Cross cultural communication fail

I really had this conversation with a Filipina woman about my age, a very nice, kind lady. She was asking me how my language studies were going and I said I really was botching the grammar completely, and there were some words I consistently mixed up- tukod (to build) and tahud (reverence or respect). “Oh, I can help you,” she said.
I waited eagerly for her advice. “When you want to say to build just think about tukod, don’t think of tahud. Tukod is to build.”

Well. Yes. If I could remember that, then I would not be mixed up about them. So I laughed, because from point of view, obviously, I thought she was joking, but I think I hurt her feelings because she was serious. Her advice was from the standpoint of somebody who is a native speaker. She can’t see why I can’t see how helpful that is, and I can’t see why she thinks it is helpful. And laughing, well,that was just rude from her POV.

Chances are, if you’re 3rd culture, you can see what happened and feel sorry for and amused by both of us.
If you’re a westerner, you think she’s more to blame than I am. If you’re an easterner, you may see why her advice wasn’t helpful, but you feel more strongly that I definitely should not have laughed.

And that’s kind of an allegory for cross cultural communication.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hospitality vs Entertaining, Q & A

Q. If you set the table with pretty china and a centerpiece, are you making your guests feel inferior in their abilities when all you are trying to do is make them feel extra-special and worthy of attention?

Should we reduce all attempts at beauty to a common level so as not to offend a guest?

I know the key is in the hostess’ manner, but how can you really tell how you are perceived?


It can be tricky, especially in these days of the lowest common denominator. And it might take time- a person who is uncomfortable at a first visit may need several invites before she feels relaxed and realizes you’re not just showing off.

There is no system, no failsafe method. There is only a principle that we care more about the people than about our stuff, our schedules, or our organization. Beyond that, we work on a case by case basis at making others feel comfortable and cared for while living within our means. That may mean serving sandwiches on paper plates to one family and lasagna on china for another.

Here are some other thoughts I have:
One disgruntled, awkward guest is not a trend. However, if you know that a guest is not comfortable with china, then it is not really making them feel extra special and worthy of attention to use it anyway. If you don’t know that and find out later there is no reason to feel guilty about it.

In general, if pretty much everybody you know is uncomfortable asking you for help spontaneously, without scheduling it- you might have a problem.
In general, if the majority of your guests seem tense, edgy, and uncomfortable, you might need to work on something.

In general, if NOBODY ever tells you they feel comfortable or at home in your house, then maybe what you’ve been doing is entertaining and not hospitality.

We don’t need to feel responsible for making everybody feel comfortable exactly where they are because people have to own their own feelings at some point and also- because most of us should not be complacent about exactly where they are. We just need not to be so focused on our own perfections, superiorities, and high standards that we make others feel they can *never* hope to do better.

If people feel like we would never invite them back if their child accidentally broke a plate, then they might be insecure. Or we might be confused in our priorities.

I am talking about trends, not each and every person who comes into our homes. And there are some house-guests who are just rude- we aren’t responsible for them or their reactions. I do not feel at all responsible, for instance, for the family who stayed with us for several days, had a rude and uncooperative child who refused to help when asked and constantly disappeared to let others do her work, the family also flushed paper towels down our toilet, backing up our septic system so I had to clean raw sewage out of my bathtub- and then accused me of being ‘unkind’ and ‘inhospitable’ because I asked them to please not do that, but to come and ask me for the toilet paper if they ran out again, and they consequently left in a huff and remain angry with me to this day because I will not ‘confess’ that I was rude to ask them to stop putting paper towels down my toilet or ‘unkind’ to ask their 13 year old daughter to pitch in when it was her turn to do the dishes.

There are some people it is impossible not to offend.

So- *in general,* you want to check your motives and be certain that you do care more for people than for your perfect schedule or ‘bonus points’ for setting a perfect table.

Does that make sense?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

One of Shakespeare’s Sources Discovered

This is pretty interesting- the point here is not the tired old Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare, nor iis it a claim that he plagiarized. It’s that, using plagiarism software, scholars have uncovered another source or reference work that Shakespeare used for some of his plays.

“The findings were made by Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter, who describe them in a book to be published next week by the academic press D. S. Brewer and the British Library. The authors are not suggesting that Shakespeare plagiarized but rather that he read and was inspired by a manuscript titled “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels,” written in the late 1500s by George North, a minor figure in the court of Queen Elizabeth, who served as an ambassador to Sweden.”

And this was pretty cool:

“Mr. McCarthy is an unlikely literary scholar. Originally from Amherst, N.Y., he studied computer science and theater at the University at Buffalo, but never graduated. He began writing for magazines and newspapers and published a book in 2009, titled “Here Be Dragons,” about the geographical underpinnings of evolution.

That interest led him to wonder if literary ideas could propagate the same way, and starting in 2006 he began to explore the sources of Shakespeare. Mr. McCarthy focused on Thomas North, a translator of Plutarch’s “Lives,” whom Shakespeare relied on heavily for his dramas.

In April 2011, Mr. McCarthy brought some of his findings to Ms. Schlueter, professor emerita of English at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and a founding editor of Shakespeare Bulletin, a scholarly journal. She admired his diligence and natural affinity for scholarly research. “Dennis is the Steve Jobs of the Shakespeare community,” Ms. Schlueter said, referring to the self-taught Apple founder.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Responses

Gobekli Tepe

If your curiosity bump was alerted by an earlier reference to this archeological site in Turkey, the earliest temple yet discovered, you might be interested in reading these other links:—the-worlds-first-temple/

I grimace at the ‘world’s first temple’ designation. It may not be a temple at all. And nobody can say if another, older structure of religious significance may or may not turn up. After all, nobody expected this one., a skeptic site, which questions all the religious speculations presented in the majority of pieces on Gobekli Tepe. An excellent read.

Wikipedia, of course.

Some photographs and commentary.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The study of the course of human history

The authors of this long article, or perhaps essay, are pursuing a point in connection with their views on human society, government, equality, how we got here, and where to go from here, from the anarchist point of view.

But whether you agree, disagree, or don’t even care, there’s a lot of other interesting ideas to pursue, given the time for such pursuit. I’m just going to share a handful of the ones that caught my eye.

This made me laugh, because I’m weird: “if one reduces world history to Gini coefficients, silly things will, necessarily, follow. Also depressing ones.”

This quickened my heart, because I find Göbekli Tepe tantalizing. I have frittered away countless hours trying to find out more about it, hungering for more photographs of the sculptures, materialistically wishing I could own a copy of some of them:

“Still more astonishing are the stone temples of Göbekli Tepe, excavated over twenty years ago on the Turkish-Syrian border, and still the subject of vociferous scientific debate. Dating to around 11,000 years ago, the very end of the last Ice Age, they comprise at least twenty megalithic enclosures raised high above the now-barren flanks of the Harran Plain. Each was made up of limestone pillars over 5m in height and weighing up to a ton (respectable by Stonehenge standards, and some 6,000 years before it).”

Often when I read about Göbekli Tepe, I come across a statement that makes me twitch my shoulders and jerk my head after imaginary mosquitoes. I read that Göbekli Tepe is ‘the oldest temple,’ or some similar positive statement. It’s not true. I don’t know why it’s so hard to say, “It’s the oldest temple we know of.” But scholarship is arrogant too often, which brings me to this one:

“Scholarship does not always advance. Sometimes it slides backwards. A hundred years ago, most anthropologists understood that those who live mainly from wild resources were not, normally, restricted to tiny ‘bands.’ That idea is really a product of the 1960s, when Kalahari Bushmen and Mbuti Pygmies became the preferred image of primordial humanity for TV audiences and researchers alike.”

And this:

“So, we might reasonably ask, what other cherished truths must now be cast on the dust-heap of history?

Quite a number, actually. Back in the ‘70s, the brilliant Cambridge archaeologist David Clarke predicted that, with modern research, almost every aspect of the old edifice of human evolution, ‘the explanations of the development of modern man, domestication, metallurgy, urbanization and civilisation – may in perspective emerge as semantic snares and metaphysical mirages.’ It appears he was right. Information is now pouring in from every quarter of the globe, based on careful empirical fieldwork, advanced techniques of climatic reconstruction, chronometric dating, and scientific analyses of organic remains. Researchers are examining ethnographic and historical material in a new light. And almost all of this new research goes against the familiar narrative of world history. Still, the most remarkable discoveries remain confined to the work of specialists, or have to be teased out by reading between the lines of scientific publications. Let us conclude, then, with a few headlines of our own: just a handful, to give a sense of what the new, emerging world history is starting to look like…”

But wait? What makes anybody presume that *now* we have reached peak scholarship with no errors? Is it really so hard to imagine that forty years from now it may turn out that today’s exciting, new, emerging world history is a semantic snare and metaphysical mirage of its own?
IT’s not that this stuff isn’t plausible and interesting:

“The first bombshell on our list concerns the origins and spread of agriculture. There is no longer any support for the view that it marked a major transition in human societies. In those parts of the world where animals and plants were first domesticated, there actually was no discernible ‘switch’ from Palaeolithic Forager to Neolithic Farmer.”

It is fascinating, but should always be seasoned with humility, like the rest of human knowledge.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

  • The Common Room on Facebook

  • Amazon: Buy our Kindle Books

  • Search Amazon

    Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

  • Brainy Fridays Recommends: