Category Archives: Cross Cultural Issues

Cross Cultural Jokes

require fluency and familiarity with cultural context in both languages …

Advertisements

Leave a comment

January 29, 2012 · 2:35 am

Columbus Day 2010

On Columbus day,

(Landing of Columbus, Library of Congress)

I find it fitting to remember the Trail of Tears.

 

Why would I choose to write about Trail of Tears on the day the Europeans first encountered the New World?  It’s simple:  because of the effect this discovery by Christopher Columbus ultimately had upon the indigenous population already in North America.  And because I could hardly believe my ears when I overheard a remark recently stated in the context of the immigration debate. 

A person rallying against the Arizona border law mentioned that every white person in the USA had at one time been an immigrant. 

A protagonist in favor of the Arizona law replied that yes, but the European settlers were all legal immigrants because they came here legally

In general, I can only be concerned with so much, and immigration is not at the top of my list.  Yet, this remark just about bowled me over on account of its obtuse ignorance.

I ask, “Legal by whose standards?  By the standards of the people who were already here?  By the standards of the people whose rules for governance of this land were already in place?”  I think not! 

The conquest of the New World involved a great clash of cultures.  If you have any doubt about that culture clash, I encourage you to read the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

 

 

  Or, check out the Kevin Costner film, Dances With Wolves. 

 

The conquest of the New World was not all sweetness and light.*  I’m not sure by what intellectual trick one could maintain the ignorance required to maintain a belief otherwise. 

It was certainly apparent when I took Florida history in the Fourth grade and learned the fate of those native Americans who encountered Fernando DeSoto and Ponce de Leon.  It was pretty obvious to me as a Sixth grader, when I learned the Seminole tribe of the swamps of South Florida was actually the refugee remnant who had taken refuge in the mosquito, alligator, and snake infested swamps of southern Florida to avoid being rounded up and exiled in the Trail of Tears.  And, well, I was really sad when I learned the story and tragic fate of their leader Asi Yahola (Anglicized as “Osceola,” who died in chains at Fort Moultrie, SC). 

The pain of the clash of cultures was still apparent when I studied U.S. history in 10th grade and learned the fate of the Eastern tribes and of the nations of the Plains.  And it still hadn’t changed when I took World History in college and learned of the subjugation and marginalization of the Aztec and Inca peoples, already decimated by diseases from the European ships, to which these peoples had no resistance. 

 

Trail of Tears

by Robert Lindneaux

1942

The Granger Collection, Ltd., NY

 

Yes, I’m aware that the feelings of animosity ran in both directions.  I’m aware that in the French and English war, the French paid native Americans for scalps of their English rivals, fueling what was a particularly grisly practice. 

But Puh-Leeze, don’t whitewash it with studied ignorance and the claim that “the White Men came here under the authority of King George”.   By what measure did King George – or any Western king – have authority to decree what rights he had in the New World?! 

Facing superior firepower, Native Americans were forced to fight the battle according to the rules of the dominant culture.  But even those rules were then mis-applied, to the great detriment of the indigenous peoples.  Land was “sold” and entire nations forcibly evicted.  Such was the fate of the Choctaw and Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw, Seminole and Muskogee tribes.  Between 1831 and 1838, beginning during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, approximately 46,000 Native Americans were removed from their tribal lands, thus freeing 25 Million acres for development by peoples of European descent (according to Wikipedia). 

It is generally accepted that somewhere between 20% – 25% of the Native Americans forcibly relocated out of their Eastern homelands and forced westward to Oklahoma perished as a result of the forced relocation that we now call the Trail of Tears.  (For the research paper where I got this statistic, click HERE, but if you don’t believe this source you can Google it yourself and find any number of other papers.) 

None of us have any control over what our ancestors did.  Nor can we take any personal responsibility – neither good nor evil — from our personal heritage. 

But that lack of control we have over our heritage doesn’t mean we can’t take responsibility for our thoughts and actions from this day forward.  And the first part of that taking responsibility is to take an accurate view of history. 

Those who are ignorant of history, are doomed to repeat it. 

Image from HERE 

National Park Service Historic trail, link HERE

 

Do you choose ignorance, or knowledge? 

A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.  (James Madison, 1788)

 

(*I’ve written before about this clash of cultures in a prior blog post HERE.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Cross Cultural Issues

Columbus Day 2010

On Columbus day,

(Landing of Columbus, Library of Congress)

I find it fitting to remember the Trail of Tears.

 

Why would I choose to write about Trail of Tears on the day the Europeans first encountered the New World?  It’s simple:  because of the effect this discovery by Christopher Columbus ultimately had upon the indigenous population already in North America.  And because I could hardly believe my ears when I overheard a remark recently stated in the context of the immigration debate. 

A person rallying against the Arizona border law mentioned that every white person in the USA had at one time been an immigrant. 

A protagonist in favor of the Arizona law replied that yes, but the European settlers were all legal immigrants because they came here legally

In general, I can only be concerned with so much, and immigration is not at the top of my list.  Yet, this remark just about bowled me over on account of its obtuse ignorance.

I ask, “Legal by whose standards?  By the standards of the people who were already here?  By the standards of the people whose rules for governance of this land were already in place?”  I think not! 

The conquest of the New World involved a great clash of cultures.  If you have any doubt about that culture clash, I encourage you to read the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

 

 

  Or, check out the Kevin Costner film, Dances With Wolves. 

 

The conquest of the New World was not all sweetness and light.*  I’m not sure what degree of ignorance would be required to make one think otherwise.  It was certainly apparent when I took Florida history in the Fourth grade and learned the fate of those native Americans who encountered Fernando DeSoto and Ponce de Leon.  When I learned the Seminole tribe consisted largely of the remnants of other nations who had taken refuge in the mosquito, alligator, and snake infested swamps of southern Floria and the fate of their leader Asi Yahola (Osceola, who died in chains at Fort Moultrie, SC). 

The pain of the clash of cultures was still apparent when I studied U.S. history in 10th grade and learned the fate of the Eastern tribes and of the nations of the Plains.  And it still hadn’t changed when I took World History in college and learned of the subjugation and marginalization of the Aztec and Inca peoples, already decimated by diseases from the European ships, to which these peoples had no resistance. 

 

Trail of Tears

by Robert Lindneaux

1942

The Granger Collection, Ltd., NY

 

Yes, I’m aware that the feelings of animosity ran in both directions.  I’m aware that in the French and English war, the French paid native Americans for scalps of their English rivals, fueling what was a particularly grisly practice. 

But Puh-Leeze, don’t whitewash it with studied ignorance and the claim that “the White Men came here under the authority of King George”.   By what measure did King George – or any Western king – have authority to decree what rights he had in the New World?! 

Facing superior firepower, Native Americans were forced to fight the battle according to the rules of the dominant culture.  But even those rules were then mis-applied, to the great detriment of the indigenous peoples.  Land was “sold” and entire nations forcibly evicted.  Such was the fate of the Choctaw and Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw, Seminole and Muskogee tribes.  Between 1831 and 1838, beginning during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, approximately 46,000 Native Americans were removed from their tribal lands, thus freeing 25 Million acres for development by peoples of European descent (according to Wikipedia). 

It is generally accepted that somewhere between 20% – 25% of the Native Americans forcibly relocated out of their Eastern homelands and forced westward to Oklahoma perished as a result of the forced relocation that we now call the Trail of Tears.  (For the research paper where I got this statistic, click HERE, but if you don’t believe this source you can Google it yourself and find any number of other papers.) 

None of us have any control over what our ancestors did.  Nor can we take any personal responsibility – neither good nor evil — from our personal heritage. 

But that lack of control we have over our heritage doesn’t mean we can’t take responsibility for our thoughts and actions from this day forward.  And the first part of that taking responsibility is to take an accurate view of history. 

Those who are ignorant of history, are doomed to repeat it. 

Image from HERE 

National Park Service Historic trail, link HERE

 

Do you choose ignorance, or knowledge? 

A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.  (James Madison, 1788)

 

(*I’ve written before about this clash of cultures in a prior blog post HERE.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Cross Cultural Issues

A Bad Day

18 September 2010

Bad things do happen to foreigners in China.  I “met” one reader of this blog by way of reading his blog post he had written about being beaten by a gang of four thugs.  Another friend was whacked on the shoulder by a man wielding a machete, which caused a cut that required hospital treatment.  One interesting thing in these cases, where a criminal act has resulted in injury, is that the police are completely oblivious to the injured person’s need for medical treatment.  In the case of my friend needing immediate hospital treatment, the police refused to hold the assailant on grounds that they couldn’t hold him unless my friend filed a police report.  It was a case of either go to the hospital, or file a police report while one bled to death. 

The following incident happened to one of my young female friends in Guangzhou, in December.  The person designated with “Tammy” (names changed for confidentiality) is a Chinese female colleague, and the person “Tom” is the writer’s husband. 

As an editorial comment, it is not uncommon for traffic disputes to be “resolved” by use of force to collect money from an offender, with bystanders acting as judge and jury or thugs being called in to beat up a person who doesn’t want to pay.  Police often refuse to intervene when thugs are involved.  For this reason, factory managers and businesses often hire private security guards. 

Anyone who thinks violence cannot or does not happen in China is fooling themselves.  Often foreigners simply do not know about violence near them, or it is not reported. 

The rules are different, the foreigner is out of their own culture or basis for understanding, and bewildering and violent things do happen.  Moreover, as some of the quotations by the thugs below emphasize, while Chinese society in general is welcoming and friendly, there is also an undercurrent of resentment of foreigners.  There is a strong culture of China being for China.  Underneath some of that welcoming exterior is also a simmering resentment of the “foreigners,” a resentment carefully cultivated and fed by the government by way of stories about grievances and insults delivered by the hands of foreigners.  The simmering coals of that resentment is then fanned into anti-foreigner riot and sentiment whenever the government wants to fan it.  

I write this on a date when I understand the government has been actively fanning those flames against Japanese.  Today is the 67th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of China.  I would put the American film “Empire of the Rising Sun” on my must-see list for anyone thinking of going to live in China.  While that historical fiction takes place in a certain place and time, it reminds one of certain truths which apply today as well about how China will relate to a foreigner, and the foreigner’s place in that culture. 

Nothing can ever justify the way the Japanese treated the Chinese.  In my opinion, it is remarkable that China has put so much of that possible ground for grievance into the past.  Of course, however, in China nothing is in the past.  It is merely simmering on the back burner.  China has a very, very long view of history, something Western democracies would do well to remember.  In the Chinese eye, I suspect, Western civilization is but a flash in the pan.  Light a sailboat with a deep keel, things have a way of turning back the way they have been in the past, and for much of history Chinese civilization has been like that deep keeled boat. 

My friend, writing below, is fortunate that she was not battered any more than she was.  I quote: 

Yesterday I got out of a taxi and went to cross the road just up the street from my office, when a gold Honda come flying around the corner and hit me. The car did not hit me severely, just enough for me to feel it and make enough noise for the driver to stop his car and get out. When the driver approached me to, to my surprise he started to accuse me of hitting his car. I was confused and said in Chinese “I do not understand you” he continued to yell at me and then slapped me very hard across the face. My sunglasses flew off and broke when they hit the ground. I then took down his license plate number and went to leave. But of course because he was afraid that I would report him he grabbed me by the arm and would not allow me to go. By this time a huge crowd of Chinese people had gathered around me and helped him to keep me there. So I had no choice but to call my colleague Tammy to rush down from our office to help me. After I called her I called the Canadian Consulate to tell them what had happened and what should I do. They said they would call me back. By the time Tammy arrived the crowd grew even bigger and the driver had called several of his friends to the scene to help bully us around. Tammy and I had no choice but to phone the police. The police arrived within 30 minutes and asked us what had happened. Of course both sides had different stories so the police ordered us to get into the car (me, Tammy, and the drivers girlfriend) and drove us to the police station. The driver of course followed in his own car with his friend. Once we arrived at the police station all the officers there gave us very dirty looks and when the driver of the car arrived with his friend they welcomed him and were very chummy, chummy with him. We (Tammy & I ) asked the police, “What are we doing here, what is going to happen? What are we waiting for?” They did not reply.

Shortly after another police officer arrived with a small black kit and asked us all to go out to the car to examine the car to determine if the car really hit me or not. I had told them the hit from the car was not sever therefore there would be no damages. I had also told them I don’t want problems, I don’t want compensation; I would just like him to apologize for slapping me in the face. I even said to them I don’t even care that the care hit me, I knew it was an accident, but slapping me across the face is unacceptable. During the examination of the car, the driver had pointed out a smudged dust mark on the hood of the truck and accused me of hitting his car. I told him that is ridiculous. You can see clearly I have two bags in my hand that would not allow me to make such a mark on your car. Once we finished examining the car we all went back inside, and the officer asked me is there anyway you can drop this matter and continue on with your day. I said “you brought us here to the station, I don’t know what you want, all I want is for him to say sorry” but the guy refused and I said “no problem” and we went to leave. But of course they didn’t let us leave. They ordered my colleague to go to the office to fetch my passport, and other documents for proof of identification.

When she walked out, the officer’s, the driver and the driver’s friend followed her outside and started their harassment. They asked her “What is your certificate number? What documents do you have to support that you are a translator? Why are you such a stupid Chinese to help a foreigner?” We know your name, we know where you live and we are going to kill you, your family and your stupid foreigner friend!” When Tammy arrived at the office she phoned me crying hysterically saying “please can you phone your consulate people again to come help, I don’t want to go back to the station, I am afraid for my life” So naturally I called the Canadian Consulate and told them “I am now at the police station, they are holding me against my will, made my colleague go fetch my passport for proof of identification and the police and driver have threatened to kill my colleague”, and asked what should I do? The man from the consulate said please wait I will ask my colleague to phone you. Within 15 minutes a lady called me from the consulate and tried to give me advise, but it didn’t matter the police did not care about my rights as a Canadian Citizen so I asked her nicely to send someone to help me. Her reply was “we are too busy to send someone down”. I told her that “my colleague has left me here alone and she is too afraid to come back so I have no one to translate for me and that I was scared, could you at least send someone to translate?” She said “I have a phone number for a translation center that I can give you and you can call yourself and see if they had someone available”. Naturally the next thing I did was phone Tom and told him what was going on. He immediately got into a taxi and made his way over to the station. Shortly after Tom arrived, my colleague Tammy returned. I was so happy and so surprised to see her. When she arrived the police immediately took my passport and refused to give it back.  Tammy, the police and the driver and his friend started arguing and then Tammy started crying. I asked her why are you crying and she said they want to kill us, they are going to kill us.

I tried again to call the consulate and asked them to come, but they refused and so I called my lawyer friend in Shenzhen to ask for advice. He said just get out of there, but of course that was not an option. Every time we tried to leave they (police, driver and driver’s friend) blocked the door so we couldn’t. The driver said to the police “let me beat this foreigner boy, I will be more then happy to walk into the jail cell and spend 15 days in jail if you just let me beat the foreigner boy” all the police men, the driver and his friend stated laughing. Next they asked us to go upstairs and write a statement. I said “is this necessary, my lawyer told me I can just leave. I don’t want any problems”. They insisted and made us follow them but leaving Tom behind. While upstairs, they continued to harass Tammy and I. Saying they have taken our picture, copied our ID, found our address and will send someone to kill us all. Of course my colleague was so terrified for her 3 year old daughter, her husband and her parents who live with her that she again started crying hysterically. Again, I called the consulate to ask them what to do and can they please come down and help us. They again told me they were too busy and that I should write the statement and collect the receipt for it. Once the statement was finished, the officer had left my passport on the table so I took the opportunity to take it back. I asked the police, where is my receipt, they said “oh, but we thought this was a traffic case so we sent the file to the traffic police, we have no receipt for you” so they gave me some kind of receipt written on some kind of paper, I highly doubt it means anything. So next we go downstairs and are reunited with Tom. I told Tammy and Tom, “lets just go we have done all we can.”

As we were walking out the driver and his friend pushed me and of course Tom was there to stop more then that from happening. The driver started screaming and yelling and all the police officers came out and brought me, Tammy and Tom back inside. Saying we were not allowed to go until we settle this matter, saying we have wasted their time and the time of the driver and his friends. I told them they have no right to keep us here and we have a right to leave, we did not ask to come to the station. They said we don’t have any rights we are in China and they can do what they want to us. So they took Tammy into the back room where she disappeared for a good 30 minutes. I tried phoning her to see where she was and if she was ok, but no answer. While we were seated outside all I could hear was her crying and crying so finally Tom and I went around to look for her only to find her up against a wall crying hysterically again. I asked her what is wrong, what have they done to you. She didn’t reply only saying that she was so scared. Again I called the consulate to come help us and he said “if every time a Canadian is at a police station and we go running to help, then who will stay and work in the office” I begged him and cried on the phone to him “please you must come help us, they are keeping us against our will and have taken my passport and have threaded to kill us, what more do you need to happen to us before you will come?” He said “I m too busy, let me get the other lady to call you again” A few minutes later the lady from the consulate calls and asks what’s going on now? I told her “we are really scared they had separated us into different rooms and verbally threaten us and will not let us leave her alive” Again I begged her to come help us and her reply was “oh, I am really sorry, tonight is my anniversary dinner I am on my way to the restaurant, is there anyway you can settle this alone?” After that I knew we were at the mercy of the police and the driver. Tammy and I begged the police to just let us go, we don’t want any problems. The police finally said ok, if you want to go, you must sign this paper to say you are a liar and that you will never bring this case to court, if you do we will kill you and your family. We had no choice but to sign and leave. As we left, the police and the driver and his friend made it very clear they have our information and could kill us anytime they want so don’t ever try to bring this case to court or talk to anyone about it.

After being hit by a car, physically assaulted, held against our will, ID withheld and our lives being threatened and bullied around for 8 hours, Tom and I have decided to leave China.  …I am so disappointed my Canadian Consulate and their lack of help. What more needs to be happen before they would’ve come down to help us. . . .Things could’ve gotten a lot worse last night. What if we were severally beaten or even killed last night, would our government even care??

Be safe and thank you for listening. Share this story with all of your friends. We need to raise awareness of the lack of help we have here, and that fact that we as foreigners have no rights and no one to turn to when in trouble.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cross Cultural Issues

How Good Is Good Enough?

4 September 2010

I’m posting this under cross cultural issues because I want to highlight a cultural difference between Western and Chinese thought concerning the ideas of duty and family.  Chinese culture is Confucian.  Western culture is not. 

Before I went to China, I had never thought about Confucianism or what it meant.  I still am not an expert on Confucianism.  Confucianism is a moral code, an attitude toward the world, not only a right way of living but a system of thought that also governs all of our social structures (including government). 

What are the fundamental tenets of Confucianism?  Well, the books I purchased while living in China are still all packed away, so I can’t go look it up straight from the source.  However, at its most fundamental level, Confucianism is a virtue based system of ethics, with a hierarchy of right relationships that one must honor. 

As stated in W-pedia (a site blocked in China itself),

“A simple way to appreciate Confucian thought is to consider it as being based on varying levels of honesty, and a simple way to understand Confucian thought is to examine the world by using the logic of humanity. In practice, the elements of Confucianism accumulated over time. There is classical Wuchang (五常) consisting of five elements: Ren (仁, Humanity), Yi (義, Righteousness), Li (禮, Ritual), Zhi (智, Knowledge), Xin (信, Integrity), and there is also classical Sizi (四字) with four elements: Zhong (忠, Loyalty), Xiao (孝, Filial piety), Jie (節, Continency), Yi (義, Righteousness). There are still many other elements, such as Cheng (誠, honesty), Shu (恕, kindness and forgiveness), Lian (廉, honesty and cleanness), Chi (恥, shame, judge and sense of right and wrong), Yong (勇, bravery), Wen (溫, kind and gentle), Liang (良, good, kindhearted), Gong (恭, respectful, reverent), Jian(儉, frugal), Rang (讓, modestly, self-effacing). Among all elements, Ren (Humanity) and Yi (Righteousness) are fundamental. Sometimes morality is interpreted as the phantom of Humanity and Righteousness[2]. . . .  Ritual and filial piety are indeed the ways in which one should act towards others, but from an underlying attitude of humaneness. Confucius’ concept of humaneness (Chinese: ; pinyin: rén) is probably best expressed in the Confucian version of the Ethic of reciprocity, or the Golden Rule: "do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you."

Extending this concept of what we in the West would call the “Golden Rule,” Confucianism has developed a complex system of thought concerning how we ought to behave toward others.  Key to this system of thought is the idea of Filial Piety.  What is meant by this?  As further discussed in Wiki: 

“Filial piety (Chinese: ; pinyin: xiào) is considered among the greatest of virtues and must be shown towards both the living and the dead (including even remote ancestors). The term "filial" (meaning "of a child") characterizes the respect that a child, originally a son, should show to his parents. This relationship was extended by analogy to a series of five relationships (Chinese: ; pinyin: wǔlún):[5]

The Five Bonds

  • Ruler to Ruled
  • Father to Son
  • Husband to Wife
  • Elder Brother to Younger Brother
  • Friend to Friend

Specific duties were prescribed to each of the participants in these sets of relationships. Such duties were also extended to the dead, where the living stood as sons to their deceased family. This led to the veneration of ancestors. The only relationship where respect for elders wasn’t stressed was the Friend to Friend relationship. In all other relationships, high reverence was held for elders.”

A significance of this respect for Elder is also the idea of guilt.  A child must care for their elders, or they are not a good child.  I’m not saying that children don’t normally or voluntarily live according to duty, but in my observation, guilt and a strong sense of duty is a demanding taskmaster driving many interactions between parents and children.  A strong sense of duty is also necessary.  In Chinese society, children are expected to care for their parents in old age.  This goes well beyond anything that is expected of Western children.  Chinese children literally support their parents, in every way, including having the parents come live with them in their old age. 

The difference in how Chinese treat their Elders has certainly come as a big shock to Westerns who married Chinese, only to find out that their spouse expected them to purchase a house for the in-laws or, perhaps, expected the in-laws to come live in the marital home.  That is not a shocking thought to a Chinese person.  They may be aware that this will create challenging interpersonal dynamics, but it’s not surprising or unexpected, and every good Chinese expects to provide substantial material support to their parents.  But … that’s not actually why I’m writing. 

I want to write about GUILT.  How do parents get their children to provide for them in old age?  You got it!  They’re motivated by guilt! 

It took me several years to learn, to realize, that Chinese culture is embedded with a sense of guilt to a degree that I can barely imagine.  And, what is the opposite of this?   To my way of thinking, the opposite way of experiencing life is through GRACE. 

To live a life of guilt is to be bound by, and ruled by, an acute awareness of brokenness and sin.  We are always trying to dig out of a pit of being not-quite-good-enough. We are always trying to redeem ourselves, to buy back the good graces of the person we are indebted to. 

One of my Chinese friends, at one point, shared with me that he sent his mother a large portion of his income even though she was wealthy already and he was not.  He was in the beginning stages of starting a professional practice, and the income he sent to his mother would have objectively been better spent on his career and professional life.  It almost bankrupted him to send his mother something she didn’t even need.  Why did he do it?  Because his mother wanted to be able to tell her friends that her son was supporting her.  When pressed further, he replied that she supported him when he was small, so he owed it to her to support her now. 

Filial piety.  It really means something. 

But it also brings with it the risk that a person will be more valued for what they bring to the table rather than simply for who they are:  “I raised you, so now you own me!”  

Once upon a time, I became friends with someone in China.  We became quite close friends, not even sure why.  And one day, that person asked me, “Why do you care about me?! I am just a nobody.  [I can’t reciprocate.] I have nothing.” 

The question really made me think.  Why do I care for someone?  Do I expect something in return?  If I am honest, the answer probably sometimes is, “yes”.  But that’s not actually, usually, the case.  In the case of my friend, I was drawn by something unique.  Something that was more than what this person “gave” me or could ever “contribute”.  I realized that the real reason we were friends was that there was something about this person that made me see this person as valuable in and of themselves, regardless of what they brought to the “gimme” table.  Regardless of whether they could give back.  I was seeing someone who was valuable and worth loving simply because they were a child of God. 

Which brings me to something I realized was a striking contrast between my value system and some others:  I believe in Grace.  I believe that there is nothing I can do on my own to make myself “good”, objectively speaking.  I will always be imperfect.  I trust that there will be some others in my life who are willing to overlook my imperfect-ness to see through that and see the better part of me. 

So, what is Grace?  Grace is unmerited favor.  It is being loved simply because we are.  It’s not something earned or deserved.  It’s like the love a parent has for a child.  It comes from the Christian influence in Western Civilization, as stated by John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life.”  What does this really mean?  It means I have assurance of a loving God, a God who loves me, individually, and a God who also loves Y-O-U.  Each person, individually.  That’s how much the Christian perceives that, no matter who he or she is, he or she is loved by God, worthy for no other reason.  “Unmerited Favor”.  There’s nothing you can do to earn it or to deserve it.  When we say the word “Grace,” that’s what we mean.  A God who loves us so much that he would give his own life for us, taking our place to face judgment and condemnation.  And when we face trials in life or challenging times, we fall back on ample reassurances that no matter what we go through, our God is there with us to comfort us: 

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Luke 11:11-13

Leave a comment

Filed under Cross Cultural Issues

Cross Cultural Negotiation

An article in today’s New York Times highlights the need for cultural sensitivity on the part of those who engage in cross cultural negotiations.  According to the article, Japan’s “research” whaling program has lost most of its public support and only creates a few hundred jobs.  But there’s a major problem to backing off of whaling:   As long as whaling activists force Japan into an “us versus them” posture, the government cannot take any other position but to oppose change.  The article states:  

Mr. Kodaira [a legislator who leads the group that asserts it will maintain whaling] said he recognized that Japan’s whaling industry had shrunk to just a few hundred jobs, mostly paid for by the government. However, he said that the recent aggressive actions of foreign environmental groups like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has clashed with Japanese whaling ships near the Antarctic, had fanned popular ire, making it impossible for Tokyo to compromise now.

“We can’t change now because it would look like giving in,” said Mr. Kodaira, a lawmaker from the northern island of Hokkaido. “Will we have to give up tuna next?”

Just like most countries, “Japan doesn’t like being told what to do,” said Isao Kondo, 83 [a retiree in a village that has traditionally engaged in whaling]. 

Think about it!  Sometimes getting one’s way really does depend on being able to see the other side and to meet those needs! 

Uncertainty Buffets Japan’s Whaling Fleet

By MARTIN FACKLER

Published: May 15, 2010

Some in Japan criticize Antarctic hunts, which they say invite international criticism that threatens the more limited coastal hunts.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cross Cultural Issues

Talking about HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!

 Re-publishing my last year’s post on March 8th,  International Women’s Day! 

Quote

HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!

1 Comment

Filed under Cross Cultural Issues

Where Is The Love?

I was the only person in the bicycle shop.  I was at the counter, making a small purchase and chatting with the owner, when a young man pulled into the parking lot, driving a loud motorcycle.  He strode up to the counter and asked if the bike shop had some part he needed for his motorcycle.   

The young fellow was tatooed and pierced.  He had on makeup and had spiked hair.  He was wearing all black Goth clothes.  He made his purchase and left. 

This was in the early 1980’s in rural South Carolina.  Around these parts, we didn’t see much of that type of dress.  It brought to mind television images I had seen of neo-Nazis and hate groups.  Not saying a word, I just looked at the owner with an expression that said, "I can’t believe what I just saw!"  

"Yeah," he replied, smiling wryly at me.  "But I had long hair when I was a kid.  And because of the way people responded to me when I was a teenager, I swore that I’d never judge anybody by their appearance." 

His comment brought me back around to remembering my own teenage years, when I, too, didn’t always dress or act as my elders would have preferred. 

Lesson learned.  What the bicycle shop owner did was to help me see that young man not as an "other," but as an individual who might be like me, a person who had hopes and fears and motives for his dress.  A person like me, for whom I might have compassion.  That bike shop owner reminded me not to  prejudge, not to put people in separate categories of "otherness", merely based on superficial appearances. 

How often do we judge each other based on superficial things like appearance, associations, or first impressions? 

I find I tend to judge many things by their appearance.  Rap music, for example.  I have a preconceived notion, not entirely unjustified, that much of it is about banal and exploitative of women.  I don’t normally listen to rap, but like that young man, some of it should not be judged solely by its appearance.  Check out these lyrics (below) of "Where Is the Love" by the Black Eyed Peas :

 

 

What’s wrong with the world, mama
People livin’ like they ain’t got no mamas
I think the whole world addicted to the drama
Only attracted to things that’ll bring you trauma
Overseas, yeah, we try to stop terrorism
But we still got terrorists here livin’
In the USA, the big CIA
The Bloods and The Crips and the KKK
But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate then you’re bound to get irate, yeah
Madness is what you demonstrate
And that’s exactly how anger works and operates
Man, you gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love, y’all, y’all
People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt and you hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek
Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love (Love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love
The love, the love
It just ain’t the same, always unchanged
New days are strange, is the world insane
If love and peace is so strong
Why are there pieces of love that don’t belong
Nations droppin’ bombs
Chemical gasses fillin’ lungs of little ones
With ongoin’ sufferin’ as the youth die young
So ask yourself is the lovin’ really gone
So I could ask myself really what is goin’ wrong
In this world that we livin’ in people keep on givin’
in
Makin’ wrong decisions, only visions of them dividends
Not respectin’ each other, deny thy brother
A war is goin’ on but the reason’s undercover
The truth is kept secret, it’s swept under the rug
If you never know truth then you never know love
Where’s the love, y’all, come on (I don’t know)
Where’s the truth, y’all, come on (I don’t know)
Where’s the love, y’all
People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt and you hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek
Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love (Love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love, the love, the love?
I feel the weight of the world on my shoulder
As I’m gettin’ older, y’all, people gets colder
Most of us only care about money makin’
Selfishness got us followin’ our wrong direction
Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria
Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria
Kids wanna act like what they see in the cinema
Yo’, whatever happened to the values of humanity
Whatever happened to the fairness in equality
Instead of spreading love we’re spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading lives away from unity
That’s the reason why sometimes I’m feelin’ under
That’s the reason why sometimes I’m feelin’ down
There’s no wonder why sometimes I’m feelin’ under
Gotta keep my faith alive till love is found
Now ask yourself
Where is the love?
Where is the love?
Where is the love?
Where is the love?
Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love?
Sing wit me y’all:
One world, one world (We only got)
One world, one world (That’s all we got)
One world, one world
And something’s wrong wit it (Yeah)
Something’s wrong wit it (Yeah)
Something’s wrong wit the wo-wo-world, yeah
We only got
(One world, one world)
That’s all we got
(One world, one world)

Technorati Tags: ,

Leave a comment

Filed under Cross Cultural Issues

The Irony of Asking, “Did You Understand Me?”

7 August 2009

Me:  "Is it hot or cold outside?"

Answer:  "Yes"

____________________

I can’t tell you how many times, while living in China, I asked a question, and the person replied with an answer that demonstrated they completely missed the meaning of my question. Of course, that’s to be expected.  Even when two people come from the same culture and speak the same language, communication can be a challenge.  When two people speak different languages, you know there will be additional challenges.  The real problems are those that surface when you don’t even know they exist!   

When you know a person doesn’t understand, it may be a challenge, but at least you know where you stand.  With that knowledge, you can figure out how to deal with the communication issue.  The real problem comes when you think something has been communicated, but you find out too late that the person did not understand. For instance, perhaps you find out the engineer did not understand to make x change in a certain widget, but only after 200,000 of those widgets have been molded.  A simple failure of communication can amount to a costly mistake. 

The most frustrating situation is when the other person thinks they understand, and they lead you to believe they understand, and you rely on that understanding, but at some point (usually at the point when you realize you are headed for total disaster), you realize they had no idea what you were talking about!  The short lesson here is not only to communicate clearly, but also not to leave anything to chance. 

A friend told me a story that illustrates this.  His boss from Europe was coming to see the China operation.  As part of the activities, they planned to host a banquet for the boss.  The boss was Jewish and did not eat pork.  So, the employee gave very careful instructions to the caterer that they were not to serve any pork or shellfish.  On the night of the banquet, they arrived to a fabulous scene.  There were ice sculptures, tiny lights, greenery.  And each table had a suckling pig, complete with red christmas lights for the eyes. 

This image is compliments of webcreationz

 

Another Jewish story.  A friend of mine had just arrived in China.  He was Jewish.  So he asked his translator, "Are there any Jews in this city?"  "Oh, yes," was the reply.  "We have many Jews.  Orange Jews, Apple Jews, Watermelon Jews …." 

Ah, COMMUNICATION!  I have a few suggestions that may help:

_________________ 

1. Make it safe for a person to tell you they don’t understand

To an American, this may sound really dumb, but don’t forget the cultural context.  Americans are trained and ingrained by our culture and by our education to have opinions and express them, to communicate, to clarify, and to disagree.  An American managers expects her employees to question, clarify, and keep asking until they understand.  American managers, therefore, sometimes fail to realize that this is not the norm in some other cultures. 

An employee from an Asian culture may expect to take orders without question.  He may come from an educational system where students were expected to memorize and reiterate, where questions were discouraged.  He may feel that to question a supervisor, even to clarify an instruction, implies disrespect.  I suggest that a manager confronted with language barriers to communication needs to go out of her way not only to communicate to employees that their questions are welcome, but also to display the utmost patience and tolerance when employees ask questions.  Use open and welcoming body language.  Sighs, displays of impatience, or anger in response to questions will shut down communication from an employee who is shy about asking legitimate questions to clarify instructions. 

As a corollary, employees who are eager to please may also stop their questions too quickly.  They want to believe they understand, so they may leave the interaction before they actually have enough information.  Before you allow an employee to leave, make them explain back to you their understanding of what you said.  This allows an opportunity to train them more in what you are expecting. 

2. Make no assumptions about what the person knows

In the USA, children learn certain, standard things.  For instance, they are taught not only multiplication tables, but probably also the "ABC song" and how to brush their teeth.  Thus, when you are speaking to an adult American, you can probably assume that he knows what a toothbrush is or that he knows how to put things in alphabetical order.  Can you assume this about a person from X nationality?  Since you don’t have a common bed of cultural understanding, no you cannot!  How do you know what you can and cannot assume? 

It may seem time consuming in the beginning, but one foundation of good cross cultural communication is to make no assumptions.  You ought to specify what you mean by every aspect of the communication from the most trivial to the most profound.  Even if it is redundant, it will lay a firmer foundation for all future communication.

An example from my own life is that in college, one of my math professors began the semester with the proofs that "a = a", and then "if a = b then b = a, and then "if a = b, and b = c, then a = c".  And so on.  Laying down of these proofs may have taken only the first fifteen minutes of class, but review of these simple postulates provided a firm foundation for all else that happened that semester. 

A personal example of disaster from making assumptions was that I accompanied a friend one time to pick up an evening gown she was having tailored for a gala.  A master tailor in an off-site location had sewn her gown from expensive silk and then delivered it back to the storefront shop for the customer to pick up.  All that remained to be done was for the girl running the shop to measure and hem the gown.  My friend was impatient, and new to China.  She spoke no Chinese, and the girl in the shop spoke virtually no English.  The girl asked for clarification of how long my friend wanted the gown.  My friend held the hem a few different places.  Here, or here.  The girl seemed confused and asked some more questions.  We were, indeed, both tired.  My friend grew impatient.  "Just get it right!’ she exclaimed.  Well, what do you mean by that?  She made an assumption that the girl knew what to do and how to do it.  But when we returned to pick up the finished product, the dress was several inches too short, and it could not be repaired because the hem had been cut off.  In other words, simple clarification of every instruction, leaving nothing to chance, is very important. 

3. Don’t skimp on the translator

The communication really is only so good as the language skill of both parties.  A translator is limited by his or her previous life experience.  If the translator has never seen a phreonopoly and has no idea what that is, he is going to have difficulty translating that term into his native language.  You may choose to hire a translator who already knows what a phreonopoly is, or you may choose to train your translator.  Either way, you must have a translator who is educated about the topic you are discussing. 

The translator must also be dedicated to providing honest facts in a culturally sensitive way.  In other words, she must bring a degree of diplomacy in how she phrases things, but a commitment to faithful rendering of your message.  Given the significance of the role of translator, the person needs to be someone you can trust to act and speak in your best interest, to tell you not only what is said but also the sometimes hidden meanings in the communications.  The translator thus has a pretty high level function which many people underestimate.  Let’s put it bluntly: this person needs to be someone who can keep things in confidence and who will be loyal to the company and to the manager in the information they convey and the manner in which they communicate it. 

4. Use every tool in your toolbox by supplementing with nonverbal communication

Words are just one tool.  Make use as well of diagrams, pictures, pantomimes, dictionaries, and books.  There are many people who get along just fine in other cultures, never learn to speak the language, merely by being resilient and by using nonverbal communication for many needs.  For example, I was telling an expat friend one time about my frustration about not being able to pronounce the Chinese word for "restroom" properly, so that no one could understand what I meant.  She replied, "I always find that jumping up and down works really well."  She did a little demonstration, and I saw that it was a very effective way to communicate the idea.  Be creative! 

Leave a comment

Filed under Cross Cultural Issues

Gagging Speech

15 December 2008

I just learned today that China has blocked the Britsh Broadcastng Co’s web site ( to see article, click here ).  In a way, this is surprising, because that organization has such a reputable, worldwide reputation.  Yet, in other ways it is not unexpected.

When first went to China in 2004, we could still get the B-BC news broadcast over the air from Hong Kong.  At some point, however, they managed to say something that caused them to be banned from the public airways.  I remember one time, watching the show:  "In New York today, yada yada yada, in London yada yada yada, in Paris yada yada yada, in Amsterdam yada yada yada, in Hong Kong yada yada yada, in Beijing . . . ," then immediately there was a brief period of static, and the show switched to a tour of a washing machine factory.  A few minutes later, the show resumed, "In Seoul, yada yada yada." A few weeks later, the broadcast disappeared altogether, and something else replaced the program in the evening lineup. 

* * *

This difference in free speech is was one of the most noticeable things for me, about public life in China.  It’s not that people don’t protest; they do.  But protests are much more tightly controlled.  One time when we drove by a protest, I noticed that the peaceful band of people holding up signs was surrounded by a battallion of policemen in full riot gear with batons.  Another time, however, I was told that some anti-Japanese protests were actually incited by the government.  When the anti-Japanese sentiment became too strong (with over 100,000 people protesting marching on a street of my city), the media switched its tone to a more moderate line, which effectively quelled the intensity of the protests.  So, public speech and protest is largely controlled and regulated by the government. This entanglement of government in deciding what is permissible speech wouldn’t happen in my native country (or, would it?). 

In the USA, we place a particularly high value on the freedom of speech.  The First Amendment to our constitution states: 

"Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble . . . . "

* * *

It’s a messy fact, that free speech can even be embarrassing.  Why would I protect speech that I personally find offensive?  Why would government allow speech that may be false or misleading, or critical of government itself?  The basic theory is that if all ideas are aired, citizens can sort out the facts and choose the course of action of their government accordingly.  We rely on citizens, rather than our government, to sort out truth from fiction.  If government controlled what was said, it would only allow expression of opinions that were not offensive to itself.  Much as the Chinese government is doing now. 

There are different viewpoints and opinions about this elsewhere in the world, however.  Free speech is not valued in some cultures, particularly in cultures which are not so comfortable, for one reason or another, with the messiness inherent in a culture that allows free speech.  It reminds me a bit even of a difference one can observe in parenting style. 

When my first daughter was born, I always kept her very clean and neat.  When I returned to work, I hired as a nanny a woman who was an expert in child development.   She had a two year college degree in early childhood education, and she had worked for many years as a nanny for families in New York City, where she had made her career.  I was only so fortunate to find such a gifted woman to be my nanny because she had recently retired back to her home community in the rural South.   This lady, named Erdell, also agreed to keep the house straight and to have supper ready when I got home from work.  What a treat!  Every day when I came home from work, the baby would have been washed, the house was straight, and supper was ready to go on the table.  I could hardly believe my luck! 

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I arrived home from work an hour early one day, unexpectedly, only to find my precious baby on the floor, clothed in nothing but a diaper.  Newspapers had been laid all around the floor, and she was sitting on them, in the center.  In front of her, there was a full bowl of infant cereal.  She was holding a spoon, playing in the cereal, and she was covered in it.  Not only was she smeared from head to toe in the cereal, it seemed, but it was all in her hair, all over the newspaper, everywhere.  The nanny explained to me that the baby was playing it it, learning how to hold a spoon, learning how to eat with the spoon, and exploring the flavor and texture of the new food. 

Democracy is like this.  It’s messy.  When a culture is learning how to use free speech and democracy, sometimes there is exploration.  The spoon doesn’t always go right into the mouth.  There is a learning process.  Sometimes there are mistakes that need to be cleaned up.  It can feel very uncomfortable to experience and watch this process, perhaps a bit like looking at a baby who is smearing food all in its hair.  But, hopefully, eventually the baby does learn to use the spoon and learns how to feed himself rather than being "spoon fed" all its life. 

Thailand reminds me a bit of this, just now.  The process flows along by fits and starts.  Sometimes a military becomes uncomfortable and seizes power (as did the military in Myanmar), or a government stifles free speech as a means of propelling things in the direction it sees as appropriate (China).  And sometimes it’s hard to distinguish good faith efforts to avert social and governmental catastrophe from bad faith efforts of despots to gain control merely to aggrandize and enrich themselves.  If I were in a position to do so, I would try to reassure governmental leaders in places such as China or Thailand or Malaysia, that so long as violent and intolerant elements are controlled (those who would seize power purely for their own interest), and so long as the country remains governed by rule of law, things will work out. 

Similarly, for Americans looking at world events, I would say, "Take a deep breath.  It’s okay."  The main thing Americans and western Europeans need to remember, I think, is that it’s a mistake to assume that everyone is like ourselves, or that every population has the same degree of readiness for democracy.  I would suggest to both groups, resist the urge to jump in and clean everything up right away.  Resist the urge to arrest protesters.  Resist the urge to demonize those countries where protesters are arrested.  Resist the urge to demonize the protesters.  Resist the urge to manipulate the media.  Don’t worry whether Thailand will fall into chaos.  It won’t; things will settle out.  Even if the process is messy, the baby will eventually learn to use a spoon.   

___________________

For an interesting news article: 

Surveillance of Skype Messages Found in China

By JOHN MARKOFF

Published: October 2, 2008

A Canadian human rights group has uncovered a system that tracks politically charged text messages sent by customers of Tom-Skype, a joint venture of which eBay’s Skype is a partner.

For full text of article, click HERE

3 Comments

Filed under Cross Cultural Issues