Category Archives: Cross Cultural Communication

America, Let’s Not Celebrate Yet…

As I watched videos of my fellow Americans dancing in the street in Times Square last night I had very mixed emotions.  We’ve all been affected and many of us have lost friends and family members due to the  ‘War on Terror’. The tragedies of 9/11 were unspeakable and we must never forget the lives lost. However, I believe to understand the full picture, we need to keep a global perspective.  Americans are not the only ones who have suffered.

While terrorism is never justifiable, we need to examine what else might be going on in the larger picture.

We as Americans have been directly and indirectly involved in the suffering of many other nations Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, need I go on?  Have we been just in our treatment of Muslim nations? What are the consequences of our relentless presence in Arab nations?

Followers of Radical Islam look at our actions as a reason to be upset. Bin Laden himself quoted many past American actions for cause of his anger. But are we listening?

Some Americans have seen 9/11 as the BEGINNING of the story. This is far from the truth. The attack on 9/11 is one small piece of the larger picture.

Even though Obama says “America is not against Islam.” It is hard for those who have suffered as a result of our military to understand our words when our actions have contradicted this statement.

When I asked my Pakistani friend what she thought of this statement, she shared with me:

The statement is making it on the waves but there are people who are so devastated after losing their friends and families in drone attacks in past decades and their minds are kinda shelled to make any sense of it. They just want to know why it took so long to set forward this operation while the public BELIEVES that all the agencies knew all along where Bin Laden’s hiding. We are a nation of very accomplished and educated people but some of us have fallen for the Jihadi propaganda and news channels that come up with more conspiracy theories than real news. Many refuse to see the truth because it does not fit into our anti US/ West narrative that kinda redeveloped after the failure of Bin Laden’s capture hence resulting innocent killings all over the world and mainly in Pak/Afghan. I just hope that the “America is not against Islam” statement makes its mark and get through those minds the way it is meant and not make them retaliate in a negative way.

The picture of Americans dancing and rejoicing has now been spread around the world. What kind of reaction can we predict from radicals who will see these images?

We as Americans need to individually engage and educate ourselves on what is causing this anti-Westernism. The stakes are too high to make assumptions. We need to look at the big picture of what we have done, and reevaluate our personal positions to ensure that we are not fueling an unnecessary fire.

Culture Shock: from Giving to Receiving

If you’ve ever lived overseas for an extended period of time you will realize that culture shock is not a ‘slap you in the face’ one day event. It is a creeping process that grasps you like a slow growing ivy. Before you know it, you are overcome.

An American  friend of mine just shared with me that after a year in foreign culture, she is experiencing culture shock.  You will hear young travels who visit a foreign culture for 3 weeks say “It was awesome! I didn’t experience culture shock at all!”

Of course they didn’t. No one experiences TRUE culture shock without authentic friendships with national people.

One of the most powerful realization moments for me was about one year into my time in a mid size Indian city. I was working for a small IT company and had done my best to immerse myself in the culture by learning the language and spending time with Indian nationals as much as I could. My dad had come from America to visit me for a few days and we had a great time as I showed off my newly acquired language skills, how I knew the town like the back of my hand, and how well I had immersed myself into the local culture. After 2 days of impressing my dad, I dropped him off at the train station and waved goodbye until the train was out of sight, taking him to the airport 5 hours away where he would eventually catch his flight back to the US.

I took the clanky auto rickshaw down the main road and eventually back to my apartment, paid the driver 5 rupees and shuffled slowly down the dusty lane to my apartment.  All of my American colleagues were out of town for the weekend and I didn’t have any plans for the evening.

Then it hit me.  I was alone again. In an obscure town in the middle of India.  No one knew my hometown or had even heard of my state. No one knew or cared that I was the class president in high school or that my favorite food was sushi. The connection to my past and my culture was gone. All I had was the present.

I must have looked disturbed as I walked into our modest apartment complex. I tried to turn sharply and walk up the stairs avoiding any contact with my neighbors who were preparing their evening meal. One particular lady who I often spent time with paused from cooking her mattar paneer and peering through the door she inquired:
“Papa Chelegaye??!” (Did your dad leave?)
I stopped halfway up the stairs.

I stood in silence.
Then, I broke.
I burst into tears and rushed into her arms. She stood there holding me until I all of my hot tears had stained her dupatta. Her vegetables were burning on the stove, but neither of us noticed.

I looked up and saw her eyes filled with tears as well. She felt my pain. She saw that I wasn’t a perfect content super American.  I was sad. I was lonely.  I hated India that day and I missed my family. They knew I was real.
That night she fed me and made me sit and watch a movie with their family instead of sitting alone in my apartment studying. It was her chance to give back to me.

That was a major turning point in my relationship with Indian people as a whole.

I had come to India to serve and to help. I thought of myself as the Giver. I had never learned to RELY on the people surrounding me. I had moved to a deeper relationship. Into a vulnerable position.  I was no longer just the GIVER. I was also the RECEIVER.

3 Tips for overcoming culture shock:

  1. Push through that culture shock and BE PRESENT in the middle of it.  You are in the right place by acknowledging that you are experiencing sadness and discomfort.
  2. Be authentic–It is OK to tell your national friends that you are homesick.
  3. Find support–Other foreigners in your position have been through the same thing! They will most likely tell you their horror stories of times when they broke down and bounced back.

Dealing with the slow creeping culture shock is essential to your survival overseas long term. This is what it takes to really experience a culture. To fall in love with a culture, you have to hate it first.

Musings of Tea

“we await the great Avatar. Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea.”

-The Book of Tea
In my travels I like to observe the differences in the way people approach life and how food and drink habits indicate that.
In the East you will find people stopping mid day- many times to enjoy a cup of tea.
No good party can be had without tea.
You can’t properly entertain guests without tea.
Everyone from rich and poor families will serve the same tea in their homes.
Chai runs thick in Indian’s blood.

This morning I made a cup of chai carefully mixed with cardamom and ginger for my Indian father in law. As we enjoyed the fresh morning air we chuckled as he mused at the way Canadians drink their coffee in HUGE mugs and drive off to the next destination plopping it in the cupholder.
“Why so much? and why so quickly?” he asks.
Cup holders and to go mugs are unheard of in the East. No one would ever think of having their tea on the run.
Tea is meant to be drunk sitting down.
It is a time to think, relax, converse, and reflect.
Why would anyone sacrifice that experience for a cupholder?

What does this tell about us in the West?
Have we in the West become a big portable mug culture?
Have we mobilized our relaxation? Have we forgotten how to ponder?

“There is a subtle charm in the taste of tea which makes it irresistible and capable of idealization.Western humorists were not slow to mingle the fragrance of their thought with its aroma. It has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.”