Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Communicating across cultures

In winter 2009, in a restaurant in Colonia, Uruguay, I was approached by a young man who asked me whether I would like to be sketched by him. Quite automatically I said no. He inquired at another table but didn't appear successful. All of a sudden I changed my mind, got up, and asked him to portray me. It took him between five and ten minutes. We were talking the whole time. He was a journalist, became particularly interested in my thoughts on photography and subsequently wrote a piece about me that was eventually published in the local paper.

A guy in his seventies, sitting at the next table, joined in our conversation which gradually became more animated until the two of them were almost at each other's throat. The reason? It had something to do with politics.

When communicating across cultures, one should refrain from discussing politics, religion and sports, some interculturalists say. That might also be good advice for people from the same culture, one feels like adding. And, what should we talk about then? Up to you, I'd say, and that might of course include politics, religion and sports – for the what is far less important than the how.

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