gifts for a social occasion, but for an intercultural training, where I was in a power position, and not a member of or fluent in the culture the dress represented, it just didn’t feel right. Yet I know I disappointed my colleagues. I do wear blouses made from kimono fabric, or blouses or skirts from other cultures. There’s just something about a complete outfit and hairstyle combination that makes me feel like I’m trying to be something I’m not.

How about you? Do share!

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.

Remember How We Used To Celebrate? Culture and Holiday Rituals

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Photo from Martha Stewart

Below is a guest blog post by Carrie Cameron, co-author of Cultural Detective Russia.

Another year of enjoying Halloween in the USA just passed. Each year, I notice a bit more shifting of the traditions. For example, commercial haunted houses are proliferating; they seem to be a way for teenagers and young adults to express their Halloween fervor. These days, children don’t only go trick-or-treating around their own neighborhoods as when I was a kid, but often their parents will drive them to neighborhoods that are known to celebrate the evening more vivaciously. Many houses and yards are decorated more and more elaborately every year, probably analogous to the Olympic-grade “competitive” Christmas decorating seen in some parts of the US these days. It’s not just a jack-o-lantern on the porch anymore! And, living in Texas, I have noticed that, over the last five years or so, Mexican Day of the Dead-style imagery has become very popular and even somewhat trendy. (Sometimes I want to remind people that Christians already have two days of the dead, forgotten by many: All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2.

I look forward to Halloween and all the fall and winter holidays every year. Like most people over the age of, say, 30, I have fond memories of the way holidays were celebrated when I was a child, and contrast these memories with the way the holidays are celebrated today. But I never realized how intensely emotional and culturally bound these personal representations of holiday traditions are until I participated in an intercultural panel discussion of holidays, years ago, at a SIETAR meeting (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research).

modernmarketingjapan.blogspot.com

Photo from modernmarketingjapan.com

The discussion began with an Anglo-American woman telling the story of how the practically sacred—for her—ritual of decorating the Christmas tree was misunderstood by her Japanese immigrant husband. He saw it as merely one more task in the holiday preparations, like wrapping gifts or putting lights on the house. She didn’t understand his apparent indifference because the tree-trimming ritual was such a fundamental part of her assumptions about Christmas. This triggered an argument that neither of them really understood. This same woman was shocked to find out, sometime later, that one of her closest friends from a similar background also viewed tree-trimming as a task, rather than a pleasant ritual.

Photo from the Long Beach Post

Photo from the Long Beach Post

Next, an African-American man related how his grown children had begun to insist on celebrating Kwanzaa, which he definitely wasn’t interested in. After a couple of years, he began to accept and enjoy it, and Kwanzaa eventually became an important new part of their family life together.

Photo from dawn.com

Photo from dawn.com

A Pakistani man told of how he felt excluded from the apparent “universal” joy of Christmas. He struggled to understand why small gifts were presented to children in socks—didn’t that seem unhygienic? (This upset some of the Christians in the group.) He also shared his feelings about the “universal” joy of Eid, and how that deep down, he couldn’t really understand the indifference of his US American friends and colleagues when Eid came around.

A Mexican-American woman found it puzzling how many Anglo-Americans celebrated Easter as a seemingly frivolous children’s holiday. To her, it was a solemn occasion. The Asians saw New Year’s as a time to be with family, rather than at the most glamorous or wildest party of the year. (Do any of the US Americans remember having a family New Year’s Day dinner, or do you still celebrate the holiday in that way??)

But for everyone in the room, the most touching moment was when a woman told her story of growing up mainstream Christian in the US, and how her parents converted to another sect when she was about ten years old. The new sect did not permit Christmas to be celebrated with gifts, decorations, feasting, and parties—it was a serious and purely religious event. As she told of how she and her brother had suddenly become walled off from all of the traditions, activities, images, music, and food surrounding their previous understanding of Christmas, she began to cry, having never had the chance to consciously mourn and articulate this loss. All of the hearts in the room were breaking for her: same holiday—different symbolism. At that moment, I realized just how truly profound a part of our being our cultural symbols of the holidays are. They are irrational, deep within us, and sometimes the source of surprisingly intense emotion.

Having the opportunity to verbalize, compare, and process these intimate personal and cultural meanings was a tremendously valuable experience for everyone in the room. Going beyond the “face value” of the symbols to their significance was a powerful bridge-building moment, and I think we all felt the universality and peace of the holidays a little more brightly that year.

Post-script: As I was writing this, I received a text from a friend in Japan about a “peanut bird wreath.” It was accompanied by a photo of a woman wearing a pin that consisted of a silver pine cone, a yellow ribbon, and a cluster of peanuts in their shells. My knee-jerk reaction, seeing the word “wreath” and a silver pine cone, was that this was some kind of Japanese interpretation of a Christmas item. I immediately thought, “The ribbon is not supposed to be yellow, and peanuts have nothing to do with Christmas.” A few moments later I received a follow-up text informing me that they were at the Bird Festival. Gomen nasai. I guess I am a cultural being!

42% Fail in Overseas Assignments

As many as two in five managers fail in their overseas assignments, according to a survey released by Right Management. A worldwide average of only 58% of international postings were judged to be successful by their organizations, with little variation across regions.

“This has to be one of the most disappointing findings of our survey,” said Bram Lowsky, Group Executive Vice President Americas at Right Management. “Given the investments being made in bringing along a new generation of leaders and their growing need to be able to think and operate globally, for 42% to fail when they’re sent abroad is hard to fathom. It’s also worth noting that the failure rate is more or less a constant whether it’s Asian, European or North American managers.”

The survey also found disparities in the preparation given expatriates before an assignment, said Lowsky.

Expat Prep

“A global average of 25% of organizations provides language training. However, the average drops to 18% for North American employers, while it’s closer to 33% among European, African and the Middle Eastern companies. Even harder to believe, an average of 16% of companies globally give minimal to no preparation at all, and for North American employers it’s 22% that do virtually nothing. No wonder so many managers don’t perform well outside their home country.”

We know readers of this blog are more savvy than that! There are enough challenges changing jobs within an organization, let alone the additional challenges when transferring to an unfamiliar culture. Smart organizations don’t just invest in training the person going on the international assignment; they invest in building strong relationships among the whole team—domestically and internationally. Learn how Cultural Detective Online can benefit your team by attending one of our free webinars. Or give us a call—we’d be happy to assist you in getting your team subscribed to Cultural Detective Online today!

Virtual Teaming

With mobile work styles on the rise, management styles need to change and adjust to the new reality. Along with the obvious benefits to employers and workers, there are significant drawbacks to a mobile work style—policies need to be modified, expectations made clear in different ways, and creating a cohesive work group becomes more difficult.

Any organization has its challenges in trying to shape a random collection of people into a “team” of some sort—whether it’s a small group engaged in a specific project, or the group spirit that often emerges from employees working together to accomplish desired results.

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With a mobile work style, how do we achieve a sense of community, a sense of shared purpose that allows employees to perform at their best to achieve the overall goals of the company?

One answer is found in the Method and tools offered by the Cultural Detective series. Cultural Detective: Self-Discovery is designed to explore one’s own values—what makes each of us “tick.” This self-knowledge is the base upon which to build intercultural competence.

Cultural Detective: Bridging offers a way to look at conflicts and to move beyond a win/lose scenario to “bridge” differences to work more constructively together. Theory and practice are interwoven to provide concrete suggestions for learning to resolve difficult situations.

The Cultural Detective: Global Teamwork package is designed to assist both collocated and remote teams in meeting the five major challenges of teamwork in todays’ global environment. While many companies embracing mobile work styles are located in one geographical location, they wrestle with many of the same challenges as virtual teams working internationally. Cultural Detective: Global Teamwork provides insights, processes, and tools to meet these challenges.

And of course, no mobile work style would be complete without a subscription to Cultural Detective Online, the virtual intercultural coach that is available, anywhere anytime 24/7. So helpful to have a reference available before you email or talk to your new colleague from a culture different than your own! Do they value direct, straight-to-the point communication, or a more nuanced approach? Should you spend some time getting to know them personally, or just get directly to the business discussion?

Did you know you can set up groups within Cultural Detective Online so you can work virtually with employees to enhance their intercultural competence? Let us show you how! Join one of our free webinars to learn about the capacities of CD Online, and ask us how your organization can take advantage of group subscriptions to Cultural Detective Online.

Leading Across Cultures

Leading X CulturesBack in February, my friend and respected colleague, Michael Tucker, sent me a white paper on leading across cultures that he had just completed with one of our customers, Right Management. I meant to write about the 24-page report at the time, but, alas, time passes while we are focusing on other exciting things.

This was an interesting study due to its scope: participants included 1867 leaders of 13 nationalities, representing 134 industries.

“As we enter the Human Age, where Talentism is the new Capitalism, no organization can afford to overlook optimizing the performance of leaders who operate globally. … The fact is that cultural issues will dominate the competencies required for global leaders to be successful, now and in the future.”

80% of CEOs and human resource professionals reported Cultural Assimilation as the greatest challenge facing successful expatriates. Study findings showed that global leadership differs from domestic leadership due to the complexity of working with people from different cultures. “The global experience results in leaders developing new worldviews, mindsets, perceptual acumen and perspectives,” the white paper states.

“Leading across cultures is a critical element of leading in the Human Age and unleashing the power of what is humanly possible. It often requires making decisions in complex or ambiguous environments, understanding cultural nuances and adapting one’s style accordingly.”

Global Leadership Best PracticesThe study found six competencies required for global leadership success:

  1. Adapting Socially: the ability to socialize comfortably with new people in unfamiliar social situations and to demonstrate genuine interest in other people.
  2. Demonstrating Creativity: the ability to enjoy new challenges, strive for innovative solutions to social and situational issues, and learn from a variety of sources.
  3. Even Disposition: the ability to remain calm, not be critical of self, and learn from mistakes.
  4. Respecting Beliefs: the ability to demonstrate respect for the political and spiritual beliefs of people in other cultures, and the ability to use appropriate humor to diffuse tense situations.
  5. Instilling Trust: the ability to build and maintain trusting relationships. According to the report, trust is the one glue that holds diverse teams together.
  6. Navigating Ambiguity: the ability to work through vagueness and uncertainty, without becoming frustrated, and figure out how things are done in other cultures. Ambiguous situations are the norm in leading across cultures.

“Human Age leaders have the responsibility and opportunity to unleash the potential of all employees who work for them. To effectively unleash this passion and accelerate business success, leaders need new and different skills—managing diverse talent.”

The white paper concludes with four strategies for selecting, developing and retaining leaders who will succeed in a global business environment. An ongoing, structured learning experience such as Cultural Detective Online not only supports, but makes possible, each of the four:

  1. Select Overseas Managers includes assessment processes such as Tucker’s, and developmental tools such as Cultural Detective, used by a competent administrator/facilitator.
  2. Grow International Leadership Bench Strength includes developing and nurturing leaders as well as providing coaching—each of which are greatly aided by the Cultural Detective toolset.
  3. Ensure Success of Leaders in New International Roles includes assigning a coach and meeting for regular reviews, both of which can be significantly enhanced with a subscription to Cultural Detective Online.
  4. Localize Country Management Teams includes the creation of customized leader plans and coaching support. Again, you know what toolset is perfect for this!

This is an excellent report, which I recommend you review in its entirety. We appreciate Tucker International and Right Management making it available. I suspect we can all learn something from this reminder of what it takes to be a competent global leader.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultural Awareness Eases Expatriate Assignments

Mercer has released some useful new infographics, based on the findings in their 2012 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices.

You all know that using Cultural Detective combined with reflexivity and good facilitation, you can do WAY better than “awareness”—developing the ability to collaborate across cultures.

©Mercer

©Mercer

@Mercer

@Mercer

Let’s save the lost money, the aggravation and stress on our people, and the potential loss of talent, by equipping expats and their families for their assignments! Also best to equip the receiving team, and to conduct team building, ongoing mentoring and coaching. Cultural Detective Online, along with good coaching or facilitation and organizational support systems and processes that reward intercultural competence, will make the difference.

Today’s Cultural Defective: A Humorous Short Story

ImageThe past few weeks our family has been busy traveling around visiting universities with our son, who will be a senior in high school as of next week, as well as visiting family and, of course, working in between. Many thanks to all our wonderful guest bloggers who contributed posts during this time.

We are home again, and I thought you might enjoy a humorous “Cultural Defective” or cultural misstep story that happened to us upon our return. The guard, our neighbor, and our family had a good chuckle over it. Hopefully we’ll be a bit clearer in our communication with our building staff going forward, but more importantly, we gained a better understanding of our own worldview and that of the people working in our building. Here’s the story:

We live in a large condominium building. We receive a newspaper delivered to our door every day. Normally when we leave town, we tell the building staff that they are welcome to keep and read our paper while we are gone, and that we don’t need them back. It tends to be much easier and less confusing than starting and stopping delivery, and the staff enjoys the small perk. This time, however, our neighbor was in town, so we invited him to take and read our paper every day while we were gone.

Today, one of our building guards showed up at our door with a huge stack of newspapers. He most kindly explained to us that someone had been stealing our newspaper every day while we were gone (we live on a floor with three other families). Therefore, the staff had decided to hold the papers in the office, to guard them, and give them to us upon our return.

I guess we should have communicated our plans with the building staff more clearly. This was certainly nothing I would have expected. I do hope that at least the staff read them!

To me this incident is refreshing in that it didn’t really harm anyone, as many cross-cultural misunderstandings unfortunately do. However, I’m sure if confused our neighbor (why has newspaper delivery stopped?)!
If we take a bit of time to apply the Cultural Detective Method, we can easily see the value differences it illustrates:
  • The value placed upon a daily newspaper delivery—a luxury available to professionals, but beyond the reach of a laborer here in western Mexico.
  • Feelings of protectiveness and responsibility—the building guards are accustomed to a huge status differential; they don’t want to do anything that might disappoint a homeowner, or that an owner might accuse them of doing incorrectly. They were protecting us, and they were protecting themselves.

In my worldview, it never occurred to me that an owner might want six weeks of newspapers saved. Also, I have a different the sense of responsibility than our guards have. I might figure, “Hey, if the lady didn’t tell me to save her papers for her, or what to do with them while she is gone, I can’t be responsible.”

Of course, it could also have been that the guards really wanted their few weeks of leisurely newspaper reading, and resented an owner (our neighbor) taking what would otherwise be theirs, but I really don’t think that’s what happened. They just figured we’d forgotten about our paper, and that a neighbor was taking advantage of our absence. And, they did the right thing—they protected us.

This is just a small, humorous story of daily life as an expat, and how easily any of us can jump to negative conclusions. Or, if we take a few moments to reflect on our missteps, we can gain insight about ourselves, others, and living together enjoyably.

We have such a wide range of readers—I’ll bet many of you have similar anecdotes of unintended consequences to your actions (or lack of action) as you have navigated life in a foreign culture. We’d be delighted to hear your “Cultural Defective” stories and the insights you gained through the experiences.

Why Do Kids Study Abroad?

The allure of traveling to exotic places, learning about people, their language and how their lives were shaped differently than our own – these reasons and more attract students globally to explore the opportunities of living and studying abroad.

From my experience, living abroad as a young adult can be one of the first opportunities to see the world through a very different lens. The experience of trying to understand and communicate with a foreign language and adapt to a very different way of daily life can be both eye-opening and a shock to the system.

As an intercultural product development company we have had the unique opportunity to work with several organizations in the study abroad and student exchange industry. I’d like to point out two of them as organizations who not only facilitate the study abroad experience but also enrich the students’ opportunity to have powerfully positive study abroad learning experiences. Both CIEE and AFS International put significant effort into preparing students for their time abroad by teaching about the impact of culture, and how to interpret behavior by getting to what’s underneath – the values that are motivating the behavior.

Enjoy these two different but equally interesting case studies of how enhancing cultural understanding with a core process like Cultural Detective has been successful. I would love to hear your opinion and ideas that have worked for you in this field!

  • Business case for university exchange program by CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange)
  • Business case for high school exchange program by AFS USA