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Issue 83. Respect August 14, 2016

Posted by Bettina Hansel in Uncategorized.
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I remembered this post when I was reading a New York Times editorial this morning from Nicholas Kristof. “Hate speech from the campaign is poisoning schools and communities.” Maybe some new emphasis on respect could help.

Intercultural Eyes

ORANGE_BOOKOne of my current projects involves looking at language use in the context of describing a school’s goals related to intercultural education. This started with a small case study I was inventing for a workshop, but blossomed into a fledgling research project. “Respect” is a word that comes up frequently as a value to cultivate in the students in both the US and French cases I selected, and it becomes particularly relevant in dealing with differences: cultural, social, economic, intellectual, or physical. Some type of respect can be commanded through fear, and we also say that someone “earns” respect. If we want to improve the way we deal with differences, we are talking more about giving respect, about respecting as an action. It’s absolutely necessary and sometimes surprisingly difficult.

I recently received a message from someone in reaction to a comment I made on another blog. It was a breezy comment, not terribly…

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Update: Cultural Assumptions on Health April 19, 2015

Posted by Bettina Hansel in Uncategorized.
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This update is based on Issue 7, January 18, 2008 of this blog, which I searched for today after reading APRIL 17, 2015 in the New York Times — a gently self-mocking essay about entering a German pharmacy to purchase a product for foot fungus, carrying her cultural baggage of sensibilities formed in the USA. Since I had also written on this topic, in a post that is no longer online, I wanted to bring it back to share again, with a few revisions. 

Cultural Assumptions on Health

Featured imageThinking about the video clips of Jacques Tati and Rowan Atkinson from Issue 6 of this blog reminded me of how much of an intercultural experience involves physical reactions. The research we have done with Mitch Hammer using the Intercultural Development Inventory has brought home the fact that we often tend to minimize cultural differences by focusing largely on how, deep down, all human beings are the same. Yes, we are all physically similar, but how differently do we care for our bodies? I was struck recently at how, in spite of globalization, a pharmacy in another culture, for instance, feels foreign and familiar at the same time. Shelves of products to heal and soothe, to care for our bodies, a pharmacist who knows the drugs and will listen as you describe your symptoms, and yet the packaging is different from place to place. A minor difference or one with more importance?

I seem to always find myself in a pharmacy when traveling, though I don’t always find what I am looking for. A hair brush, in Groningen, for instance. Or nail clippers, in Andalucia. Or perhaps it was deodorant, someplace else. Essential components of U.S. personal hygiene are not always found in pharmacies, though my first instinct is to start there. And should I have a cough or a sore throat or an allergic rash, I will always go the pharmacy and ask to speak with the pharmacist, and typically I come away with an unfamiliar-looking medicine. In January 2014, in Cologne, Germany, my husband and I both came down with colds, and we didn’t want this to spoil our time with friends we were visiting. Instead of the usual pills or capsules we always purchased from New York pharmacies, after talking with the pharmacists here, we came away with a powerful and perhaps dangerous nasal spray. It seemed like a miracle cure. We strictly followed the instructions against using it for more than a week.

Cultural differences in how we care for our bodies and deal with illness are often larger than we might assume, and our attachments to our particular cultural patterns are frequently very strong. My experiences of illness as a child were not extreme, but the special tray by my bedside and the Jell-O, toast, tea, cola or ginger ale I was served when my stomach was upset have become equated with a quiet, comfortable convalescence. Once while in Brazil I became very ill and unable to keep any food in my system. The friends I was staying with lovingly cared for me, but with a very different set of ingredients, all quite unexpected and some, like the boldo tea, were quite horrible, I thought. What I craved so much was a cola or a ginger ale, and only this, it seemed, would cure me. I had to explain my strange medical beliefs to my friends, who chided themselves for not having thought of my customs, and quickly provided the needed beverage. Within a day, I was again able to eat, to take a walk, to go to the beach.

I have been lucky with my health generally, but I have seen enough illness to realize that no culture is entirely successful in its remedies. I have my own faith, somewhat shaky at times, in “western” medicine, but this doesn’t explain the documented power of the placebo against which all new medicine is tested, or my belief that I needed a cola to relieve my stomach distress.

I was recently talking with a colleague from Hong Kong who has lived in the United States for several years. She was fighting a cold and we were discussing the Chinese medicine she uses. She told me that it typically works for her, but never works for her American friends. But this time, the Chinese medicine wasn’t working for her, either. We wondered if there was a relation to the diet and the effectiveness of the medicine. Maybe Chinese medicine needs to work with a Chinese diet. But maybe it’s also the cultural assumptions we carry about what is effective and what we believe will work.

In the meantime, my colleague gave me some of her Chinese cough drops to deal with my cold and sore throat. They worked very well for me.

100. Curiosity and Staying out of Trouble July 8, 2012

Posted by Bettina Hansel in Uncategorized.
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When, as children, do we first start to worry about making mistakes, about getting into trouble? I remember overhearing a conversation in another room between by daughter and her cousin when they were both quite small. It went like this:

– Let’s jump on the bed!

– I don’t think we’re supposed to do that.

– I know.

Like her mother, my daughter was the worrier. But what was the risk here?  The scolding as a parent or grandparent forces the game to end? For one girl, that was a small price to pay for a few moments of fun, but for my daughter, the risk seemed somewhat greater than that. For whatever reasons, she had a vested interest in our good opinion of her. She didn’t want us to be disappointed in her.

I’ve been thinking lately about curiosity and wondering if we are really sparking curiosity in teaching, or if some of our educational and social systems are more likely to discourage curiosity in trying to maintain a social order and keep people safe.

Consider these common expressions in the USA:

  • Curiosity killed the cat.
  • A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
  • Mind your own business.

Do we becomes less curious because we are too concerned about the social implications of our actions, or because we avoid doing things that seem risky either physically or socially? Add to that the concerns that schools and other educational organizations have concerning legal liability issues, and we may suppose that curiosity will suffer.

Those who have studied curiosity, notably Todd Kashdan and his colleagues, suggest that, while anxiety may prevent exploration, those who are curious who and feel confident that they have the capacity to cope and make sense of the situation will pursue new knowledge in spite of anxious feelings. Measuring curiosity is still a work in progress, they say, but you can find their Curiosity and Exploration Inventory (CEI-II) on line and see for yourself how curious you are.

Going abroad for study, for work, or for adventure is often prompted by curiosity and may entail some risk. Reading Ilan Stavans and Joshua Ellison’s essay this morning in the New York Times Sunday Review reminded me that the challenge of finding my way back when I get lost, of managing to speak with others in their language, or of grappling with an inscrutable bureaucracy is part of the adventure. These days my work doesn’t send me abroad anymore, but the relationships I’ve built over the years will continue to do so. I also always discover new things about these other places and learn more about who I am.

Even more thought provoking was the person from Oregon who commented online in response to Stavans and Ellison, worrying about Westerners who might exploit an exotic destination for tourism or to find themselves, reminiscent of Anthony Ogden’s Colonial Student. Student exchange programs, undergraduate study abroad programs, and even the geographic expeditions of early explorers have often been seen as activities of the elite given that such experiences require resources that are beyond most of the earth’s population. Another essay in today’s Sunday Review by Shamus Khan describes the “New Elitists” as cultural omnivores who relish having a wide range of tastes and experiences, something he notes that is not accessible to everyone. Though Khan didn’t mention it directly, I’m sure that study abroad would be seen as another avenue by which the cultural omnivores absorb new tastes and experiences making them different from the masses.

I don’t at this point have a response to these concerns about inequality, but I find them interesting and worthy of consideration.