Speaking of cross-cultural communication… Kay and I were talking about the apology the head of Toyota recently made on Capitol Hill as an example of cultural misunderstanding. Apologies are a normal part of Japanese life, but only lower-to-higher, or peer-to-peer, in terms of social position. When it occurs higher-to-lower, it’s a big, big deal. This was completely lost to the American politicians, who wanted more than statements. But for a Japanese person in authority to make such a statement — that’s going a long way.
(The Christian Science Monitor published an article on the cross-cultural difficulties of the Toyoda apology.)
The latest issue of Cutting Edge magazine focuses on “Having Difficult Conversations,” and one of the articles addresses cross-cultural communication in particular. It stated things I’ve had to learn the hard way, but never had clearly laid out: the difference between a “low-context” and “high-context” cultures. White American culture is low-context, valuing open casualness. Japanese culture, on the other hand, is high-context, valuing formal structures. The article raises the high-context issue of “losing face” and thus the importance of saving face — concepts that do not really exist in White American culture.
(If you’re not familiar with VineyardUSA’s Cutting Edge magazine, I think it’s the finest ministry magazine out there. Certainly the best bang for the buck, since it’s free; outstanding quality.)
What cross-cultural mishaps have you seen or experienced?