Well Travelled - 3 Articles to Prompt Discussion on Intercultural Communication
Take a Little Trip
Hawaiian senator S.I. Hayakawa said, "If you see in any given situation only what everybody else can see, you can be said to be so much a representative of your culture that you are a victim of it." The crux of this maxim observes that some individuals can be so insulated within their own cultural norms they become inoculated from arresting new experiences or knowledge from diverse places or people. Such "anesthesia" can produce unwanted impacts on education, business and interpersonal relationships.
At once, the quintessence of cultural blind spots derives from being unable to locate such confirmation biases.Often, external experiences are required to "shake" individuals from cultural stupor. Based on this premise, the following articles attempt to offer discussion prompts on intercultural communication with both levity and depth.
Welcome to America, Please Be On Time: What Guide Books Tell Foreign Visitors to the U.S.
Atlantic writer and former editor Max Fisher here offers a sartorial turn on the traditional guidebook. The article provides highlights of what "foreign" travel guides advise regarding short or long term visits to the United States. Information includes topics to avoid at the dinner table (namely politics), gifts for the host ("Gifts of cash, prepared ready-to-serve foods, or very personal items [e.g. toiletries] are not appropriate") and what foreign visitors perceive as the strangest Western custom, tipping: "Americans have a social institution called a 'gratuity'. Basically, the price on the menu at any place which serves food is not the real price. The real price is 20% higher. You have to calculate 20%, write it under the subtotal, and sum to arrive at the real price." The above examples are colored with analysis on other cultures' perceptions of such traditions in relation to global customs.
Discussion Point: One of the greatest barriers to intercultural communication is regarding one's own custom as a "geocentric" anomaly. Some persons tend to filter all meaning through personal context, rendering their own traditions the "center" of a cultural cosmos. Fisher's article deliberately perturbs this tendency, fostering conversation on the objectivity of "normal" in relation to intercultural communication.
Eastern and Western Attitudes About Life Explained in 18 Simple Infographics
Chinese born designer cum German immigrant Yang Liu further simplifies intercultural juxtaposition with a series of images depicting ideas in Eastern and Western culture. Images include attitudes towards punctuality (according to Liu, Eastern "clocks" offer more flexibility), ideals of beauty (Western men apparently desire tanned rather than pale skin) and the role of elderly persons (Eastern senior citizens typically engage in more child care). Beyond such facile comparisons, Liu pursues deeper analysis of ideas such ego, business structure and even problem solving. The result is a concise but surgical assessment of the major differences between cultures that eschews hierarchy for thoughtful dichotomy.
Discussion Point: A central obstruction to fruitful intercultural communication derives from an incompatibility of values and codes. For example, much ink has been spilled discussing how the Piraha (a Maici River tribe without numeric values) learn to trade and speak with neighboring cultures. Less obvious "codes," however, can be found in the customs informing daily interactions within a culture. Liu's visual analysis identifies these often unspoken codes in an arresting and stimulating manner.
Gamemakers Struggle to Instill Taste for Western Shooters
Ethnocentrism often proves a difficult behavior to diagnose in commercial markets. Wired Magazine contributor Chris Kohler endeavors this very stratagem when comparing the buying habits of Western and Eastern gamers. Set against the backdrop of discussing two dimensional platforms in comparison to first person shooters,,the article attempts to correlate the cultural customs of Western and Japanese consumers with their preferred game narratives: "Japanese gamers have very specific tastes, often embracing the polar opposite of what sells in the rest of the world. Open-world games like Fallout emphasize the player’s freedom to do whatever he wants, which doesn’t fly in Japan." Kohler persists his hypothesis by interviewing expatriate gaming podcast host, Gwyn Campbell: "They want a guided experience ... They want their hands held. They want the familiar. They don’t want new. When you go against that, they get angry." Besides the apparent fodder for intercultural comparison, the article attempts to divine how overriding customs inform commercial trends.
Discussion Point: As stated, the fascinating idea drawn from Kohler's article traces from the underlying ethnocentrism pervading Eastern and Western gaming habits. For example, Kohler stresses Japanese gamers often refer to "open world" concepts like Grand Theft Auto as "foreign games." which often denotes inherent low quality. In the same breath, Campbell's statements reveal underlying bias against Japanese gaming preferences: after all, when was the last time "hands held" connoted a positive appraisal? Hence, the informative aspects of the article arise from comparing how the biases of two cultures intersect in a single media platform.
Know any other online resources for substantiating the need for studying intercultural communication? I look forward to your comments and thank you in advance for any kind words. Check out my other Hub Pages for additional suggestions for navigating college assignments, studying philosophy or "getting your geek on."