In any given week how many people comment on your blog that aren’t from your home country, who speak a different language to you or has a different religion to you? In this new world of cyberspace the barriers that once were are demolished, we are more open to them and quite possibly subconsciously don’t see any difference between Joe Soap (apologies if this is your name) or another.
In this sphere that we find ourselves we are almost without culture, but are we really? In my working life that of Recruitment Specialist I came across cultural differences on a daily basis, the misinterpretations and the complexities of it. What was correct in one culture was the deepest insult in another…
One of my favourite interview questions that I used to ask is
“Tell me about a situation or experience dealing with people whose background, culture, lifestyle or values were different than your own?” If one really thinks about this question the answers are many… I don’t want to answer the question for you, I’ll leave it up to you…
Growing up I was often told that I speak with a British accent, my family is very English and when one of us can actually speak Afrikaans (one of our countries 11 official languages) it was and still is seen as a pure miracle. Being sent to an Afrikaans school for high school you can imagine was a culture shock to say the least, I tried to learn their language but came undone many times. I will never forget talking to an Afrikaaner and saying something to them thinking that it is their everyday language and believing that it was in fact a sign of respect only to be told that I was in fact telling them they were the biggest “bleep”!
My cultural blunders didn’t stop there though, while in Brazil I was in the supermarket one day trying to buy a couple of slices of cold meat only to be given … wait for it … 5kgs of it… they were all so happy with the big sale I felt terrible by literally showing individual slices and counting on my fingers so that they could understand… luckily the whole shop (I mean whole) started laughing at this delightful mistake by a little South African girl but it highlighted for me just how important communication and cultural understanding really is.
Does this remind you of something thats happened to you?
How many times I have been called a racist just because I am South African I could not tell you, how many times I hear from people that Americans are ignorant or that the British are close minded, the Australians arrogant or the Germans cold… the list doesn’t stop there it goes on and on… all cultural misinterpretation’s and misunderstanding’s. Every country has a different culture no matter whether we like it or not, it is the language we use, in our body language, our religion and society…
I will now ask you another one of my famous interview questions…
“Give examples of how cultural differences can be misinterpreted.” … In our every day lives this happens all the time, someone who can’t eat the meat at your table can irritate you, the person who goes off at tea break for prayer can make you feel like he isn’t cutting it in the work place, the person who tries to master your language but gets confused and says something that could be insulting… Take a moment and remember the times when you.
In China for example it is seen as a disrespect to hold ones hand out as a greeting, instead you should rather put both hands before you and tilt your upper body in their direction, you must also hand over something with two hands not one. In Saudi Arabia it is seen as a disrespect for a woman to walk in front of the man or to look a man in the eye and yet in other countries it is celebrated. Here in Africa, if you call an elderly African lady “Mama” it is seen as one of the highest respects one can give her but if you call someone Mama from another culture they will just look at you and quite possibly tell you were to get off. Cultural diversity is both a wonderful thing but also a dangerous thing if you are not aware. Misinterpretations within different cultures has been known to cause many a fight if not a wars all because we didn’t take the time to understand who the person we are talking to is. I am not talking about their status or their standing in life but rather their culture. These examples are but a few, I am sure you are thinking of others as we “speak”
Cultural diversity is our legacy it is up to us to understand and brace, not only others but our own. How is our own culture interpreted to others?
For me perhaps I am lucky, I have grown up surrounded by people from different countries, cultures, religions and languages. Each day that passes I treasure more and more the fact that the world is indeed growing closer, respect for each other is ever present and for the fact that each and everyone I meet teaches me something new about who they are, their culture, their diversity and more importantly spirituality through oneness. I have close friends in many different countries all of which are close to my heart, some old, some new, I am relieved that it is this day and age that we find ourselves in now where you and I can talk without postage and without cultural norms, that there is a greater understanding amongst us humans.
I might not speak your language, I may not understand your culture fully but I will try, I do not speak many languages, many of the ones that I do speak are only simple thank you’s and greetings… please don’t be offended if I use google language tools in order to reply in your own tongue 🙂
We are all human, we all have emotion, we all get angry, we all cry, we all laugh, we all get angry,we all have souls, we all grow… You are me and I am you…
The world is an amazing complex jungle filled with wonders and surprises, never stop learning about it!
I will end with this… Why is 1 + 1 greater than 2?
One world, learn it, live it!
PS My accent is said not to be linked to any country, in one given day I will be asked if I am American, Canadian, British, Australian, New Zealander and strangely enough hardly ever am I South African… go figure!