Friday, 5 September 2008

Intercultural Coaching (2)

"Don't tell jokes to an audience you don't know" is certainly good advice yet, contrary to what many intercultural experts seem to believe, it has nothing to do with things intercultural. But don't, for instance, the English and the Swiss laugh about different things? Sure, some Brits and some Swiss have a different sense of humour, to however believe that all Swiss (or all Brits) are fond of the same jokes seems a bit unrealistic. I, for instance, like some English humour. And I also happen to know some fellow Swiss, Germans, Thais, Brazilians and Californians who share this fondness of mine. One of my all-time favourite journalism fun-pieces in regards to things intercultural is Rosemary Behan's "Praising Allah is a full-time job in Tunis" in the Daily Telegraph of 1 August 2007. Here are some excerpts:

In conversation, the first thing you notice is the amount of time even the most secular Arabic speaker spends thanking God. They praise Allah so often it's a wonder there's time to do anything else. After almost every single task, whether it's finishing a meal, having a drink of water, completing a project at work, running an errand, talking about the future or simply exchanging pleasantries, it's alhamdulilah, inshallah or bismillah. People never seem to get tired of it.

Confusion between dialects adds to the fun. Here, a tabuna is a small bread roll; in Morocco, it's a discreet part of the female body. In Tunisia, a maarass is a married man, while in Egypt it means homosexual - an unfortunate or convenient discrepancy.

Far more challenging than any language barrier is a disappointingly widespread lack of understanding and respect for women - Western women in particular. Foreigners are targets for the unsavoury attention of men who have made preying on the isolation of female travellers a national sport. I've learnt to tune out the barrage of sexual references that come at me in English, French, German and Italian. I am frequently referred to as "gazelle" and have been followed on the street for hours by boys as young as 12. Even when swimming in the sea, we were chased by a crowd of horny windsurfers.

This harassment is enough to turn ordinary women into raging feminists. Tunisian women can strut around in jeans and tight T-shirts and not attract a single word of attention, while Western women dressed in long sleeves, baggy trousers and sunglasses are seen as fair game. I look like a walking Bedouin encampment - and I have still had 20 offers of marriage.

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