In a couple of weeks, I have to teach part of an intensive English training week for a business woman finance person. She's also the mother of a boy in Boy1's first grade class. She's very nice and smart and successful and all that. She needs to improve her English quickly and there are 3 of us who will be helping her accomplish that over a period of 5 days, 9 hours a day. I'm only doing a little bit. But the bit I'm doing, I learned yesterday, has a troubling title.
Because, let's face it, the longer I live here, the more I'm convinced that there is really no science to intercultural communication. The best you can do is go for damage control.
There are loads of books out there, and I've read many of them, that can explain and give reasons and background and whatever else. But the fact is, when you're trying to feel understood, none of any of that really helps, it just makes you feel better afterwards.
So what on earth am I going to teach this woman for 8 hours about intercultural communication? Here's my course outline.
1. Don't stand too close to Americans, we need more personal space than most French people when talking face to face.
2. Don't interupt Americans. It's considered rude and it is interpreted as a sign that you are not interested in what we have to say.
3. Expect long answers. The French often ask questions symbolically - to show interest in maintaining the flow of conversation, and, therefore, don't expect long answers. Americans, on the other hand, ask questions to get the entire answer, and therefore, answer accordingly.
Of course, these are generalizations and are probably not true for half the people I know. Which means that they may not always be useful suggestions or even accurate.
So, there are the first 3 minutes of the course. Wow, I am SO worth my salary.