Category Archives: Intercultural Communication

Why I said “Screw the bank account!” and opted to travel anyway

Why I said “Screw the bank account!” and opted to travel anyway

By Julie L. Parenteau, Ph.D.


A few months ago I was asked to participate on a panel at an international conference in Spain. I felt honored and excited about the possibilities to network and meet so many new and interesting people. Then I looked at my bank account…the reality was that there were no funds for this trip. Feeling deflated, I walked away from the email invite. I had been trying to get back to Europe for at least five years, but owning my own business was tough. I had always paid my bills, but there was not much left over to travel. Then there was the question of leaving my clients behind. Who would take care of them? And how would I make money while I was gone so that I could continue to pay the bills upon my return? Nope, this trip could not happen right now.

One week later I still couldn’t shake my disappointment. I REALLY wanted to go. I knew that this spelled financial disaster, but I decided to talk to my partner about it anyway. Less than a year into our marriage, I was considering leaving him and our dogs behind to travel through Europe for five weeks on my own. I explained that I could stay with friends most of the time to save money and I would avoid buying anything unnecessary (i.e. souvenirs). After a healthy discussion, we decided that I had to take this trip despite what the bank account said. It was simply something I couldn’t pass up.


One thing you should understand about me is that I am not someone who makes financial decisions lightly. I am very careful with regard to my spending habits so that there is money for things that we want or need to do from time to time. However, the economy in Puerto Rico has depleted anything extra that I have meaning I would literally take this trip on shoestrings. Knowing this, why would I walk away from my business and partner to go traipsing across Europe? These are just a few of the reasons.


1) As an intercultural communication scholar and practitioner, I need to be exposed to different cultures. The linguist in me needs to find opportunities to practice rusty language skills and learn new languages. Feeding my passion is a necessity!

2) Life on an island becomes confining. There are only so many places I can go and only so many viewpoints I can experience. Getting off the island puts me in contact with people who live and think differently. It helps boost my creativity.

3) My business depends on it! Being an entrepreneur is a lonely endeavor at times. Spending too much time with my own thoughts makes it easy to subconsciously sabotage myself. Being in a new place sparks new ideas and helps work through roadblocks. It certainly helps me!


4) It’s a challenge! Living the same routine day in and day out becomes monotonous (in my opinion). Without challenges to overcome, life is dull. Traveling provides new challenges like navigating the city, getting on the right train, or explaining a problem to someone who doesn’t speak your language. These trials can be more difficult to navigate than making major business decisions, but they remind me that overcoming roadblocks, no matter how small, is part of what makes like interesting.

5) Intercultural education opportunities abound! While traveling I experience cultural nuances ranging from food to celebrations to music. I learn from what is going on around me, but I also educate others about life in Puerto Rico. Upon my return, I teach friends and family about what life is like across the pond. It’s a gift that keeps on giving!


Now that I am back, I am so happy that I went on this trip. It was definitely what I needed in order to strengthen my business and my personal and professional relationships. I do not necessarily recommend putting yourself further into debt to take a trip like this, but for me, it was the right decision because in the end there are…



Dr. Julie Parenteau is an intercultural communication consultant and language instructor living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. To find out how to work with her or contract her as a speaker for your upcoming event, visit

This article is featured on the Small Planet Studio #MyGlobalLife Linkup. Add your blog on the last Friday of each month!


Global Customs for Public Displays of Affection

Global Customs for Public Displays of Affection

Written by: Julie L. Parenteau, Ph.D.


This week we are celebrating love and friendship at Global Perceptions by looking at global customs of affection. We start the week by examining norms for public displays of affection. Etiquette for Public Displays of Affection (PDAs) varies across cultures. The consequences for breaking the rules can be life-threatening, making it important for expatriates, travelers, and study abroad students to understand cultural norms.

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Couples across Korea limit the amount of public affection shown. Koreans will hold hands, but kisses are very unusual even for those who are dating. Such displays are saved for more private locations. One major difference about Korean culture is that good friends, regardless of gender or age, also hold hands as a demonstration of their friendship.


In much of the Western World, hugs and kisses are standard ways of greeting friends, family members and romantic partners. Couples are known to hold hands, drape their arms around each other and steal more intimate kisses on occasion. Latin and Southern European cultures who are known for being more effusive, may even consider slightly more touching to be appropriate. Groping, however, crosses the line.
Rules for PDAs in the Middle East and China are much stricter. In China, for example, only people of the same sex are permitted to hold hands in public, while in the Middle East

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people may be imprisoned for kissing in public. Such acts go against religious traditions.


Whether or not you agree with these cultural norms, it is best to abide by them at all times to avoid serious repercussions. So celebrate your affection where it is it culturally acceptable, but keep your hands to yourselves where it is not allowed. You may find that it is challenging to adjust but that the change is just the spice your relationship needs.


For more information on living and working effectively across cultures, please contact Global Perceptions, your relocation specialist in Puerto Rico!

“I” vs. “We”: A Linguistic Perspective on the Super Bowl

“I” vs. “We”: A Linguistic Perspective on the Super Bowl

By: Julie L. Parenteau, Ph.D.


“Oh no, not again!”

“Why do professors insist on these things?”

“Another one…I’ve already got two in my other classes!”


Statements like these, followed by lots of heartfelt groans, were the usual reaction to my announcing that we were about to embark on group project time in the classes that I taught. Students in my classrooms loathed the idea of working in groups. They believed it was more trouble than it was worth and that one of the group members, usually themselves, would end up doing all the work. Working as a team was not high on their priority list. How did they develop this attitude? I think language and culture have a lot to do with it. As one of the biggest American spectacles of team interaction (The Super Bowl) is around the corner, let’s take a closer look at the way that our languages suggest cultures of independence or interdependence.


There is a saying in American sports that there is no “I” in team. While that may be true in some cases, American’s use of English does not often convey that message. In U.S. culture we are quick to talk about how the decision at hand might impact us as individuals. “That

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meeting time won’t work for me.” “I won’t be able to finish my part before the deadline if s/he doesn’t get me the data in time.” “I can’t catch the ball if he doesn’t throw it to the target.” We are very good at blaming others and denying any fault of our own.


I used to hear that kind of talk all the time as a university professor. “Teacher, so-and-so is not doing the work.” “I’m the one doing all the work and I don’t think that is right.” It didn’t matter if I was working at a stateside university or one in Puerto Rico, such comments were rampant. All the focus was on the “I” even though the students were working on group projects. No one seemed interested in trying to work through the issues to bring the group closer together. They would have rather given up than try to make it work. This characteristic is truly representative of an independent, individualistic culture.


Outside of the strongly independent Western World, there is more emphasis on working together. Many Asian, African, and Latin American cultures are built on the idea that “two heads are better than one.” They look to the group for the support needed as individuals and truly work together to complete the task, being sure not to leave any one person open

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to scrutiny. If someone is not fulfilling their role in the group, the rest of the group encourages that person to get more involved so they can reach the group or team goal together. The group is more important than any one person and all are needed to complete the task.


Avoiding the he said/she said-style finger pointing of individualistic cultures typically allows people in collectivistic cultures to work together more smoothly. There is no need to point out the failures or get upset over the lack of participation of one teammate. Rather, the emphasis is on building up the group as a whole. Proverbs from these regions support this concept. The Japanese, for instance, have a saying that “a single arrow is easily broken, but not ten in a bundle.” The language of Ethiopia offers this proverb, “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.” Again, the emphasis is on cooperation and teamwork.

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As the Super Bowl approaches, I will refrain from asking you who you think will win. Instead, I will ask you to pay attention to the media messages leading up to the big game. What questions do the reporters ask of the players and coaches? How do the players and coaches respond? Is there really a sense of team present or is any one player out to “get his own?”


Like it or not, thousands of young people, perhaps even your children, watch these games and learn a language from these famous players. Help them unpack those messages instead of swallowing them whole. Point out how many hands hold the trophy during the ceremony. Have them listen carefully to what the players say post-game. Do the players think any one player had more of an impact than others? Help them understand that there are benefits to both independence and interdependence. Teach them to recognize that asking for help is not a bad thing, while also encouraging them to strive toward their personal goals. Allow them to develop a language of inclusivity that gives them skills for working in both contexts. Having both skillsets will help them achieve success in our global society.


cropped-GP-Logo1.jpgFor further insight into the fascinating world of intercultural communication, contact Global Perceptions, your relocation and communication consulting specialists in Puerto Rico! 


This post was added to the #MyGlobalLife Linkup at Small Planet Studio.

Eye Contact Across Cultures

Eye Contact Across Cultures

By: Julie L. Parenteau, Ph.D. and Jennifer Alvarez


Nonverbal cues are the source of much intercultural miscommunication. What is left unsaid is often misinterpreted by people from other cultures, creating a source of misunderstanding with potentially life-threatening consequences. One of the most misinterpreted forms of nonverbal communication is the use of eye contact. Some cultures expect direct eye contact while others condone it. Some consider direct eye contact between those of the same gender acceptable, while reserving eye contact between opposite sexes as appropriate only in intimate situations. With so many cultural differences across geographical region, we thought it important to give our readers a guide to this form of communication.



Middle Eastern cultures view eye contact as something to be strictly avoided. This is particularly true between those of opposite sexes, with the exception of use between family members. Such norms are based on strict religious rules that prohibit interaction between the sexes. However, eye contact between men shows confidence and sends the impression that what is being said is based on truth. Men who maintain eye contact during conversations with other men are thought to be trustworthy.


When interacting with people from these cultures, it is important for Westerns to know about these communication differences because any prolonged eye contact between a man and woman can insinuate that an intimate interaction is desired. This is particularly important if you want to avoid any repercussions that may occur if thought to be trying to steal someone’s mate.


Although there are many cultural and communication differences between Asian, African, and Latin American cultures, they generally coincide on the use of eye contact. These groups are more hierarchical in nature, believing that there are social and age-based reasons to show respect to those in authority. Their eye contact demonstrates this. Those in authority (parents, teachers) are expected to look directly at the person with whom they are speaking, but those lower in the social hierarchy (children, students) are expected to deflect their look, often by looking down. This is seen as a sign of respect and should not be interpreted as a lack of confidence.


deniroPeople who grow up in the United States learn that it is respectful to look someone in the eye when spoken to or when speaking to others. This shows interest in what is being said. It also demonstrates a sense of confidence and conviction in one’s ideas. If the speaker avoids eye contact, s/he is thought to be hiding something or lacking knowledge of the topic. If the listener, however, avoids eye contact, it shows that the listener is distracted and not paying attention. An exception to this cultural norm is when in crowded spaces like elevators. In those cases, eye contact is avoided.


In much of Western Europe, the norms are much like those in the United States. Looking people in the eye is considered polite and should be maintained throughout the conversation. This is particularly important in business settings. One difference between the U.S. and places like France, for example, is that eye contact can be interpreted in more flirtatious ways. The French may casually use eye contact to let someone know that s/he is interested in getting to know her/him. Visitors should be aware of this interpretation to reduce cultural misunderstandings.


Before traveling or relocating to another country, take the time to learn about cultural differences. Knowing what is socially acceptable can help you avoid making serious cultural mistakes. Relocation specialists like those at Global Perceptions can help! Make your international move a smooth one by taking part in our cultural adaptation seminars! To learn more, visit


What color is your suit? The importance of color in cross-cultural interactions.

What color is your suit? The importance of color in cross-cultural interactions.

By: Julie Parenteau, Ph.D. and Jennifer Alvarez


People communicate in all different ways. We use words at times, while our body language does the talking at other times. And in some cases, silence is used instead. Today we share a more subtle, but hugely important form of communication that can wreak cultural havoc in certain settings. We are talking about color. Let’s explore this fascinating topic in further detail.

Start by looking around you. What color are the walls in your office? What color flowers do you buy for your special someone to show your affection? What color are you wearing right now? How do poeple react to you when you wear that color? Colors are used in particular pink suit mencultures to represent culturally specific ideals and values. For instance, if you were to walk into a formal interview in a pink suit in the United States, what judgments might be bestowed upon you? How might that be different if you were interviewing with a Korean company?



In much of the Western World, red is popping up all around us because St. Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Red, in that part of the world, represents love and warmth. This perspective also applies in the case of Chinese brides who typically wear red for good luck. To write a Chinese person’s name in red ink, however, means that that person is dead to you.

Red represents purity in India, but for South Africans, is used to show mourning following the death of a loved one. Red is also the color associated with Communism, in addition to Santa Claus and Satan. Interestingly, psychologists suggest that the color red has been used to stimulate brain activity.



Pink, a lighter shade of red, symbolizes trust in Korea. In Western cultures, pink is pink suit womenconsidered a girl’s color and often suggests femininity. Pink roses, on the other hand, represent gratitude and appreciation as opposed to red roses which represent love. Psychologists have found that pink works in suppressing the appetite and relaxing muscles.



In Western cultures, people often think of pumpkins and falling leaves when thinking of orange. In the Netherlands, orange is known as the color of royalty while in Northern Ireland orange is the color associated with the Protestant church. Orange roses represent enthusiasm, which supports studies that have found orange to be an appetite stimulant.



Green has several meanings across cultures. While it symbolizes money and nature in the United States, green is also affiliated with jealousy and greed, as well as disease in some Asian countries. Green is considered the color of Islam, but to the Irish is used to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.



Blue is the symbol of wealth in many Eastern cultures, but represents immorality or even death in China. For Iranians and Egyptians, blue is the color of mourning. Western cultures consider blue to be a depressing, sad color and talk about people who are emotionally down

as “having the blues.” Such thoughts align nicely with those of psychologists who have studied the calming effects of the color blue.


Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of


Purple, once thought to be the color of royalty across much of Western Europe, has transcended to the color or loyalty in Western cultures. In contrast, widows in Thailand wear purple when in mourning. Researchers have determined that purple produces a peaceful environment and may even be used to reduce migraine headaches.


Black and White

Thought by many to be the absence of color, white is associated with purity in Western cultures and black is associated with mourning. Asian cultures however, have a different perspective. For those in China, Korea, and India, for instance, white is the color of death. Therefore, gifting white flowers or anything wrapped in white paper is culturally inappropriate.


Because of the culture that we grow up in, we tend to view colors like those around us. As we travel and venture out into the world, our perspectives broaden. We may begin to see shades of color where there were none before. Perhaps there is a local name for a specific color that was not previously in your purview.

Understanding how colors work across cultures can help people interacting in multicultural settings to avoid cultural faux pas. When deciding how to dress or what type of gift to give, it is particularly important to take color into consideration. Something as basic as the color ink used to write someone’s name or the color of the paper used to wrap a gift can make or break a business deal. Think carefully about this as you go into your next international negotiation.


For additional insights into working effectively across cultures, contact the staff at Global Perceptions. Our professionals will set you on the right path!

Linguistic hierarchy: How language shows respect

Linguistic hierarchy: How language shows respect

By Jennifer Alvarez and Julie L. Parenteau, Ph.D.


Learning a second language is not only about learning vocabulary and sentence structure. It is also about learning culture. In this post, we talk about forms of respect inherent in different languages. While some cultures are more hierarchical in nature, others are less hierarchical, and their languages reflect those differences. We have taken examples from English, French, Spanish, and Japanese to demonstrate these concepts. While reading, consider the words you use in everyday life. Think about how your native language compares and then ask yourself two important questions: 1) how does your native language reflect hierarchy and 2) what does that say about the importance (or lack thereof) of hierarchy in your native culture?


2013-07-13 15.54.04Let’s begin with English! English spoken in the Southern region of the United States shows respect when speaking to others in positions of authority or elders by using Sir (for men) or Ma’am (for women). People in the Northern United States tend to use the terms Mr. or Mrs. in front of the person’s last name instead. However, referring to people simply by their first name has become the norm throughout much of the U.S.


           Hello (formal): Hello, ma’am or sir/Mr. Smith.

           Hello (informal): Hello.


           You’re welcome (formal): You are welcome, ma’am or sir/Mrs. Smith.

           You’re welcome (informal): You’re welcome.


           How are you? (formal): How are you, ma’am or sir?

           How are you? (informal): How are you?


The French language also distinguishes between formal and informal settings, showing respect for strangers, those in positions of authority, and elders. The “tu” form is used in informal situations, while speakers use “vous” to refer to people in formal settings. Both mean “you,” but “vous” shows a deeper level of respect for your conversational counterpart. Both the subject pronoun and the verb change to reflect this. Below are a few examples of everyday phrases in both a formal and informal setting in French.


          IMG_2184Please (formal): S’il vous plait.

Please (informal): S’il te plait.


What is your name? (formal): Comment vous appelez-vous?

What is your name? (informal): Comment t’appelles tu?


How are you? (formal): Comment allez-vous?

How are you? (informal): Ça va?


A fellow Latin-based romance language, Spanish, like French, differentiates between a formal “you” and an informal “you.” When in an informal setting, such as with friends or family, use the “tu” form. When speaking to strangers, someone in a higher position such as a manager, as well as older adults, use “usted.”  Again, note that the verb ending is also different to reflect the change in subject use. Some everyday phrases that are used in the Spanish language are listed below to show both formal and informal usage.


How are you? (formal):  ¿Cómo está usted?

How are you? (informal): ¿Cómo tú estás?


What is your name? (formal):  ¿Cómo se llama usted? OR ¿Cuál es su nombre?

What is your name? (informal): ¿Cómo te llamas? OR ¿Cuál es tu nombre?


Where are you from? (formal):  ¿De dónde es usted?

Where are you from? (informal): ¿De dónde tú eres?


Japanese has two types of “respect languages.” The context of the situation and the identity of the person to whom you are speaking are the criteria used to determine which type of language is spoken. The two types of “respect languages” are: “sonkeigo,” which translates to respectful language, and “kensongo,” which is the use of modest or humble language. Following are a few examples.


Sonkeigo, the respectful language, is used when talking about superiors and customers.  This type of language is never used to refer to one’s self. This language is only used when referring to someone else. It is necessary to use different verb conjugations when using this type of respect language. To show respect to an elder, for example, one may change the word “suru,” meaning “do,” to “hasaru.” Altering the verb in this way shows deference or respect despite the fact that the two words have the same meaning.



Kensongo, the modest or humble language, is used to describe one’s actions or the actions of someone in a group such as customers in a business. Kensongo is used to describe situations in which someone is speaking of an action that took place while assisting another. For example, the word carry, which is “motsu,” is changed to “mochi shimasu” because the term is being used to retell a story in which that person helped someone carry something.


“I had to motsu the books.” This is adequate because someone is talking about a personal action they did for themselves. Alternately, that sentence would read, “I had to mochi shimasu the books for the customer today” if the person did the action for someone else.


Understanding how language shows respect for authority is important for everyday conversations, but is also extremely important for business transactions. Whether or not you make an attempt to speak the other language in negotiations, make sure that you are aware of hierarchical protocol prior to engaging the other party. Showing such deference will go a long way.


For more language learning tips to help you through your cultural adaptation process, contact Global Perceptions, your relocation specialist in Puerto Rico.






Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Kerri Applegate


Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. King came from a long line of pastors, and faith would play a seismic role in his pursuit of equality. His father, Martin Luther King, Sr., demonstrated strong principles for his children by rejecting racism and segregation, and considered it an act against God’s will. King’s father adamantly taught his children that class superiority was wrong and had no place in the United States. His father’s teaching undoubtedly created a spark and influenced a future leader of the Civil Rights Movement.

The King Family

Martin Luther King was a precocious young man that skipped several grades in high school and entered Morehouse College at the age of 15, earning a B.A. in Sociology and eventually a doctorate in Systematic Theology from Boston University in 1955. It was in Boston that King met his wife Coretta, an aspiring singer, with whom he would later marry and have four children. By 1954, King had been appointed Head Pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. During his administration, segregation of public facilities such as schools, public transportation, restaurants, and even separate water fountains was strictly enforced, preventing blacks from having access to the same spaces as white people.

Rosa Parks, a Civil Rights leaders for blacks and women.


While riding a Montgomery City Bus on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man and defied the Jim Crow Laws (1876-1965) that enforced segregation amongst black and white citizens in the Southern States. By December 5th, King was elected President of the Montgomery Improvement Association that led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. During the boycotts, African Americans did everything but ride the bus to get to work, school, or church. King’s involvement didn’t go unnoticed. He and his family lives through a house bombing, violent attacks and King being apprehended for conspiracy. On December 21, 1965, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public transportation was illegal, in part due to the efforts of Dr. King.

King’s leadership in the boycotts was only the beginning of his work to defend equality and civil rights for all people. King later went on to lead nonviolent protests, become arrested numerous times, stage “sit-ins”, gain support from President Kennedy, become the youngest person to achieve the Nobel Peace Prize (1964), and go on to give one of the most famous speeches the United States had heard to date.

I Have a Dream!

Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of 250,000 protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. This historic moment was considered a major turning point for the cause of desegregation and social justice for African-Americans.

King lived long enough to create a major impact and set a more just path for future generations. It was said that King believed in visible, peaceful protest and that no change would come from not visibly seeing or hearing others stand up for change and justice. Martin Luther King was assassinated while standing on the balcony of his hotel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. The day before he died he gave a speech where he said, “God’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you.”

Today we remember King’s legacy and pause to reflect on the contributions that he made to equality and civil rights. Across Puerto Rico, the government offices, schools, and banks are closed in remembrance. We invite you to leave your comments on what King’s legacy means to you.


For further cultural insights useful throughout your transition to Puerto Rico, visit Global Perceptions, your relocation specialist in Puerto Rico, works closely with you, your family, and your company to assure that your relocation goes as smoothly as possible.

5 Relocation Tips for Kids: Post-departure

The big day has come and gone. Now you are safely in your new home and starting classes at your new school. Now your major concerns are: 1) will the other kids like me?2) where will I sit at lunchtime? and 3) what will the teachers be like? These are normal questions for any new kid to ask. When making an international move however, these questions become even more stressful due to differences in culture and language. Let me offer the following tips to help guide you comfortably through these changes.

In my experience as a new kid, getting involved in a school-sponsored club or sport was critical to helping me become a part of the new school. Whether you like drama, art, fencing, robotics, or community-service, try to find a group that supports your interests. By attending their meetings, more people will see you and will get used to you being a part of the group.

Getting involved also gives you access to people with similar interests so you can make friends. Because you already have something in common, it should be easier to start a conversation even if you don’t know the person. Also, the small group setting makes it easier to have one-on-one conversations than being in a large classroom full of people. Take advantage of these opportunities to get to know other people.

Living in a new culture often means that there are new foods and drinks to try. Be open to tasting the new foods even if they do not look “normal” to you. People in the new culture probably think that much of what you are used to eating is weird or strange too. Be adventurous and try new things!

Listening to local music can help you become familiar with local styles, but can also help you learn the language. Tune your radio to a local station and listen in. Watching local television shows offers the same benefits. You may not understand anything in the beginning, but if you keep watching, you will start to pick up quite a bit. Being current with TV shows and music also gives you something to talk about with your new friends.

See the sights! Encourage your family members to visit museums, sporting events, libraries, parks, theaters, and more to get out of the house and explore. While visiting these places you will be surrounded by people of the local culture. Learn from those experiences. Discover what is important to people in the new culture by looking at museum artifacts or attending theatrical performances. You will be amazed how much you can learn from these adventures!

With these tips in mind, you should feel more secure and confident in your new home away from home. The transition is never easy, but you can get through it. Remember to stay positive and enjoy the experience of living in new place. Many kids never get such an opportunity so take advantage of all there is to learn. Maybe someday, you’ll have the chance to share your experiences with other kids making the same transition.

For your FREE Puerto Rico Welcome Kit, contact your relocation authority, Global Perceptions, today!

10 Tips for Improving Intercultural Communication

In today’s technologically-savvy world, we have the ability to communicate at lighting speeds with people all over the globe. This creates incredible opportunities to learn from people of other cultures. However, it can also create problems if the parties involved are unfamiliar with intercultural interaction. The next time you find yourself in a situation like this, keep these tips in mind.

1. Be open-minded: When we hear about traditions, foods, clothing, etc., that are different from ours, we tend to jump to conclusions about how weird the “other’s” life is. Although this may be the first impression, we have to remember to keep an open mind. Our customs are likely as strange to them.

2. Avoid judging: When at all possible, steer clear from judging the other person. Without understanding their cultural background, it is difficult to recognize why they do things a certain way. Find out about their culture before rushing to judgment.

3. Listen: In order to truly listen to someone, we need to clear our minds and focus on what the person is saying. Without this focus much of what they say goes in one ear and out the other. Stop, focus, and listen.

4. Ask questions: Be inquisitive without interrogating. Ask what the other person does during festivals or how they interact with family members or what foods are typical. Find out about their background and share yours too! These can be the most interesting conversations.

5. Focus on the content: It can be difficult to understand some people due to heavy
accents. This is likely something that the person is aware of and perhaps even embarrassed by. Help the person out. Listen carefully but focus your attention on the content. You’ll be surprised how much more you will understand if you listen beyond the accent.

6. Be patient: Engaging in intercultural communication requires great patience. Messages may be misunderstood, offenses may be taken, but these things can be resolved with patience and sensitivity. Allow the person a chance to explain. Listen patiently without judgment.

7. Create opportunities: To improve our intercultural communication skills, we have to look for opportunities to develop them. Be on the watch for talks, celebrations, books, and more that will put you in touch with people of other cultures. Review your local newspaper, inquire about groups at the local library, or look online for events. Take advantage of such opportunities!

8. Keep practicing: Developing effective intercultural communication skills does not happen over night. It is a long and involved process unless you grew up in a multicultural setting. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Keep at it! Stay positive and don’t give up!

9. Watch others: One of the best ways to learn about another culture is to observe them in their daily activities. Attend a cultural festival, for example, and watch how the dances are done. Pay attention to the costumes, foods, nonverbal behaviors, and general interactions. You’ll be amazed at what you pick up by just watching!

10. Make mistakes: People don’t often encourage us to make mistakes, but that is one of the key elements of becoming effective at intercultural communication. Making mistakes helps us learn. We all are guilty of making cultural faux pas so learn to laugh at mistakes and file away the appropriate action for the next time you find yourself in that situation.

These tips are certainly not the only tips for improving intercultural communication, but they will definitely set you on the right track. Overall, be considerate, polite, and open to learning from others.

For additional tips or information about our wide variety of intercultural communication workshops, please contact Global Perceptions at 787.455.7764. You can also like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter!

Personal Space in Intercultural Settings

Proxemics, or the study of space and how we use it, significantly impacts communication across cultures. People who grow up in the same region inherently understand the rules for how to use space even though they may have learned those rules unconsciously. Those rules only come into question when people break them. If you have ever had a conversation with someone and felt uncomfortable because the person was either too close or too far away for your tastes, you know what I’m talking about.

Anthropologist and renowned intercultural researcher Edward T. Hall is credited with establishing this field of study in the 1950s. He posited that North Americans had four space distances. They include: intimate, casual-personal, social, and public. Only people you know on an intimate level are allowed in the intimate space, while friends are allowed in the casual-personal region. Note that the casual-personal region affords enough space for the two people to avoid touching, but still is close enough for people to use their everyday voices. At 4-12 feet, the social region is used to conduct business. Beyond that is the public space, which is usually used for formal presentations.

If you will be traveling to another country or otherwise interacting with people from a specific region and want to know what their space expectations are, consider researching the way land is divided in their home country. In North America, for instance, suburban and rural houses are built with a sizable area of land around them. In small countries, there is limited space so homes are constructed much closer together. In places like Japan or Puerto Rico, people are accustomed to living in tight quarters so touching is expected. People who stand at a distance are considered cold or even rude. In North America, people expect their distance to be respected. Standing too close to them makes them very uncomfortable.

Even though you may have no conscious intention of offending others, the conversational distance that you choose may in fact be considered offensive. Before you get into these situations, do your homework. Discover what the cultural norms are for that culture and do your best to work within them. This may mean stepping out of your comfort zone, but it will help communication proceed more smoothly so that you can concentrate on what the person is saying and not on how close or far away the person is.

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