“Mine is the biggest and they are two babies”
This time I decided to connect my topic also with business. So I came to write about cross-cultural communication. As we are on our preparation for jobs in international companies, it is good to know some basics of this field, because if we want to have successful negotiations we need to be successful in communicating to our business partners. In this case it is not only necessary to be able to write and understand the language but also to be aware of other components of culturally different communications styles. If you make mistakes your conversation partner may understand you but it may damage the international relationship or the negotiation, especially in areas which are culturally sensitive.
In this case I have heard about a rather funny misunderstanding. A family travelled to Italy and they were at a Museum and they were just buying their tickets. The man wanted to order tickets for one adult and two children. He did it but then the women who sold the tickets was breaking out with laughter. Later she informed him that what he said meant: “Mine is the biggest and they are two babies!” Today he can laugh about it.
“A broad variety of languages”
So as you see the use of language makes the difference. When we take a look on our surroundings, all in all there are around 3000 languages with many dialects all over the world. This seems quite a lot to me when I think about it; there are so many languages which I would not understand. But nevertheless there is also a hypothesis on this issue. It is called the Whorf hypothesis and it is a theory that language determines the nature of culture. Many people also consider linguistic groups as the same as cultural groups.
“They are in love because she is even pregnant now”
If we take a look at languages in the field of cross-cultural communication we have to make differences between low context and high context languages. The term low context language refers to a language whose speakers express things directly or explicitly, examples of this are German, Swiss or Scandinavian languages. This could be the reason that some foreign nationalities consider us as rude or rough people, because we, or at least many of us, are used to expressing our opinion directly.
Speakers of a high context language, the opposite, usually say things indirectly or implicitly. Examples of this are Japanese or Arabic. When I though about this I had to think about Bollywood movies were things are expressed very indirectly or they are even expressed in songs or dances. For example, if a man loves a woman or is interested in her, he does not just go to the women and tells her about it; instead it is done in various formal steps which include for example talking to his own parents and then asking the parents of the wife etcetera. A friend of mine who is Indian showed me a video of a marriage of relatives. I was quite shocked when I saw it, because in some parts of the ceremony (which was quite long) the women was forced to look extremely sad and at first I thought “hmm, that is because she does not want to marry this man”. But when I told this to my friend he disagreed.
Then I later asked: “But, how long have they known each other before the marriage?”
He responded: “They have met each other twice.”
And then I feld confirmed in my first thought and said: “But this can’t be love.”
It is love. Look, because now she is pregnant.
Anyhow this was not enough prove for their “love” for me but I stopped to go further in this discussion, because I remembered myself that this might be a issue of personal values and my values are obviously different to his values. But later I found one reason which was responsible for the sad face of the women is that it is traditional for them to look this way because they are leaving the house of the parents so it would be regarded with disapproval if they would smile or even laugh. If I would write all the details it would take too long, if you want to get some more information about Indian weddings take a look at the page here:
Nevertheless this should give you an impression of the two kinds of languages.
They are of course not the only thing which can lead to misunderstandings, for the field of non-verbal communication also counts a lot.
Kinesics is one aspect of this which is the communication through body movements. Gestures are also seen in different ways. For example for us it is positive if we show our thumb upward to somebody because it means “great” or “first” etcetera. But in other cultures this is rather rude because it is a sexual gesture. Another aspect is the use of space which is referred to as Proxemics.
I think the forms of greetings may be an indicator about the attitudes towards personal space. Because as I told in a recent blog, some in some cultures it is usual to bend each other which is without body contact and in others it is usual to give a handshake or to give kisses on the cheeks which is a rather close way of greeting.