Cross-Cultural Conflicts

Sorry if I might veer a little off-topic from my normal themes, but I have a personal experience to relate. About ten years ago, I asked a carpenter to do a bookshelf for me.

He is a Filipino while I’m fromMalaysia, but we’re both Australians at least in citizenship and living inSydney. I showed him a rough design of what I want and he said ‘yes.’

‘Yes,’ and ‘yes’ were all he agreed with. But on the day I collected the bookshelf, the design was different. The smaller compartments were on the left instead of on the right.

I became annoyedblack eye as said his design was better than mine. I put my case and he apologized profusely. Yes, profusely. He offered to redo the whole thing at his expense. I knew it would be such an unprofitable venture for him so I declined. He offered to do a stool for me as compensation. I reluctantly agreed as he could use loose woods to do one for me at no great expense.

Looking back, I can say that he is more Asian (I mean more of the Eastern Asian) than me. At a look of the bookshelf, he actually went to great length to do a great job. His material was superb. His finishing was second to none. His price means I probably pay only 30 percent of a market equivalent. His motive, I conclude, was terrific.

In Asian culture, it’s pretty offensive to say ‘no’ blushespecially where they have much respect for you, more so a foreign visitor.

InAustralia, we can always say “Sorry, I can’t do this for you,” and it’s normal, the end of an issue, but to a traditional Eastern Asian, it sounds rude.

Not only rude, but it’s a rejection of a person, a rejection of something of your inner self, your integrity, a rejection of something very tangible, something personal, something unspoken.

It’s like a man asking a girl if he can walk her home after dinner together. And she replied him, “No, I can walk home by myself.”

“Are you sure,sad it’s dark, you know?”

“Sure, I am okay.”

“Are you sure, it’s getting dark.”

“It’s okay.”

“Let me walk with you, please.”

“No, don’t follow me, please.”

“No? I fear for your safety.”

“Please, please, don’t follow me,angry or else I’ll call the police.”

If a ‘no’ were to be expressed in the Asian context, maybe we have express ourselves and said, “I’m really sorry, sorry,” my head keeps bowing low, “I really wish I can do for you. I’m terrible sorry. I wish . . .” This way, an Asian will understand what we mean in a non-offensive way, but it’s very artificial for an Australian, myself included, to express such thought in these terms.

Or, if I were to continue with the couple’s incident, she could have said:

“Sorry, you look awesome today. I’ve enjoyed your terrific company tonight, and maybe we could meet again sometimes later, but for the meantime can we say goodbye?”mixed

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~ by Joel on March 15, 2012.

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