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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cultural Blends

Okay, so I searched around and I think I found the reading I was supposed to do. I think it is the first chapter from the book Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation by Michael Agar. They have a preview on Google Books. It was missing four pages, but I think I got the gist of it. At least I hope. I can't access the field study blackboard, so if it is in there in a PDF or something convenient like that, I haven't been able to get to it. Oh well. Anyhow, so what did I think? He has some interesting ideas. I found that by the end my brain was kind of hurting from his use of the word culture. He used it about every other sentence and I started to feel like I actually didn't understand quite what he meant by culture. Like it was coming up as a blank spot. The word was suddenly undefined and that made it difficult to read. Actually that is kind of ironic, because I think that is what he was talking about, the misunderstanding of words even though the grammar and the fluency is there technically. I feel like the basic idea is that you can't really communicate unless you are fluent in culture. If I understand the word culture in that context. You can accept an invitation to come for tea, but if you do not understand the proper etiquette and process behind an invitation to come for tea, you are not really communicating with the person who invited you to tea, even though if someone asked each person what they understood, they would probably be able to answer. I found his ideas about Americans as number-ones or whatever term he used as very interesting and insightful. I know I have been in that boat before. I have worked hard to get out of it, but I do not know how far along that path I actually am. I sort of get a deja vu feeling from reading this chapter. Basically it is saying the same thing that the short article about what students don't learn abroad, just in more eloquent and round about terms. I guess the challenge then is to try to not be a number-one kind of person and to be open to the culture of other people, not just intellectually, but...intuitively? I don't quite know what word to put there. I think the hardest part about that is that so often you do it without thinking about it. Cultural perspectives are so deeply grained you don't think about it. When I go out to eat it always takes a few minutes before anyone suggests that it is okay to start eating before other people's food arrives. In India if you are the guest it would be awkward if you waited for the host to eat since actually quite often the host, if it is a hostess won't eat until after you leave. That isn't something I would ever have thought about and it isn't something that would ever have come up in normal conversation. No one explained that to me when they invited me for dinner, I learned it when I tried to wait for the host to eat. I am sure there are many more situations like that that I will figure out the hard way. I guess the trick is to try to be as perceptive as possible to pick them up as early as possible. Maybe I should just learn to ask a lot of questions? Of course that suggests knowing whether or not questions are culturally acceptable, or at least in what contexts/times. Although I do believe that part of doing what Agar suggests is learning to be a foreigner. I disagree with his maybe suggestion, if I am reading it correctly, that someone else's culture can become your own. That may be possible with European cultures that are somewhat similar to America, but I do not believe that a white person could ever really adopt African or Chinese or Indian culture. You can go a long way to picking up some of the culture, but you can never be part of it. Okay, well, let me just speak for India, which is what I know. In all my experience I have never seen it work, and in all my reading I have only ever heard of one person, a Frenchman, described as being truly accepted by the Indian people. However how much of that is reality and how much of that is optimistic history, I will never know.

And it is late late late! Tomorrow is going to suck. But it is finished! Sort of. Minus four pages. Also this analysis is not all that great because I read and analyzed everything after midnight. Not a recipe for success. No tags for you! Yet, anyways.

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