“If you act like a ripe plum, bats will eat you.”

(Proverb submitted by Lamar Gaye, Minnesota, USA, to BBC NEWS Africa website, Africa’s proverb of the day, 29 December 2014)

I so love proverbs—they give a view into a culture that cannot be obtained through any other source. They are tiny stories, gems in the midst of daily life. Although often I only read them in translation, they still provide valuable insight into my own and other’s values and worldviews.

Imagine my delight when I found a collection of African proverbs, contributed by folks from all over, to a site by BBC NEWS Africa. Featuring proverbs sent in during January 2015 and December 2014, I think you will find at least one that delights you or provides fresh insight into a situation.

800px-Monkey_family_in_moss_tree

By Irvin Calicut (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

“Monkeys do not advise their young ones to be careful on trees. They just remind them of the distance to the ground.”
—Sent by Geoffrey Kosgei, Nairobi, Kenya to BBC NEWS Africa website, Africa’s proverb of the day, 5 November 2014

Did you know that buried within each Cultural Detective package are proverbs and sayings to illustrate the culture’s core values? We periodically convert some of these to graphic format and share them on social media, archiving them on the Cultural Detective Pinterest board and Facebook page. Our authors have fun remembering what their parents or grandparents said to them, and often are surprised when they find out they were each told the same thing—or a close variant of it—even though they grew up in different circumstances!

These “childhood messages” often echo in our minds for years and continue to influence who we are today. We may even find that our core values are reflected in those proverbs and sayings that were shared by important people in our past. Our popular package, Cultural Detective Self-Discovery, uses our favorite proverbs and sayings as one method to investigate our own personal values. Cultural Detective Online now includes Cultural Detective Self-Discovery, which allows you to build your own Personal Values Lens—just as beautiful as the others contained within our series—using a variety of investigative methods.

Of course, there are books with collections of proverbs, but the ones I like best are those that I happen upon in everyday speech. Keep your ears open and let us know what gems of wisdom you hear—from yourself and those around you!

Frogs, Caged Birds, Underwear and Camel Humps

Frogs, Caged Birds, Underwear & Camel HumpsWhat do these four things—frogs, birds, underwear and camel humps—possibly have in common with one another? In the hands of Cultural Detective certified facilitator Joe Lurie, quite a bit, actually. In this series of short video clips, Joe shares with us a couple of proverbs and a few stories on the power of perception. Watch below to learn why some of his Chinese students were utterly shocked…

The first clip is only a minute and a half long. It’s where Joe sets up his story:

Ah, the ability to see beyond our pond involves the ability to ALSO see and understand the pond we are in! An all too often forgotten reality in intercultural competence. How can we explain ourselves to others, or help others to adapt to our home, if we ourselves don’t understand the culture in which we live?

The second clip, three minutes long, tells you just why some of Joe’s Chinese students thought his behavior was so strange.

What do you think? What values show through in the way you do your laundry? In the way you view birds, frogs, and the rest of your world?

You can find these and all sorts of other videos on Cultural Detective‘s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/CulturalDetective.

See Part 2 of this interview here.

Me han dicho un dicho…


“Mom, what does that proverb mean, ‘he who doesn’t run flies’?”
“I don’t know. I never understood it.”

(English follows Spanish)

Nada refleja con tanta precisión la sabiduría popular como los dichos y refranes. Una herramienta a la que acudimos de manera natural y nos ha sido heredada básicamente por tradición oral. Son también los refranes una reflexión propia y tal vez inconsciente de muchos de nuestros patrones culturales y por qué no, un paso elemental en la construcción de nuestro propio camino hacia la inteligencia cultural.

La inteligencia cultural es definida por Thomas & Inkson como la capacidad de interactuar de manera efectiva con personas de diferentes antecedentes culturales, una competencia múltiple que consiste en el conocimiento cultural, la práctica de atender (podría añadir la aprehensión mental del conocimiento adquirido) y una serie de habilidades en el comportamiento.

Y entonces, ¿qué tienen que ver los refranes con toda esta teoría? Yo insisto que mucho, pues son una guía de origen popular que nos orientan en conocimiento, aprehensión del conocimiento y por supuesto el comportamiento. Veamos algunos.

  1. No todos los dedos de la mano son iguales. Por supuesto, todos lo hemos visto y sabemos que cada uno difiere en tamaño y funcionalidad. Nos dice brevemente que somos diferentes e iguales a la vez, todos son parte de una mano (unidad) pero todos son diferentes (diversidad) y conviven armónicamente, se necesitan mutuamente. Una mano sin dedos no es mano, y una mano que no tenga cinco dedos no funciona bien. Por cierto, ¿recuerdan el gringo chévere? pues me encontré el anti-chévere en la misma empresa. Definitivamente, no todos los dedos de la mano son iguales.
  2. A la tierra que fueres haz lo que vieres. Nada más cierto. Cuando nos enfrentamos a un nuevo entorno (corporativo, geográfico), nos enfrentamos a muchos comportamientos que tal vez nos sean ajenos. Hacer los que vemos, no se limita a imitar sino promueve la adaptación de nuestro comportamiento al nuevo lugar. Detrás de este cambio por supuesto debe estar el conocimiento (el por qué) y la aprehensión mental del mismo (entendimiento). Si se cuenta con estos dos últimos, muy seguramente “hacer lo que vemos” no será motivo de choques culturales.
  3. Cría fama y échate a la cama. Cuántas veces no somos relacionados por buena o mala fama que nos corresponde. Los latinos tenemos fama de impuntuales, y también de alegres. Esto corresponde a los estereotipos, que si bien son reales y ciertos, también lo es el hecho que basarnos sólo en estos puede llevarnos a juicios y malentendidos que generen choques personales, culturales y sociales.
  4. De tal palo … Tal astilla. Somos herederos de genotipos y fenotipos que determinan nuestra apariencia física, pero también heredamos comportamientos, valores, creencias que nos hacen parecer (la gran mayoría de veces) a nuestras familias (padre, madre, hermanos, abuelos, etc). Sin duda alguna heredamos patrones culturales, que se modifican únicamente con la determinación de aprender nuevas habilidades, de interactuar con entornos diferentes a los de nuestra infancia y sin embargo, muchas de nuestra formación de casa permanece para toda la vida, ya saben hijo de tigre sale pintado.

Y los anteriores son tan sólo un ejemplo de tantos que hay en cada lugar, por esto todos los paquetes Cultural Detective contienen refranes/dichos de cada cultura. Le invito a que piense en sus refranes más recurrentes y que descubra cómo se relaciona con lo que podría describir como su cultura. Le invito además a que publique los que quiera compartir y nos comente cómo estos refranes se relacionan con los temas que tratamos diferentes autores en este blog.

Amanecerá y veremos…

They have told me a saying…

(translated by Dianne Hofner Saphiere)

Nothing reflects popular wisdom with as much precision as do proverbs and sayings. Proverbs are tools that we come by naturally and that we basically inherit through oral tradition. Proverbs are a reflection of ourselves and our often unconscious cultural patterns. They can also serve as a key step in our own path towards cultural intelligence.

Cultural intelligence is defined by Thomas & Inkson as the capability to deal effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. It is a multifaceted competency consisting of cultural knowledge, the practice of mindfulness, and a repertoire of behavioral skills.

But what do proverbs have to do with all this theory? In my opinion a lot; they are a popularly originated guide to knowledge, to recognition of our knowledge, and to behavior. Let’s look at a few.

  1. Not all fingers on a hand are equal. Of course we all know that each finger is different in size and function. This brief saying tells us that we are all different and yet all the same. We are all part of one hand (unity) and each of us is unique (diversity). Unity and diversity live together in harmony and mutual necessity. A hand without fingers is not a hand; a hand without five fingers doesn’t function well. Do you remember, “El gringo chévere/The cool gringo”? Well, I met the anti-cool-gringo in that same organization. Definitely not all the fingers of a hand are equal!
  2. When in Rome do as the Romans do. Nothing could be truer. When we find ourselves in new places (corporations, geographies), we may be faced with many behaviors that seem strange. When we see differences, do we mimic the behavior we see, or do we truly try to adapt our behavior to the new place? Underneath any effective adjustment must be knowledge (the why) and mental comprehension (understanding). If we remain conscious of these two things, “doing as we see” will not cause cultural bumps.
  3. Breed fame and throw yourself into bed. How many times are we prematurely judged? We Latinos are famous for our unpunctuality, as well as for being happy. These are stereotypes. While they have some sense of reality and truth, basing our actions only on these perceptions will cause judgments and misunderstandings that lead to interpersonal, cultural and social miscommunication.
  4. Like father, like son. We are heirs of genotypes and phenotypes that determine not only our physical appearance but also our attitudes, values and the beliefs that (usually) make us part of our families. Without doubt we inherit cultural patterns that we modify only with the determination to learn new skills, to interact with environments different from those of our childhood. Even so, many of our formative experiences in the home follow us throughout our entire lives. As they also say, “the son of a tiger comes out with stripes.”

These proverbs are just a few examples out of many that exist in each place. That’s why every Cultural Detective package includes sayings and proverbs of each culture. I invite you to think about the proverbs you hear most frequently, and to reflect on how they relate to what you might describe as your culture. I invite you also to share with us some of those proverbs, and explain how they relate to the themes taken up by the various authors of this  blog.

I look forward to hearing from you…