19 Aug Cultural Impotency (Part 2) – and other lessons you haven’t learned from your mother
In his book Culture, Communication and Conflict; readings in intercultural relations”, Dr. Gary R. Weaver, Professor at the American University in Washington D.C says:
“No longer can we remain encapsulated in a world of our ‘own kind’. Whether it is interacting with neighbors or conducting business overseas, knowledge of intercultural relations and the ability to interact with people of other cultures is as vital for our success in the modern world as understanding and using computers and modern telecommunications.”
Dude, with all due respect, get real! Most people have no clue what their own culture is, or are they aware of how defined they’re by it. I’d go as far as to say doomed by their very own learned behaviors and sets of rules. And you expect them to believe there are other people out there who grew up learning other things? Let’s take it easy…and very slowly. And give examples as opposed to using overly obvious jargon.
Let’s start with Americans, the most obvious choice!
“Americans see themselves as individuals who are different from all other individuals, writes Gary Althen and Janet Bennette in American Ways–A Cultural Guide to The United States. “Individual Americans may think they chose their own values rather than having had their values imposed on them by the society in which they are born. Because they think they are responsible as individuals for having chosen their basic values and their way of life, many Americans resent generalizations other make about them.”
Most Americans, and by that I mean people born and raised in the United States, proudly define themselves as part of the best country in the world. While many of them have never experienced encounters with other cultures, they already know there’s nothing better. It’s part of the cultural background they grow up with—and therefore—they’re totally unaware that’s a predetermined social condition.
The TV, news, geography and granted personal freedoms in this country, plus the fact that the English language is the most spoken language in the world, on top of the even bigger notion that so many people want to immigrate to the US only confirms what’s already generally acknowledged. This is the best, most amazing, absolute utopic country in the world.
Now, the same rules apply to many, maybe all, countries in the world. National pride is a natural sentiment to begin with and there will always be facts to back up that pride. But let’s go back to the Americans for now.
As I mentioned in my previous writing, relationships, communication and culture are interrelated. Language is too, but we’ll get to that later.
When you’re raised to be the best and know you have the freedom to be whoever you want and do whatever you want, as well as the freedom of the pursuit of happiness, then I guess it’s all natural to have a certain standard that defines how you relate to your peers.
Simply put this boils down to one thing in this country: Money.
How Americans communicate and form relationships is based on a very clear financial distinction. And most Americans believe the rest of the world acts on the same principles, but that’s not true.
What exactly do I mean by this? Here’s an example:
When two American men meet, they establish a relationship based on what they do for a living—in other words by how much money they make. While the process might take place subconsciously, it ‘s easy to observe as an outsider.
Now in the American psyche being happy (or at least seeming happy) is a must. You live in the best nation in the world, you are the best, you have freedom, you must be happy, right? And what else can make you happy other than money? A lot of it!
Keep in mind that’s not to say that Americans don’t value other options. This is a generalization, and a simplistic way to help define how they communicate and how build relationships as a group of people.
I’m often in the position of both observing and getting involved in this cultural “game.”
The other day someone looked at me and said, “You know, we’re all very busy and successful here.” He meant specifically all the people in the room were people with money.
“I’m not,” I answered. And I meant it exactly how I said it. I do not have money.
He looks at me confused and countered, “Of course you do.”
He very elegantly pointed out some material things about me that made it clear that I was also “busy and successful.”
Let’s just say that I have the ability of making most people believe that I’m either very wealthy or very poor. I often play such roles because I’m my main and most trusted researcher in my own anthropological and socio-psychological studies.
I told him he was right. He put together his assumption on concrete material things combined with my super-confident posture.
A while back however, while caught off-guard, I was asked what I did for a living.
Now let’s be clear on this: this is the rudest, most low class, irrelevant question you can ask a European or Asian. And I can’t emphasize this enough.
But I’m also an American, so I expected the question and took it for what it was—a polite, American way to show interest in me as a human being, as well as a way to determine what kind of a relationship we could have.
“I’m an author,” I said.
“Really? What do you write about?”
“Stuff,” I said. “ Lots of different things.”
Then she went on to ask several questions that were her way of finding out how much money I actually make. After establishing that I wasn’t a New York Times best-selling author with two Hollywood movie contracts, the person lost interest in me. I wasn’t of her caliber (not financially, at least), therefore it would’ve been a waste of time for us both to pursue a relationship.
These exact words were never spoken aloud, but our communication was still very straightforward.
So, while people often wonder how to communicate with someone cross-culturally, to me it sounds like they’re literally trying to build a house by starting with the roof.
You can’t. You must first have an understanding of the basics. And yes, when we get down to the dating part, you’ll want to have read this first!
Good luck and let’s keep rolling!