Saturday, 26 December 2009

This Post is About...

Here is a nice and funny story I've read in P. Watzlawick's book "How Real is Real". It may be useful to describe the problems of intercultural communication, the various problems of "translation" that may occur when people coming from two different cultures are interacting. When a healthy meta-communication is lacking, misunderstandings like these may touch everyone.

During the last years of World War II, a great number of American soldiers stepped on the English soil. This event granted the occasion to better study the effects of the penetration of one culture into another one. Among the various aspects investigated in this study was the one of courtship. It is funny to read the results of the study since it appears that both the American soldiers and the English girls were claiming that the other party was too explicit and wanted to get to quickly to the moment of having sex. How is that possible that both were making a similar affirmation? Here is what was found after some time.

Apparently, in both cultures the models of courtship (from the first glance to the moment of having sex) consisted in a series of about 30 steps. These 30 steps were the same in both cultures, but the problem was that they were positioned in different ways. Thus, for example, the kiss could have been the fifth step for the american guy, whereas it could have been the 25th for the English girl. Therefore, when the American guy decided to kiss the English girl (thinking that it was an extremely innocent gesture), she would think something like: "This pig is already kissing me!" Anyway, at this point she had to decide whether to run away or to get ready to have sex. If she went for the second choice the American guy would probably think: "Jesus, these English chicks are dirty!"

Therefore that's why the two parties were blaming each other for being too "dirty". Can we blame any of the two groups? Of course not; it is the nature of the interaction that makes such things happen. If we make the error of taking one's point of view as THE point of view, we fail to understand a key point in how human beings should approach one another. Misunderstandings as the one described above do not necessarily happen only to people coming from different cultures. As I have mentioned at the beginning of this post, if meta-communication of any kind is missing the risk for mistaking others' intentions is always behind the corner. I am going to say something more about that in one of the next posts...