Thursday, February 16, 2012

How to Avoid International Misunderstanding?

My wife is a Chinese. She tries to teach me Chinese language some times. Because both of us speak English and English is enough for our communication, her Japanese does not improve, so as my Chinese. Still, there are some expressions we collect both from Chinese and Japanese. I know that Chinese language takes a form of question such as "Do or do not you?", "Can or cannot you?", or "Have or have not you?". These question forms are quite normal in Chinese. They do not imply any strong meanings. They are used in regular questions. If this "do or do not" question is used in English, it means the questioning party strongly demands clear answer. If this form is used in Japanese, it means even stronger. This form is not a question in Japanese language. It practically means "Do as I tell you, or you are not my friend, any more." It contains the meaning of ordering or demanding.

This is almost scary. If a Chinese person asked a question in English to an American, in the way a Chinese does, he could upset the American. Even if a Chinese could speak some Japanese, if he used "Do or do not" style Chinese usual question in Japanese, this Chinese person would cause a misunderstanding with Japanese. His friend Japanese person would not speak with him next time.

In one English school in Japan, a Japanese boy student told an American teacher that he would miss his teacher after the class was over. When the teacher heard it, he showed a wry face. The student asked why he did that. The teacher apologized, but he told the boy student that the boy sounded like his wife told him so.

There are many other examples of different behaviors and customs in different cultures. Japanese are familiar with shaking hands. They are not comfortable with hugs. Many Japanese showed discomfort in being hugged and bent backward even when they were hugged. It is rude to call Japanese last names without titles. It sounds like one's mother is calling and scolding him. Japanese do not call their last names without titles. The most of Asians are uncomfortable in body contact greetings or communication. They do not use body contact style communication unless they are very close friends.

Is not there any way to avoid cross-cultural misunderstandings? Does one need to remember all the differences in behaviors and customs? There are several ways to avoid misunderstandings.

1) The very basic is that one would be aware that there are differences.

2) One can ask language teachers what are major three to five most embarrassing behaviors in your counterpart cross-cultural customs.

3) He can watch other native people do. He can copy them.

4) One would declare that he belonged to a different cultural background. He can ask them to be tolerant even if he makes embarrassing mistakes.

The last and the most important advice is that one should not be over embarrassed or upset on one's mistakes. He can enjoy and learn from his mistakes.

The above 3) can also be used as a good icebreaker statement.

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