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5. Improving Intercultural Communication

  • If you don't speak the partner's language (e. g. Chinese), learn a few words in his/her language.
  • Avoid using slang, idioms.
  • Choose words that will convey only the most specific denotative (and not connotative) meaning.
  • Listen carefully and, if in doubt, ask for confirmation of understanding.
  • Respect the local communication formalities, styles.
  • Watch for any differences in body language.
  • Investigate partner culture's peculiarities.
  • Read literature about your culture through the partner's eyes.
  • Share the principles: (1) In different cultures „the game" is played differently. (2) When in Rome, do as Romans do! (3) Find the common denominator of host and own cultures. (4) Practice the golden means. (see: Commuication Principles).


1. Why is culture a semiotic system?


2. Which one is true? Why?

A) Culture is part of language.

B) Language is part of culture.


3. In which way do you mediate?

A) As a Hungarian person speaking English?

B) As a Translator?

C) As an Interpreter?

D) As a Tourist guide?


4. Make comments on the following statements:

A) Verbal language is (mostly) coscious.

B) Nonverbal language is (mostly) subcoscious.


5. How do you understand Ethnocentrism? How can we avoid or prevent it?


6.Give a list and justify:

A) cultures you highly evaluate.

B) Give a list of cultures you do not appreciate.


7.  Make comment on the proverb „When in Rome do as Romans do."


8. Why is it advisable?

A) If you don't speak the partner's language, learn a few words in his/her language.

B) Avoid using slang, idioms.

C) Respect the local communication formalities, styles.



9. Connect the Notes with the given Scenarios. Provide intercultural commentaries.

(ByVerluyten, S. P. Intercultural Incidents.

/resourses/ IC/Cases/InterculturalIncidentsNew.html)


Scenario 1. In the summer of 1984 I was on holiday in Bulgaria with my father. We lived with a Bulgarian family and once in the evening we invited them to go out and have a cup of coffee with us. They replied da ('yes'), but turned their head from the left side to the right side, as if they were saying 'no'. We were really surprised because we did not understand what they ment. We did not know whether our invitation was accepted or not... (Natalia B., Czechoslovakia? On a visit in Bulgaria)


Scenario 2. In Italy it is quite common among males to kiss each others on both cheeks? Especially on birthdays or other celebrations and when we meet again after a long time. While in England, I wanted to wish an Englisjj friend a merry Christmas and approached in order to kiss him. He backed off horrified. (Ignazio M., Italy, in England)


Scenario 3.  In my class there are some thirty Americans, and four Indonesians including me. When the professor asks questions in class, none of the Indonesians will raise their hands and volunteer for an answer, even if they know it. Tipically, only the Americans participate in the classroom dicussion. The professor called one of us one day and asked why we were not participating in the discussion. He attribued aur passiveness to a lack of interest to the subject. In fact, in Indonesia, rasing our hands and participating in a class discussion is not our custom. However we are more than willing to answer questions when the teacher points to us or calls our manes in class. (Omar H., Indonesia, in the Netherlands)


Scenario 4.  A businessman from the former Chechoslovakia went to the United Arab Emirates to discuss a deal. The meeting with his counterpart, a Arab businessman, was to take place in the Arab's house, as is apparently common there. As hi was invited to a dinner in someone's house, the Czech businessman decided to bring flowers  for his host's wife_ as he would have done at home. He was sure the wife would be pleased and her husband would appreciate the attention the visitor paid them and the talks would start in a positive atmosphere. The Czech man brought the flowers and expected at least a good welcome, but in fact he was not even allowed to enter the house. (Petra T., Czech Republic, in the U. A. E.)






Notes. (A) In some Arab countries, the wife (or wives) have their own, rivate quarters in the house and do not receive male visitors_ except very close relatives. (...) Any reference to someone's wife ('How is your wife doing?') is to be avoided. Needless to say, in such a culture bringing her flower will be considered as a terrible insult to the husband, as it shows a lack of respect for the woman  who is his wife.


Notes. (B) In several Balcan countries including Greece and Bulgaria, people shake their head from left to right to convey the meaning 'yes'. To compound the difficilty, they raise their head to mean 'no'.


Notes. (C) Touching behaviour (including handshakes and kissing) is culture-specific. In many Mediterrenian countries, two males may kiss, hug and hold hands in public (what exacltly is acceptable or not depends on the country or region).


Notes. (D) In some cultures, a class is mainly a lecture by the professor with, the students learning through listening; in other cultures interaction and discussion is felt to be an essential part of the process. In cultures where modety is highly valued, students will be reluctant to put themselves forward by saising their hand and thus 'showing off' that they know the answer while others may not. In cultures where excelling is of high value, students my exhibit precisely the opposite behavior: they do want to show that they know more or perform better than the others.


10. Explain the given idioms to an English and Hungarian person respectively.

A) Birds of a feather flock together. Több is veszett Mohácsnál.

B) There is no need to carry coal to Newcastle. Meghalt Mátyás, oda az igazság.


11. Comment on the statements given below.

A) Americans tend to give me big smiles. It makes me embarrassed. It is a kind of sexual harrassment.

B) British and American people don't wish good appetite and don't say thank you for the meal. They are unpolite.


12. Answer the questions comparing North America (NA) with Hungary (H).


1. Conversing with people fluently. Why is it important?

2. Inquiring about the partner's job, family etc. you have met for the fist time. How is it seen?

3. Expressing positive feelings (love, praise) in personal relationships. How is it treated?

4. When asking and answering questions. How much do they ask?

5. If wanting  to continue the conversation. What would the do?

6. For building a relationship. What do they do?

7. Greeting each other with your guest at the door of your home. Who first greets the partner?

.8. When asking „How are you?". How do they react?

9. When telling compliments, e. g. „Your hat is very nice." How do they react?


13. Make comments on the statements given below according to your views. Once again, compare North America (NA) with Hungary (H).


1. NA: Touching another's back, shoulders or arms is generally a sign of affection. H: (generally) takes place in close relationsips.


2. NA: Smiling. People are expected to be happy and friendly, therefore they keep smiling. H: Hungarians often mention that „cronic" American smile is embarrassing and may be insincere. Hungarians don't smile if they do not feel happiness or joy.


3. Eye contact. NA: It is courteous to maintain eye contact during a personal conversation. H: It is important to maintain eye contact during a personal conversation. Not maintaining eye contact with your partner may seem as impolite or a sign of insincerety.


4. Staring, gazing. NA: It is impolite and to keep staring someone in the face. Americans often mention that Hungarian „staring" makes them uncomfortable. H: It is impolite to keep staring someone in the face, but it is not a major offense to study someone e. g. on the Metro.


5. Interpersonal distance (space bubble). NA: The American interpersonal distance is about 10-12 inches (30-35 cm). Coming inside the personal bubble causes discomfort.        H: The Hungarian interpersonal distance is about 25-30 cm. Coming inside the personal bubble causes discomfort.


6. Cheek Kiss. NA: In North America cheek kiss occures accasionally among family members, close friends and women. H: Double kiss is a common greeting form among family members, close friends and women.


7. Handshake. NA: It is used mostly among adults when meeting, parting, congratulating the partner or as a  sign of agreement. H: It is used mostly among adults when meeting, parting, congratulating the partner or as a  sign of agreement.


8. Thumbs up. NA: It can indicate 1) 'Very good', 2) 'It is approved'. H: It can indicate: 1) 'One', 2) 'Very good".


9. Knocking on Wood. NA: Signifies the neutralization of a jinxing brought on by mentioning an either hoped-for or feared result. H: Signifies the neutralization of a jinxing brought on by mentioning an either hoped-for or feared result.


10. V sign. NA: Indicates: 1) victory', 2) 'bunny ears' H: Indicates: 1) victory', 2) 'bunny or donkey ears'.