Links to interesting online articles

As always we're constantly on the lookout for interesting books and articles on intercultural communication or topics in which the transnational experience is either a point of focus or simply plays an ancillary role. In this area we're collecting links that introduce very interesting aspects of intercultural communication that broaden yet again our perspective of the whole playing field of the topic.

Please note that some of the links point to articles in online publications that frequently change their material and thus might be short-lived.

The opinions expressed in the articles to which we provide links are exclusively those of their respective authors. We do not take responsibility for the contents of these articles, the opinions expressed in them do not necessarily represent our own. Please note in particular the section "Liability for Links" in our terms and conditions of use.

May 2009

Talking on Eggshells : The impact of cultural and lingual context on modern clinical patient health care can be considerable. "Words and language can be ambiguous and some words give offense. It is one thing when this type of miscommunication is easily noticed, it is quite another when the damage takes a year or more to repair, cannot be repaired, or worst of all, when the patient's health is affected..."

New Lingua Franca Upsets the French : "That the French resent the global supremacy of the English language is nothing new, but a newly evolved business-speak version is taking over... [and yet] if Globish really does take over the planet with its stunted business-speak... its culture-less access-for-all availability, then where does that leave the real English?"

Charmant mit klarer Ansage : Emotionen im Job sind unprofessionell? Nicht für Franzosen. Wie passen "Savoir vivre" und strenge Hierarchien zusammen, und wie sollen Deutschen sich orientieren?

Book Review: Conflicting Landscapes: American Schooling/Alaska Natives . "When it comes down to the education of Alaska Native children, the system has a long way to go before it can close the curtain on statistics that reveal academic under-performance and high dropout and suicide rates year after year". With the first two sections of the book chronicling the authors' experiences, the sidebars feature stories that highlight varying interactions and observations among teachers, administrators, and students and parents.

The conflict in urbanised Indian centers surrounding so-called pub culture recently set off two weeks of shouting matches on TV talk shows and editorial pages. In worst cases, young women have become increasingly targeted by mob attacks  in the latest battle in the Great Indian Culture Wars.

The recent "shoe attack" on former President Bush served as a reminder that every culture has its unique insults ,with its hand gestures, verbal expressions, often arcane behaviour such as that involving flying footwear.

Book Review: Innocents Abroad . In his book, NYU professor Jonathan Zimmermann provides insights into the experiences of American teachers abroad as purveyors of American soft power that sustained American 20th century imperialism. Zimmermann's central question "what did these young Americans make of their mission?" leads to some challenging, surprising and politically sensitive answers.

In 2009, companies will be forced to juggle expatriates and their families worldwide. Will companies around the world be able to find the ideal globally competent employee? Once found, what will it take to retain this employee? How have expatriate-family dynamics and needs changed from the classic model? Balancing these three key issues is a major challenge for HR executives worldwide today  and will remain so for a long time to come as trends of a global talent shortage continue.

Cultural Sensitivity can Tame the Tough Customer : A new study shows where a customer comes from - namely the impact of uncertainty avoidance - plays a role on how the perception of a service drives customer satisfaction.

January 2009

Canadian TV host Mark Roswell, known to hundreds of millions of Chinese as "Dashan" for his 20+ years career in China teaching, plays a key role in promoting cross-cultural understanding and communication by teaching Chinese to foreigners on the English-language service of CCTV International. However, even he is not immune  to the pitfalls of cross-cultural communication.

Hein van Oorshot, President of Tilburg Uiversity, The Netherlands, delivers a speech for the opening of the academic year 2008-2009 . In his address he positions European universities at the spearhead of change, to steer the continent away from growing intolerance and nationalism, and towards new, modern concepts of integration and a balanced humanism of knowledge and values with historical roots in a common European cultural heritage tradition.

The LPGA set itself up last year for a "sucker punch", not for the first but second time in the last two years, when it unilaterally imposed a tournament policy to suspend players with insufficient English language skills . Given how globalized the sporting marketplace has become through sponsorship and technology, the ensuing serious "valuable feedback" and economic backlash from a variety of constituencies within the complex LPGA community were entirely predictable and avoidable, had a higher level of cultural respect been maintained.

The recent movie "Babel", shot by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and set in Mexico with an international cast of characters is one of several recent "nomadic films"  that have set the template for crossing borders and working in a transnational mix of languages, genres and cultures. While any attempt to mix cultures in cinema carries with it many risks for film makers and the market, it is a source of tension that is increasingly not automatically viewed as negative.

On the eve of the first-ever European Commission's communication on multilingualism, a Dutch academic has put a cat amongst the pigeons in the debate of whether multilingualism is a bridge or barrier to international dialogue by describing language diversity as a "damned pain in the neck" .

Foreigners and immigrants enticed to Australia by the lure of open country and a bountiful job market often come up against the difficulty of having "no local experience" . For many, the conservatism of hiring and the structure of the Australian economy - rooted in the historical isolation of the country and risk-aversion of predominantly small-medium businesses - throw up unexpected barriers that make it difficult for newcomers to get jobs in a different cultural environment.

Expatriate assignments are important for multinational companies and may be a source of competitive edge. Managers going overseas perceive their experience as an opportunity to develop individual competencies that render their careers "boundaryless". Yet, the HR challenge remains in how to adequately support expat managers  once they are abroad, how to evaluate their performance objectively in accordance to the particularities of the situation and culture, and fold that experience back into the dynamic of the company at home.

Finally a first family that gives non-North Americans a look at the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic reality of North American families  that is rarely represented in media to the rest of the world. More than simply the first "black" or "African-American" president of the U.S., Barack Obama is the first president to more than just a black and white view of the immigrant experience of North America, indeed of the world today that brings so many people together to re-define the look of many countries. Here's the word "mixed" finally entering the world's consciousness and active vocabulary!

September 2008

Der Keep-smiling-Klinsi  (in German) looks at Jürgen Klinsmann who, for a man who has one of the most high-profile public roles in German national sport, however, injects a decidedly "un-German" spirit into his training philosophy.

When is an university degree not enough? Wenn der Universitätsabschluss nichts mehr wert ist  (in German) looks at the challenges foreigners to EU countries face on the job market, despite solid academic qualifications and field experience.

"Nothing is as simple as black and white." In our endeavor to avoid appearing reductive and unsuperficial, we are quick to repeat this mantra disclaimer, even as we often do exactly that when interacting with other people. Crossing the Cultural Divide: A Personal Story of Angst  looks at the experience of one mixed race American, whose personal story illustrates how interpersonal communication to be hampered daily by ill-informed and stereotypical boxed thinking regarding racial/ethnic appearance and identity.

In the heated run-up to the US elections in Novemeber, debates, discussions and polls have concentrated on how each candidate is faring in winning "the black vote", "the Hispanic vote", or simply the all-encompassing "immigrant vote". What of the Native Americans? Opportunities abound for new prez  takes a look at what opportunities present themselves to the perspective candidates as they present different interpretations of Native sovereignty, self-governance and self-determination.

This article  in a Spanish online publication takes a look at how a general under-valuing of cross-cultural communication awareness issues and consequential skills training is undercutting an entire nation's potential success in international business.

Even in cultures whose core values and behaviours are fundamentally different, common ground exists, and it is often a matter of knowing where to look and how to build on it. In the current climate of political and religious tensions that divide many nations and parts of the world, Arab Culture And Muslim Stereotypes  looks at how in particular Western media's repetitious use of negative stereotyping and imagery of Arab culture and Muslims tends to further entrench misunderstandings, and mutual suspicions. In the interest of breaking down barriers and prejudices what needs to be understood of the differences between cultures and what can be built upon the foundations of similarities that can be recognised when looking beyond the stereotype?

August 2008

These 7 articles ( , , , , , , ) from diversityinc.com take a good look at a few race/diversity awareness issues that are rarely addressed in European media: the potential faux pas that can arise in social dialogue when one assumes that racial/ethnic appearance is an automatic indicator of nationality. These articles examine the offence that can be given by such an "innocent" question as "Where do you really come from?" Despite the many cultural/ethnic mixtures that the globalised village produces, our sensibilities and skills in how to appropriately ask about them often reveal themselves to be not only wanting, but also to reflect quite simple cognitive structures of classification.

Despite Japan's traditional buffetlike inclusion of diverse religions, a confluence of factors is leading to an accelerated decline in the practice of traditional Buddhism .

This article  takes a look at how brand positioning is different in different parts of the world, and how this has enabled McDonalds' European operations president to transform this region into the surprising top performing market of the brand.

How similar and different are geographic neighbours from each other? The Austrian-German divide  is another example of where real degrees of communication differences can be distorted by the lense of history.

This article  looks at the recent interfaith conference hosted by Saudia Arabia in Madrid from the perspective of the lone Jewish participant, who nonetheless believes dialogue is a necessary step to reaching understanding.

'Field Trip'  takes a look at the growing number of journalism school initiatives in the US that send students abroad for an immersion course in the skills and experience needed for international corresponding reporting.

July 2008

One young American's introduction  of her African experience to school children following a 2-year stint with the Peace Corp.

Schweigsame Chinesen  (in German) looks at the frequent phenomenon at many universities where Chinese students are often the "silent majority".

I'm more than just a comedian, says Dashan  features the Canadian comedian, raconteur, and cultural mediator, Mark Rowswell, who, known widely in China simply as "Dashan" (or "Big Mountain"), has uniquely positioned himself to promoting better cross-cultural communication between China and Canada.

International ads don Indian colours  looks at the successful "glocalisation" of global brands for local Indian markets and how the growth of user-generated discourse on the internet has created a "bottom-up"-driven development of local marketing strategies.

This article  describes another example of the challenge of globalising Arab brands in a comparatively uncompetitive market dominated traditionally by family-owned monopolies.

IC "Onions" understand all too well that a smile doesn't say the same thing everywhere! This short tidbit  tells us that German psychologists have now warned "professional smilers" that too much smiling can cause stress.

The Needham question : How did it come to pass that a civilisation with such a history of inventiveness and scholarship and intellectual curiosity failed to make the leap into the modern world of science? Why did the industrial revolution take off in Europe and not China? One of the hard scholarly questions that still remains to be decisively cracked. But this article looks closer at the man who rose to the challenge rather than the enduring unanswered question.

This article  looks at the spread of mobile phones in Namibia and how this is causing a cultural shift in the oral communication tradition.

In this issue  of an ongoing series of articles on cross-cultural communication in the Middle East context, this article takes a look at how the American military security issues are bound together with cross-cultural considerations when nurturing professional relationships. The aim is not necessarily to acquire a penetrating intellectual understanding of “culture” as an abstraction but to understand and deal with the behaviour that is encountered and offer succinct guidance.

These articles take a look at the issues that arise when cross-cultural training is undertaken between certain pairs of cultures:

Cultural Empathy Doesn’t Need Your Sympathy  looks at how cultures from both sides of a spectrum need to adjust their expectations and critical perspectives to both the other as well as their own cultural context.

You say potato, I say potato  looks specifically at the questions facing Germans and Indians working in teams that span international boundaries. Is it effective to work with people from other cultures if cultural and linguistic issues make working in teams stressful and difficult? Can companies do even better than what they are doing? Are teams that rarely or never meet in person as effective as colleagues who meet regularly and clarify tasks either in a boardroom or just over an informal cup of tea?

Two longer articles take a more academic look at transcultural nursing , and the early infant sensitivity to eye gaze  and other social signals of emotional expression which may lay the foundation for the later development of more sophisticated social skills.

May 2008

Food is always a fun intercultural communication topic, but occasionally one can bite off more than one can chew .

Whether you are an engineer working in the oil and gas industry in Africa, or an executive banker providing micro-financing to villages in Fiji, working across cultural borders is a challenge. The need to recruit, develop, and rely on local staff requires managers and others in leadership positions to be constantly aware that what they consider neutral technical issues can often be perceived by locals to be cultural issues. Especially in industries that rely on government institutions and national company relations, awareness and skill in dealing with cultural differences can mean success or failure. Here are a few tips from the field: Cross wired? Avoid the pitfalls of working across cultures , Pitfalls abound in foreign fields , Around the world around the clock 

The medical profession is also a sector where there is an awareness of the importance of cultural awareness and skills in a multicultural setting, not only in terms of doctor-patient relationships, but also in the physician's ability to identify culture-based barriers to effective physical and mental health care . This interesting article from The Psychiatric Times  looks at such barriers as socio-economic disparities, stigma, poor health education, etc., which lead to the avoidance of or underuse of mental health care services by minority or immigrant youth in the US.

This articles  takes a look at how one school in San Diego is rising to the challenge of improving the integration of immigrant children from East Africa by also developing cultural guides for immigrant parents.

In the wake of recent world critical reactions to China's reaction to pro-Tibetan protests, Chinese students abroad are suddenly confronted with very different media coverage and public opinions of their country that they have seldom heard of through their own media. This particular product of globalization - open critical exchange by everyone about everything - is one that can prove more difficult to transfer across cultures than others: Chinese Student in U.S. Is Caught in Confrontation , Chinese Students in U.S. Fight View of Their Home 

The rules dictating meeting and marrying in the Saudi tradition can have very little to do with romance. But even young Saudis, steeped in their own traditions of going through the proper channels of communication that lead to wedded bliss, can nonetheless still find themselves straddling the divide of what the heart seeks and what culture forbids .

The intensified airport immigration security measures since 9/11 sometimes lead to heavy-handed treatment of foreigners who get inadvertently caught up in a bureaucratic tangle of paperwork errors. Even for visitors from visa-waiver first world countries, the more than 60 grounds for finding someone inadmissible to the US can prove to be harrowing, as one Italian experienced .

East is East and West is West, and the difference between them is even starting to turn up on brain scanners .

In a reversal of the traditional wave of cultural migration , an increasing number of people from many other countries are going to India to work, especially from information technology companies, and discovering that successful adjustment to other cultures requires one to understand people first, rather than being understood first.

February 2008

Reconciling Japan and China  is an introductory overview of the main issues that impact and perpetuate the long-standing rivalry between China and Japan. Where are the roots to this unique relationship, how do the conflicts operate on many levels, and inevitably, are they reconcilable? Are there elements in each country with an agenda to continue a destabilise efforts at reconciliation? Prof. Gurtov suggests a concerted combination of options - governmental, non-governmental, popular/civil-society), business, workshops, conferences - which could bring the parties together in a cooperative network of common ground on which their future paths together depend.

2008, the designated International Year of Languages and the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, has the Australians continuing their re-examination of the current challenges they confront in creating a unique national identity based on cultural diversity... an urgent reality essentially faced by all immigrant cultures. To counteract the encroaching trend towards monolingualism in Australia, the country is now trying to institutionalise bilingualism  as both a stool for communication and a symbol of the diversity in the national Australian identity.

How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Working Across Cultures  looks at some of the difficultues that arise due to different cultural approaches to work that we are often not fully aware of, or entirely overlook. For example, why do some cultures take so long to respond to your enquiries? What is considered a "good working relationship"? And how is that relationship built up? How is power perceived? Is face loss an issue? How does one handle dubious requests? What drives "good teamwork" in different cultures?

While you all know our wariness when it comes to "happy little checklists", there are doubtless certain general principles to bear in mind when engaging in cross-cultural communication. This article  gives you an overview of some tips to consider when identifying some potential conflict interfaces in cross-cultural dialogue.

Best Practices for Improving the Cross-Cultural Competency of Offshore Teams  offers a snapshot of how Indian companies are grappling with the training of their offshore staff to deal with American business and leadership styles at more substantive, core values-based level.

Jingju or Peking Opera  looks at the challenge of finding the "perfect" English translation for often less tangible foreign ideas or characteristics without losing or compromising their cultural integrity.

And last but not least, in the spirit of Valentine's Day, Europe's heart puts cross-cultural love to the test  takes a humorous look at the charming side of the cultural and lingual mix-ups that is a characteristic of international relationships.

December 2007

Kenya: Woman Raises Country's Profile in Europe  features a profile on the background and activities of Kenyan Virginia Wangare Greiner, whose social work in Germany over the last 20 years to address issues of integration, health and the African family has made her a major driving force in enhancing cooperation and harmony between Germany and Africa.

European Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008  looks at the multimillion Euro campaign to make 2008 the "year of intercultural dialogue", aimed at fostering better understanding and communication between the diverse crowd that makes up European citizens.

Facing up to contact  looks at cross-cultural sensitivity and awareness about body language, specifically eye contact, one of the most important, and tricky non-verbal language vocabulary for the global communicator to master.

No joke! Wisecracks benefit workplace  takes a look at the difficulties of carrying humour across cultures, and the well-known pitfalls awaiting insensitive jokers. Nonetheless, the article also examines the potentially meaningful impact of context-appropriate humour on cohesiveness in the workplace and communication quality among workers that is built on common ground or shared identity.

"Speaking English" harder than just speaking English  offers another humourous anecdotal look at the "myth" of a neutral "international English": the difficulties of communicating, even in the same language, with people from other cultures with different cultural contexts of meaning. Can managers speaking English as a second or third language truly be effective leaders of those from other countries and cultures?

EuroTopics  is a daily press review of selected articles, compiled by editors and correspondents who sift out the most important newspapers from 28 European states (EU and Switzerland) and deliver excerpts from opinion articles, reflections, essays and commentaries, This portal provides a very interesting comparative overview of how the same issues are reported and debated differently around Europe. What issues move one country and hardly register a blip in another? What are considered issues of national honour for some cultures and merely matters of personal opinion in others?

Mind Matters: Culture Shock  looks at both the often mundane day to day challenges and academic hurdles faced by people moving abroad for study, work or travel. These may include adjusting to different teaching and learning styles, acquiring the mechanics of a foreign language, building new relationships in the new social and academic environment according to very different rules, and dealing with not only the expected psychological barriers of culture shock but the often unexpected wall of reverse culture shock when one returns home.

November 2007

The book "Strangers in the Ethnic Homeland: Japanese Brazilian Return Migration in Transnational Perspective", by Takeyuki Tsuda, an associate professor of cultural anthropology at UC San Diego and himself a Californian "nisei" (second generation American- born), is an absorbing look at the IC experience of Japanese-Brazilians, who number 1.5 million + and constitute the largest "nikkeijin" community outside of Japan (even more than in all of North America), a fact that is rarely known outside of South America. The IC issues explored in this book do not relate to the specific skills and issues usually treated in IC work-related scenarios, but they are certainly representative of typical identity issues, coping strategies, day to day challenges and frustrations experienced by all transnationals and multi-/bicultural people, regardless of cultural origin or destination. Add to that those projected assumptions of cultural identity we attach to race appearance and we have a secondary or even tertiary layer of cross-cultural communication barriers. It is a fascinating read and opens our eyes to the complex realities behind such often glibly tossed about words in our "globalised" vocabulary.

Strangers in the Ethnic Homeland: Japanese Brazilian Return Migration in Transnational Perspective (ISBN 0231128398), by Takeyuki Tsuda, Columbia University Press, 2003.

Dr. Tsuda also writes a great 7-page article on his experience researching this topic for his doctoral dissertation, which you can find here 

It's an interesting look at how in many ways he, as the observer who is himself a nikkeijin becomes as much the observed, as he finds himself also the stranger "returnee" to the disorienting land of his ancestors. Undergoing constant paradigm shifting of perspectives, he distils in his book the very essence of the paradoxical transnational experience, of belonging everywhere and yet curiously nowhere. The specifically Japanese-Brazilian experience described here therefore appeals to all those who have crossed borders, but explores additionally the much trickier racial divide, that adds to the projections, expectations and assumptions that can further burden cross-cultural dialogue.

Another very interesting article  is by Hans A.H.C de Wit, a Dutch IC consultant ad manager living in Istanbul, who writes of his experience mediating between Turkish and European business partners, and specifically of the IC challenge that face both partners of the relationship.

Another article  takes an inside look at the intercultural communication training itself as a growing "industry", and features commentaries by such well-known consultants as Richard Lewis, who some of you may already be familiar with from our reading list. It takes a look at how the training approach can/must often be quite different depending on the cultural group being trained or the cultural region in which one is teaching, a question I am frequently asked by workshop participants. Given that Richard Lewis is the main interviewee of the article and that Finland is one of his cultural specialities, much of the article looks at the communications of Finns, the IC challenges they face in working with other cultural clusters, and their reception of IC training.

From The Jakarta Post comes an article  on a particular characteristic feature of certain ethno-linguistic groups in eastern Indonesia, specifically how the central cultural concept of reciprocity (yes, THAT word again!) plays out on the lingual level in indigenous vocabulary. In other words, in the "language of drama" of reciprocal gratitude and face-giving, why is a mere "thank you" simply not enough?

We'd think that of all cultural products, comics and cartoons are some of the most culturally transferable products we have, truly globalised in their appeal as McDonalds, as born out in the universal appeal of the Peanuts, Spiderman, and Hello Kitty. But when do even comics and cartoons cross the cultural line? The article  takes a look at the extraordinary power that comics and animation have and how it can be harnessed as a tool and used as a medium for the exchange of cultural ideas, and thus to bridge cultural gaps.

And finally, revisit the issue  of "global English" and the hidden conflicts therein as we have looked at in the seminar, when for example, "German-English" talks to native "English-English" or "Japanese-English". The article looks at the challenges other than correct grammar, such as navigating local accents, colloquial expressions, different cultural associations with certain words (e.g. what constitutes "clear" or a "committed" yes), giving critical feedback and instructions, expressing sarcasm, etc. The point is of course not to only learn vocabulary and grammar but the cultural context in which dialogue is exchanged, and to understand how to use language to inspire and persuade.

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2009/05/16
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