Are the claims made in the essays ‘Intercultural Communication Stumbling Blocks’ by Laray M. Barna, and ‘Social Time: the Heartbeat of Culture’, by Robert Levine and Ellen Wolff, valid in the light of real life examples?
This paper will examine two essays which deal with the question of cultural and social understanding, and how communication by people of differing cultural backgrounds can offer be problematic and difficult. The claims in both essays will be assessed as to how valid they are, in relation to real life examples.
The first essay which was analysed was ‘Intercultural Communication Stumbling Blocks’, by Laray M. Barna. The writer of this essay states that there are, in fact, certain differences between cultures which are often impossible to reconcile. Indeed, many of the examples that the writer uses, such as that of a Saudi Arabian boy trying to express to a girl from another country that he was interested in her (Guidelines: A Cross-Cultural Reading/Writing Text, page 69) is a perfect example of just how tricky things can be in this regard. Indeed, it seems surprising in this context that so many international relationships are developing. Many of my personal friends have partners or spouses from different countries. The internet is also allowing a greater sense of verbal communication, which perhaps means that non verbal communication problems can be more easily overcome in future.
The essay relates in particular how non verbal communication is often ignored by people when they are travelling to different countries. The assumption that they often make is that by simply learning language, they will also be able to fully comprehend the other subtleties of social life in the country they are visiting. This conforms to much of reality in the world, even in countries within the same continent, such as Europe, where social values in Scandinavia are often different to those found in the couth, in countries such as Greece.
The internet also makes it far easier to research matters like non-verbal communication, so visitors to foreign countries can make sure that they know more before they travel. Many other difficulties are also caused by religious differences. Different religions, or even different sects of the same religion, can sometimes have very different rules regarding how to behave, especially around the opposite sex. The writer of the essay’s optimism that in the future things would be much easier when it came to communicating across different cultures therefore seems justified. (Guidelines, page 72)
The second essay examined was ‘Social Time the heartbeat of Culture’, by Robert L Levine. This essay asked the question, “Can we speak of a unitary concept, called pace of life?” (Guidelines, p.78), with its central thesis being that the way in which time was evaluated was a huge factor in determining cultural differences. The cities that were observed ranged from Japan, to southern and northern Europe, and the United States. After observing and analysing a number of practises in the various countries, such as how fast one could expect to be served by a clerk in a post office, nations were graded and rated. Japan was identified as a nation where one could expect very swift and efficient level of service, whereas Italy and Indonesia were places where things were a little slower and more easy going when it comes to time.
It also examines how time is used and perceived in other countries and cultures. The author refers to his time in Jakarta, when it was almost impossible to find the right time to get to the post office in order to get stamps. The writer was also often solicited for other business while he was in the vicinity of the post office, behaviour which would be considered very rude in many European countries and the USA.
What is interesting in this piece, is that the ideas at the conclusion of the essay on how life lived too quickly tends to produce chronic stress, causing serious illness, seem to be borne out by the results of surveys into long life. Long lived people in Mediterranean countries often identify a lack of stress and an easy pace of life, as well as diet and other factors, as central reasons for their long life. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/magazine/the-island-where-people-forget-to-die.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). This, when linked to the essay’s questions about how time and pace of life may be judged in a ever globalising future, means that there are some unresolved issues for the writer. He identifies that in both America and Japan, “speed is frequently confused with progress.” (Guidelines, p. 81). In he survey, Italians are identified as being slow and inefficient, according to American or Japanese notions of efficiency and speed, yet people in Italy often live much longer than citizens of other nations. This suggests that the pursuit of economic ideals is not necessarily always best for people, when they are viewed as human beings, rather than cogs in an economic machine.
This argument, when viewed alongside the first essay’s arguments about immersing oneself in culture to truly get to know it, means that there could potentially be many problems for individuals who are communicating across cultural barriers. Certainly, there are many students from countries like Korea, China and Japan who appear very cold and unemotional, even unfriendly and downright rude, when compared with Westerners. In my experience, it would seem that the greater numbers of international students in countries like the United Kingdom can only help matters improve. Both authors have very valid arguments, which seem to conform to what reality is like in many parts of the world.
Dan Buettner, ‘The Island Where People Forget to Die’, New York Times Magazine, October 24, 2012, retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/magazine/the-island-where-people-forget-to-die.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
‘Italians live longest but suffer more, report says’, Italymag.co.uk, November 18, 2008, retrieved from http://www.italymag.co.uk/italy/health/italians-live-longest-suffer-more-report-says
Guidelines: A Cross-Cultural Reading/Writing Text’, edited Ruth Spack, Cambridge Academic Writing Collection, 2006.