Inside the Looking Glass?
"Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise." -- The Duchess to Alice
Alice In Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
I can totally identify with Alice and her upsidedown, insideout, backward world. With visitors from Central America, I've been miscommunicating, misunderstanding, misunderstood and in general living on two separate planes, trying to find one another.
There's a marvelous little book by Sarah A. Lanier called Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot - And Cold - Climate Cultures. She then divides the world's cultureds into two basic categories (hot climate and cold climate) and then discusses the differences in the categories. While it is not, nor does it pretend to be, a definitive text on cross-cultural communication, her anecdotes and explanations ring true.
An example that most people are aware of is that time designations are different. In a cold climate culture, time is of the utmost importance. Two p.m. means two p.m. not two-thirty or three, anyone who has missed a doctors appointment and been charged accordingly understands that. In a hot climate culture, a two p.m. wedding begins (at two p.m.) when the bride starts to dress, the guests start to get ready for the wedding. What a cold climate person would consider to be the "real" event (the bride walks down the aisle) might not begin until 3:30 or 4 p.m. A Norwegian would be on the steps of the church at 1:50 p.m. waiting for a 2 p.m. wedding to start, while the Jamacian (for example) would know to start getting ready at two p.m. Isn't that an interesting look at it?
Another difference is that in a hot climate culture, one person (the highest ranking one) speaks for the group. While in a cold climate culture decisions are made by collaboration. Even in the situation where one person is responsible for the decision, a wise leader consults his team members (listens carefully to their ideas and then informs them of his decision) before making a committment to a particular course of action. But in a hot climate culture, team members may not particularly want the responsibility of offering suggestions. They would lose face if a final decision were different that their opinion, so the decision is left up to the all-wise (we hope) leader. On the other hand, in a cold climate culture decisions are made by collaboration while in a hot climate culture, one person speaks for the group. Which would mean that an American pastor's family who is told by a "Hot Climate" bishop just as he's departing for a week in another state, "we've decided that my wife will stay in your house for a week because she is afraid in the [lovely, spacious] house you've provided for her to stay with our two grown sons [a twenty-three year old and a fifteen year old]" is expected to say "Mi casa es su casa."
Whoops! Anybody who knows me will know they picked the wrong pastor's family to try that on. While I do understand the cultural differences, I shall try to educate that bishop. (Did I really say that??) My logic being that if he and his family are traveling in the U.S. for extended periods of time, it's important that he learn the ways of this land (A cold climate culture) and make some accomodations. Flexibility is the name of the game.
But dancing these kind of relationship dances is not my cup of tea. While in another country I make every effort to flex to the culture there, (four hour services every night, conferences every day with thirty minutes to freshen up; the main meal after service each night, about midnight and be ready to give conference classes by 8 a.m. the next morning) I must, in the name of sanity, insist on some flexibility in return whenever they are visiting in our (cold climate culture) home.
And while in the words of Alice I "never imagine myself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what I was or might have been is not otherwise than what I had been would appear to them to be otherwise." I shall proceed with utmost caution and (I hope) humility, I shall proceed.
Toward cross-cultural communication!