For over a decade we have been talking about the fact that developing intercultural competence is a process and a commitment, not a one-shot event. Recently our senior trainer of facilitators, Tatyana Fertelmeyster, interrupted her usual incisive yet humorous social commentary on LinkedIn to share a personal rant:
“I am getting so tired of [the] conversation [that] diversity trainings don’t work! What in the world are we talking about? Antibiotics don’t work! Dah, did you take them twice a day for ten days? No, I took one pill and felt no difference. Or — I took one, felt better, and stopped. And now I am even more sick. Wait — why did a doctor tell you to take antibiotics in the first place? I told him I need to take antibiotics once a year in October. I don’t know why I need to do it and they never make any difference but I still do it. Or — I can’t take antibiotics any more. I have been using them for any kind of health problems for years and now I am allergic to them. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Maybe we first need to define what is a high quality diversity training, what it is and is not good for, who and why should be able to “prescribe” and “administer” that kind of treatment, and how the course of treatment should look depending on the issues and desirable outcomes. The whole process, not a one pill, one time, etc.
I absolutely LOVED this analogy! If bias, injustice, inequity, exclusion, and hate are illness-inducing bacteria, intercultural and diversity competence are antibiotics that can heal society. Yet, there’s a whole lot of garbage out there, and how do we wade through it? As we have frequently discussed on this blog, developing intercultural and equity competencies needs to be done developmentally and sustainably, as with anything in life, and Cultural Detective is a core tool that is proven effective for doing so.
As with any rant by a beloved and respected commentator, a few of the comments were outstandingly salient as well:
“I have two qualifying comments: 1. Diversity training doesn’t lead to change. People lead to change. No amount of training will change the attitude or behaviour of someone who doesn’t want to change. I know my life will be healthier if I eat less and run more — but I don’t want to change. Diversity training can only raise awareness and try to influence change. Even the best trainer will not make a racist recant their views. 2. A half day/one day/two day training will not create lasting change, but it’s the pattern of 90% of training offered in this area. You attend, have a great time discussing the ways in which diversity matters, you even strategise on what you can do to improve diversity, but you [go] back to your desk to the 200 emails you need to action, the huge task list and the fantastic training slips into oblivion. And I haven’t even started on eLearning yet…. To promote diversity and inclusion agendas, we need to mainstream them. We need to by default consider D&I at every stage of interacting, policy creating, decision making, problem solving, recruiting, firing…….etc. If we consider D&I by default, then attitudes and behaviours will change.”
“I wonder how many influencers and leaders in business sign up to this training, and also believe in its purpose. Societal change, and change within a business also needs authentic and committed leadership.”
“When I was young I heard this story: ‘A man heard from someone that faith could move mountains. He had a big mountain near his house that cut out the light — so he decided to try this faith idea. As he went to bed that night he said ‘I have faith that the mountain will be gone in the morning.’ The next day he pulled back the curtains and the mountain was still there. And he said ‘I knew it wouldn’t be gone!’ Many companies sign up for diversity training because they heard it helps business. But, like the man above, they don’t really believe it and don’t fully buy in.”
We are very pleased to be able to share with you another guest post by the insightful and talented Joe Lurie, Executive Director Emeritus, University of California Berkeley’s International House. Sadly, the topic is again, or still, timely. We published his first post on this subject, “Language Under the Gun,” in February of 2011. Let us work to change the culture of anger and violence by this time next year!
As introduction to the piece, allow me to share with you Joe’s message, urging me to publish his post sooner rather than later: “If it can be published earlier, given the ‘heat people are packing’ now in the current ‘ballistic’ and ‘explosive’ reactions to Obama’s proposals, that would be more likely to ‘hit the bull’s-eye’ in the current environment.”
With only 5% of the world’s population, US Americans now possess about 50% of the world’s guns. Is it any wonder then that mass shootings in the US have skyrocketed in the last decade? And in the wake of the grotesque massacre in Sandy Hook, gun sales have spiked dramatically. No wonder that sales of kids’ bullet-proof backpacks have soared, or that our culture more than ever is drenched in the language of guns!
As I watch left and right wing politicians and pundits “up in arms” on TV, battling in a “cross-fire” of blame, each side looking for a “smoking gun” to explain or cast blame for horrifying gun-related catastrophes, I’ve become increasingly aware of how our culture’s preoccupations with guns are reflected even during innocent “shooting the breeze” conversations.
We often value the “straight shooter,” yet we are wary of those who “shoot their mouths off,” and those who “shoot from the hip” or glibly end an argument with a “parting shot.” We caution colleagues to avoid “shooting themselves in the foot,” and counsel them not to “shoot the messenger.”
Without suspecting what drives our language, we are “blown away” by adorable photos of loved ones. At the movies, many audiences are thrilled by “shoot- em-up,” “double barreled action” scenes, or are excited by car chases where actors “gun” their engines.
I often ask friends to “shoot me” an email and I’ve encouraged job seekers to give an interview their “best shot” and “stick to their guns” during salary discussions. And if a job is offered, I might congratulate them for doing a “bang up” job.
In sensitive business negotiations, I’ve advised patience, urging clients to “trouble shoot” solutions, but to avoid “jumping the gun” and to be aware of “loaded” questions. To get the biggest “bang for the buck,” I’ve recommended bringing the “big guns” to the table. We look for “silver bullet” solutions, hoping for “bulletproof” results. And when success is in sight, we say: “You’re on target,” or “you’re going great guns!”
We encourage entrepreneurial risk taking, even if the project doesn’t have a “shot in hell.” Just “fire away” when you make that “killer” presentation, and if your idea is “shot down,” don’t be “gun shy.” Just “bite the bullet” and go at it again, with “guns blazing.” Don’t be afraid to “shoot for the moon,” even if it looks like a “shot in the dark.”
Having worked as a university executive with students from more than 80 countries, I’ve noticed that students from abroad are struck by the violent language in our songs and films, and they hear it bleeding into our political discourse. Many have asked me in amazement why it is even necessary to state that guns and ammunition are banned from university residence halls. Yet, “son of a gun,” 26 colleges in three states permit guns on college campuses. And gun liberalization legislation for colleges is in the “cross hairs” in at least nine more states.
I’ve heard staff and students alike stressed by an approaching deadline, instinctively describing themselves as being “under the gun.” Sometimes my colleagues have described emotional co-workers as “loose cannons” or having “hair trigger” personalities. And when a student has gone off “half cocked,” psychologists have advised employees to “keep their powders dry” and to review “bullet point” guidelines for handling volatile personalities.
In the same way that the US is flooded with millions of guns (there are 90 guns per one hundred Americans), so our newscasts — “sure as shootin’ ” — are exploding almost nightly with murder stories, reflecting the newsroom mantra: “If it bleeds, it leads.”
When the local story becomes a national tragedy, there is “new ammunition” for both gun control supporters and opponents of fire arm bans in such places as elementary schools, day care centers, churches, or even the neighborhood bar!
The world of guns has had our rhetoric in its sights for a very long time. And our wounded language — now more than ever with a gun to its head — is telling us that our culture is on the firing line.
Joe Lurie, Executive Director Emeritus at the University of California’s International House, is currently a cross-cultural communications consultant, university instructor and Cultural Detectivecertified facilitator. Contact Joe via email or LinkedIn.
Communicating in the Language of Food, by Joe Lurie
Dear readers, I am very pleased to share with you another guest blog post by the talented Joe Lurie (though Joe, I’d prefer to “swim in the chocolate” rather than “bicycle in the yogurt”). You’ll remember that Joe previously shared with us the very popular article, “Language Under the Gun.”
Noting that French President Francois Hollande has been referred to by his political opponents as a fragile strawberry, a wobbly flan , a marshmallow, and “gauche caviar,” with the charisma of a smelly sausage, I was reminded of how a culture’s preoccupations shape the way language is used.
I was first introduced to the pleasures of French cuisine and its influence on the French language as a university student hitchhiking through Normandy, sampling butter, cream and apple brandy-suffused dishes.
Struggling to express myself in village bistros, I realized the truth behind Mark Twain’s observation that Intermediate French is not spoken in France. A friendly waiter, noting my frustration, reassured me saying, I know, it’s not pie, “Je sais, c’est pas de la tarte,” which means it’s difficult. He went on to add, butit’s not the end of the string beans, “maisc’est pas la fin des haricots” – a strikingly French way of saying, it’s not the end of the world.
A decade later, my French was much improved. While directing a US American study abroad program in Toulouse, my understanding of food’s influence on the language deepened. Before taking a French cooking class with my 20 students, we stopped at an open-air market. Because the line to buy cheese was not moving, our impatient guide complained: “on ne veut pas faire le poireau,” we don’t want to be like a leek. Later, we learned the translation: to wait like a motionless leek in the ground. Now late for cooking class, our guide urged the van driver to press on the mushroom! “appuyez sur le champignon!” – meaning step on the gas! Keeping a chef waiting simply would not do.
The students and I were struck by how carefully the chef conducted the lesson – artfully presenting and discussing the ingredients. The meal is serious business, not to be treated like a joke or, as the French say, like custard – c’était pas du flan ce cours de cuisine! As we prepared a fruit salad, the chef mumbled “oh purée!” mashed potatoes! – or damn it! and disdainfully discarded a blemished peach to preserve an aesthetically pleasing fruit plate.
During almost four years living in Strasbourg, Toulouse and the island of Corsica, I saw how the French passion for eating and discussing food flavored the language in tasty and unusual ways, though some expressions are unique to different regions or generations.
It began to make sense that endearing French metaphors are often rooted in the pleasures of taste. “What a nice person” is served up in French as “c’est une crème!” – what cream, while “lacrème de la crème,”the cream of creams is the best of all. And “you are so energetic” takes on a carb boost in French: you have the French fry (tu as la frite). To be in high spirits also can come from the fruit family, as in you have the peach (tu as la pêche), while having a banana (avoir la banane) is to have a big smile. And, of course, there’s the affectionate “mon petit chou,” my little cabbage.
Allusions to food also season the language of love. A broken-hearted UC Berkeley student of mine from Marseille described her flirtatious boyfriend as a Don Juan with the heart of an artichoke,“quelqu’un qui a un cœur d’artichaut,” offering each of his lovers a leaf from his heart. He was skilled at making romantic advances or as my student put it: serving up a dish, “faire du plat à quelqu’un,” a prelude to going off to the strawberries,“aller aux fraises,” to enjoy an erotic interlude.
Even insults and put-downs easily spring from the tongue as if from a farmers’ market. An idiot or jerk, for example, can be described in French as what a pickle! (quel cornichon!); an utter squash (une vraie courge); such a noodle! (quelle nouille!); or as having a green pea in the brain! (avoir un petit pois à la place du cerveau!). When struggling to drive in France, I’ve heard irate, gesturing French men speed past, yelling “espèce d’andouille!” – piece of sausage!– or, you imbecile!
I remember a heated debate in a Paris café about a Gerard Depardieu film. A friend dismissed it as a turnip, “un navet,”a startling vegetable metaphorfor atrashy film. When he called the actor a horrible drunk, an indignant Depardieu fan interrupted with: shut yoursmelly Camembert mouth! “ferme ta boîte à Camembert!”
Just as food evokes passion in France, its metaphorical expressions enliven debate. Butting in on a conversation is to bring your strawberry, ramener ta fraise.Being overly inquisitive about someone’s private life could provoke an acerbic “occupe-toi de tes oignons!” mind your own onions! the French version of mind your own business. But perhaps the classic French way of ending an argument is go cook yourself an egg, “va te faire cuire un œuf,” or go to hell.
Traveling through the Pyrénées with a French couple, my wife and I enjoyed great food and spirited conversations, especially about politics. When the husband praised Sarkozy, his wife sneered that the former President is overly dramatic – making a big cheese out of nothing, “il fait tout un fromage de rien du tout.” She added, you can’t tell if he’s talking about pork fat or pork meat, “on ne sait pas si c’est du lard ou du cochon,” you can’t tell if he’s lying or telling the truth. And she believed Sarkozy had casseroles hanging on his butt – “des casseroles au cul” – a scandalous past.
While serving as Dean of Students at an international college in Strasbourg, I was struck by how much my French colleagues valued using words precisely, reflected in the pervasive use of the verb “préciser.” I chuckled when I heard some professors describe student papers that lacked clarity. They complained that these students were lost, bicycling in the sauerkraut, pédalant dans la choucroute. In other regions, one might say bicycling in the yogurt or couscous. And then there’s swimming in chocolate, nageant dans le chocolat, or skating in the mayonnaise, patinant dans la mayonnaise – getting nowhere. Outside the college, I heard other vivid ways of describing confusion such as being in the soup, the pate or the cabbages (être dansle potage, le pâté or les choux).
Recently, I saw an exasperated French TV commentator despair over the French economy by throwing up his hands exclaiming what a salad! “quelle salade!” what a mess! And then he finished with the carrots are cooked! “les carottes sont cuites!” meaning it’s all over.
If one is unemployed and grouchy or as the French say, “pasdans son assiette,” not on your plate, landing a job would help to putbutter on the spinach “mettre du beurre dans les épinards,” to make things better. And then it’s time to put your hand in the dough, “mettre la main a la pate” – get down to business. After all, you’ve got to defend your steak, “défendre ton bifteck,” as in look out for your interests.
Speaking of steak, making a living is gagner son bifteck, to earn one’s steak; while making a profit is to prepare one’s butter, faire son beurre. And to have a pancakeavoir de la galette, is to be rich. Assuming pancakes are your goal, you’ll have to go all out, put on the sauce, mettre la sauce, and be prepared to make a strong sales pitch, vendre ta salade, by selling your salad.
A UC Berkeley graduate student in computer science from Tours told me he was building a start-up company – “une jeune pousse,” a young sprout and didn’t know what to expect or what sauce he would eat, “ne pas savoir à quelle sauce on va être mangé.” He knew he had bread on the board, avoir du pain sur la planche, a lot of work to do, but realized that while dealing with potential investors he had to avoid being rolled in the flour, être roulé dans la farine – duped. Otherwise, he risked eating the frog, manger la grenouille – going bankrupt. He didn’t want to end up without a radish, ne plus avoir un radis, or as we would say, without a cent. All his dreams for nothing – “pourdes prunes.” Still, if he becomes successful like a Bill Gates, he’s apt to be called a large vegetable, une grosse légume, and be among the grated cheese, le gratin – the elite.
The versatility of the cheese metaphor in a country with hundreds of cheeses is not surprising. “A dessert without a cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye,” observed Jean Brillat-Savarin in his Physiology of Taste. His famous 19th century book, exploring the nuances of cuisine – still is sold in France. And no wonder, with a line like: “He who invents a new dish will have rendered humanity a greater service than the scientist who discovers a planet.”
Today, as French supermarkets and fast food restaurants continue to proliferate, gourmands refuse to compromise or cut the pear in two, couper la poire en deux, in defending their culinary heritage. For more than twenty years, during “La semaine du goût,” Taste Week, thousands of chefs visit schools across the country. They teach children to appreciate fine food; make a baguette, a mousse au chocolat; appreciate a bouillabaisse; and learn the anatomy of the tongue. Restaurants with Michelin stars develop special meals for young children. And chefs are invited to daycare centers to prepare gourmet menus.
Will this unique early training insure the survival of the refined French palate and the nourishment of its language? A master chef is likely to respond, of course, “mais oui, c’est du tout cuit” – it’s completely cooked – it’s in the bag.
Joe Lurie is Executive Director Emeritus at University of California Berkeley’s International House, a cross-cultural communications trainer, consultant, university lecturer, and certified Cultural Detective facilitator. Another terrific article he wrote for Cultural Detective, also full of metaphor, was called “Language Under the Gun.”