Oprah and her iconic mind-blown, "aha" moments.

Understanding Intercultural Communication
Ting-Toomey & Chung, 2nd edition

CHAPTER 3

Requirement I: Important Aspects –

Important Aspect A

I found the notion behind the section entitled “Discovering Cultural Value” to be an important aspect to anchor this chapter. According to the authors, not only to our cultural backgrounds shape our behaviors, but they also become a standard of comparison by which we judge the communications of others. “They are the contents of self that drive our thought, emotions and everyday decision-making processes,” assert the authors, adding “They serve to shape motivation to explain human behavior” (p. 43). Understanding the vast impact culture has on not only our perspectives, but also our judgments, suggests that perhaps we should re-evaluate the culture that we can so ostentatiously flaunt as our standard for others’ behavior, values and communication styles. Maybe we are being influenced for our betterment, but it’s also incredibly possible that we have been brainwashed in a sense to believe so. Every culture has its aspects of merit, and I think it would do us well to hone in on that which is respectable in each.

Important Aspect B

I found the section entitled “Identity: Individualism-Collectivism Value Pattern” to be another important aspect. Never before had I made the distinction between the general attitude of a culture group cross-referenced with those found within it. For example, in the introduction section leading up to this one, the authors note that while two cultures may “differ in terms of the value characteristics, wide variations exist on the distinctive cultural individual level of analysis within each culture,” (pg. 44). This is reiterated when the gender variable is added to the individualism-collectivism analysis. The book points out the breakdown in the U.S., but then nearly retracts the statements when speaking comparatively with other cultures on the aggregate level (pg. 48).

Important Aspect C

In addition, the portion describing the “we” identity versus the “I” identity was a third important aspect. After defining that individualism is a quality often found to promote self over service, the authors define collectivism as “the broad tendencies of a culture in emphasizing the importance of the ‘we’ identity over the ‘I’ identity” (pg. 44-5). This is an important concept to grasp as it pertains to the underlying values of many aspects of our lives such as patriotism, parenting and prospective employment opportunities. To illustrate an example of each, the ideals of democrats, only-children and ladder-climbing employees seemingly align more closely with the “I” identity perspective. On the other hand, republicans, multi-sibling children and horizontally moving employees appear to have ideals that more closely align with the “we” identity perspective. Which is better or worse is solely dependant on your values – or, as we learn in this book, from the culture from which your value set is derived.


 

Requirement II: Aspects that Apply to Your Life –

Applicable Aspect A

I found the notion behind the section entitled “Sex Roles: Feminine-Masculine Value Pattern” to be the most applicable aspect to daily life in this chapter, specifically as it refers to the workplace. I have started a new job in my field this summer and have been struggling with the interpersonal office dynamics. Reading this section gave me a bright, shining “aha” moment accompanied by the divine glow of an angelic chorus. This is not an exaggeration, but rather further proof of the issue the authors are delineating. Issues are chalked up to “cultural differences” so much that the notion seems a bit watered down in the workplace and is, therefore, often left unattended to. Specifically, I was interested to find out that I exhibit a masculine value pattern as it pertains to the workplace. I, reportedly the pentacle of “girly,” was shocked to agree with this assessment upon digging deeper into the chapter. While I value norms and “achievements and tangible-based performance” in the workplace, my superiors at my new jobs exhibit feminine value patterns such as “work[ing] in order to live” and the importance of quality of work/life balance issues” (pg. 52). This is an extremely applicable concept to grasp in the workforce because neither value set is wrong, but that does not mean that is what your boss may think.

Applicable Aspect B

"Are Men Getting Handsomer?" inforgraphic illustrating the increased attention to self appearance men have gained in the last two years based on Haute Look's assessment of their purchasing habits.

A comedic illustration of gender roll fluidity.

Also within the section “Sex Roles: Feminine-Masculine Value Pattern,” I found the portion as it applies to the socialization process of gender roles applicable as well as interesting. Again, I had another “aha” moment and learned something else about myself that makes things finally click in the trials and tribulations of my dating life. While I will abbreviate the seemingly endless stories of dates gone awry, I now see one of the root problems: my expectations. The authors describe that in families identifying with the feminine value pattern, “boys and girls learn to be caring and concerned with both facts and feelings” while in families identifying with the masculine value pattern, “boys learn to be assertive, tough and ambiguous, but girls learn to be nurturing and relational-based” (pg. 51). My first application of this knowledge is to wonder which value pattern breeds better opposite-sex compatibility because I could imagine a case for both. Secondly, is cross-compatibility between the two value groups possible? And my third, and most important reaction, is to understand a huge societal issue girls in our culture face daily. We generally seem to want men who were raised to have a masculine value set and then suddenly switch to a more feminine value pattern when we date them. If this is even possible, it seems as unreasonable level of expectation to hold for men when we seem to believe too often that we should not have to reach out of our norms for any man. While I digress into language skirting stereotypical, it is not meant to be abrasive toward those attitudes, but rather to shed some light on a potentially self-defeating injustice that only the woman who are encouraging it can stop.


 

Requirement III: Unclear Aspect –

Unclear Aspect A

According to the authors, “cultural values are deposits of wisdom that are passed from one generation to the next” as well as “cultural blinders to alternative way of thinking, feeling, motivating and relating” (p. 52). They assert that this is because cultural values can serve as many useful functions as reinforcements of unhealthy habit of poor communication. I wonder how this intersects with revolution and trend change over time. I wish the authors would have divulged a bit more through the evidence of research findings and world or U.S. history examples about how this comes about and what patterns, if any, are involved in these instances. Can the human race, perhaps the most dangerous species of them all, really be so well analyzed as to be predictable?

"Buy Nothing Day" graphic with price tag and dollar sign

[Insert quote’s on Page 20 of Acting out Culture textbook…]

[Insert prompt —]

Make Your Own Rules:
Jesus is the Reason to Rethink the Season

Christmas package wrapped in red and green with text,

No two words incite emotion reminiscent of post-traumatic stress syndrome like “holiday shopping.” While giddy shoppers may enter Christmas-themed store aisles in July, those still immersed in the madness by November may not escape the “Scrooge Effect” that is sure to ensue.

To address both perspectives on holiday shopping, I am definitely a “rule breaker” versus a “rule maker.” A mediating Santa graphic appears in our textbook above the words, “Buy Nothing Christmas: Rethink the Season” (p. 21). While this is certainly the side of the argument with which I most identify, I assert the theme of this year’s holiday shopping season be the rewritten version I’ve created as follows:

“Jesus paid it all.
So, skip the mall
lest in debt you fall.”

I think this would be a healthy perspective to employee, but the slogan, Thank Jesus for being the reason for this ‘Buy Nothing Holiday Season’, would certainly not be nearly as catchy as advertisers would hope. Ironically, any company selling ‘Buy Nothing Holiday Season’ T-shirts or souvenirs would likely find success in a marketplace devoid of “holiday shopping.” Further, the concept is promotionally golden. Any company (especially churches and religious institutions) could create all kinds of free promotional items to giveaway in coordination with the premise while pushing out information, etc.

Knowing what each of us believes is vital to getting a glimpse at our ‘true selves’, the goal of a majority of college-adged students. Our textbook notes that “holiday shopping is as much a part of our beliefs as the holidays we’re shopping for” (p. 20). Upon first reading this statement, I vehemently disagreed because I thought it belittled the gravity of the reason each holiday is celebrated. However, after further contemplation, I see a great deal of truth in the statement. Expanding from an individualistic view, a company could fulfill an impressive amount of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) requirements by involving itself in this idealized remixed holiday season.

Front cover of book entitled, "The Bitch in the House"
Front cover of book entitled, "The Bitch in the House"

The Bitch in the House is the product of 26 woman’s account of the “truth about sex, solitude, work, motherhood and marriage.” Catherine Newton’s essay, “I Do. Not.” is housed in this collection.

My Thoughts on Catherine Newton’s essay. “I Do. Not.”

I think Newman chose to begin her essay, “I Do. Not.: Why I Won’t Marry,” with an iconic wedding reception scene to juxtapose her thoughts she puts forth in the remainder of the essay. This serves to illustrate the divide between her thoughts and the conflicting ones of society at large. It’s a relatable scene she paints as she prepares to discuss a possibly unrelatable, or more likely unpopular, message. While we, as readers, may not be able to mentally put ourselves in her position, we can certainly imagine ourselves in the familiar awkwardness of the picture she paints. We can feel the pressure being exerted by the “uncle or someone’s dad” and feel a human connection to Newton as she says she “cried as the bride kissed her parents at the alter” (p. 61). This allows the reader to be more receptive of her defenses because she’s enhanced the reader’s like ability for her. Further, Newton’s choice to set the stage as she does serves to show the final image she will ultimately leave the essay’s readers with – the “united front” of herself, Michael and their two-year-old son.

Newton worries that the conventional marriage models scripts her to be an “object” (p. 62). She equates the act of a wedding ceremony to “handing of a woman, like a baton” (p. 61). Again, making an obvious illustration to her distaste for this view of woman. Newton even capstones this ideal with the proclamation that “[she] will not be possessed” (p.64). She feels this is a less-than-advanced cultural result of an unchanging past. Citing that while women may not come with a technical cattle dowry anymore, Newton asserts that they still serves as pawns in men’s desire to concur and reign. She even poses in-laws as the modern-day equivalent of empires. In a world said to be so advanced and far-removed from its beginnings, she feels this culturally lingering mentality is wrong.

My experience with the “marriage paradigm” is a sensitive topic to discuss because it is so painfully relevant. I was once nearly engaged to a man of Egyptian descent. While he did not claim his multi-cultural heritage outright, his father still lived in his home country and demanded certain aspects of their culture be maintained. This did not seem to be a problem as his mother, a U.S. citizen, resided with him here in the States and reinforced values similar to that of my own. We were close friends for five years before we officially began dating, and during that time, I had paid close attention to the potential impact his multicultural background could have on our relationship. However, nothing could have prepared me for what I would encounter. We were on the cusp of engagement. He had asked my parents for my hand and acquired a rings as well as proposal plans. My fairytale was coming true. We went on a New Years’ cruise, which should have been the perfect time to make our future plans official. But, instead of ending the trip an engaged woman, I was a heart-broken girl, now single and confused to say the least. It has only been in recent weeks, I have come to discover that his family was the main part of the equation. Apparently his mother believed we were too young to marry for fear that I would end up suffering at the hand of Egyptian culture like she did with her husband. On the other hand, his father did not mind the age, but demanded that his son be completely finished with his schooling and prepared to offer me a life of prosperity. While I admire the intent, it was fueled by cultural constructs that led to our eventual split.

This reminds me of Newton’s concept of modern-day possession of woman. His mom was afraid of it happening, and his father would not allow him to wed until he could possess completely, with enough money to simply add a woman to it as a token.

Newton’s essay surprisingly enforced my vantage point, however. While the idea of “possession” seems appalling, I suppose I see it more like “fulfilled belonging” versus “ownership.” As long as I was not mistreated in the name of monogamy, I feel it is something I want in my life. It’s a cliche and likely improper to assert on the whole, but men are known to want to conquer and women were once seen as wanted to be needed and saved from herself and the perils of her life alone. While I don’t agree with the intensity of this, I do relate to the Disney Princess-esque quality about it.

My ex never treated my as property and, aside from my daddy, was the most respectful man to woman that I have even met. Even so, the “good” intent of my his family left the two of us torn apart against our will. It sounds dramatic, but that’s not my intent. Mostly, I find this to be a modern-day example of the evils that social scripts can create.

Sometimes I think Shakespeare was perhaps a bit lofty, but suddenly I see myself atop that balcony calling for life to be the way she thought it ought be. Maybe the great bard was simply presenting the feuding family to illustrate the nonsense that can all-too-easily come about when two cultures refuse to communicate without bias. Poor Juliet.

It’s hard to be a Capulet.

La Vita Che Vorrei - DVD case/cover of the main actors leaning in to kiss

La Vita Che Vorrei - Movie CoverEuropean film La Vita Che Vorrei is set in Rome and written in Italian. It was released Oct. 1, 2004, and competed in the 27th Moscow International Film Festival in 2005. The film stars Sandra Ceccarelli as its leading lady, Laura, and Luigi Lo Cascio as its leading man, Stefano. In the film, these two characters play actors. The film opens with an interview of Laura and cuts to her audition for the fictional film within this movie, La Vita Che Vorrei. In English, this translates to “The Life I Wish I Had,” according to Auburn University Italian professor Anna Chiafele. The most prominent sub-characters include the film’s director, Luca, and Laura’s initial love interest, Raffaele. Her romantic interests are quickly swayed as she is cast alongside Stefano in the film. Their onscreen passion becomes personal, and a tangled dynamic forms between Stefano, Laura and Raffaele. As an added twist, Raffaele is involved in the film industry and well-liked as such. This complicates Laura’s affair with Stefano as she tries to convince Raffaele that what he sees in rehearsals is not true. In the film the actors are shooting, Laura, a young, outgoing idealist aspiring to fame, plays a naive girl finding herself mixed in a web of disreputable acts as she seeks glory. Not coincidentally, Stefano, an established actor of prestige, plays a passionately jealous, self-righteous lover. Their lives begin to model that of their characters, and Laura becomes remorsefully disillusioned by the life she once thought she wanted. When she becomes pregnant with Raffaele’s baby, she must choose a new life for which to wish. Themes of false reality and a lost sense of self are recurrent throughout.

 

Director and screenplay writer Giuseppe Piccioni has created a multi-layered film fit for any audience of a mature age. Its depth provides a layer for a viewer in any stage or walk of life to relate to. I find it impressive that I, an English-speaking American, found myself relating to aspects of these Italian-speaking, European characters. This is the mark of brilliant writing and a profound understanding of the human psyche. I found myself taking breaks from reading the subtitles to appreciate the scenes so well-communicated through the actors. While its content was more graphic and explicit than expected from my cultural background, I found this to be a classic example of the typical American reaction to a foreign cinematic piece. Piccioni delicately and clearly parallels Laura and Stefano’s characters to that of the ones they are chosen to play in La Vita Che Vorrei. This type of character development and theme emphasis is once again employed in the relationship between the viewer and the film itself. Because both the actual film and the fictional one within it both have the same name, this provides an immediate illustration of the movie’s message. The fictional film is about the loss of one’s identity in his/her search for fame, or ironically, the ideal of exploiting an identity now lost. The actual film has the same theme as Laura’s intentions go awry, and she loses herself searching for what she thought she wanted the most. Without her true identity at heart, she cannot know what she truly wants or justify how she’s ended up in the mess in which she finds herself. The third theme reiteration by use of parallel appears from the vantage point of the viewer watching a movie entitled La Vita Che Vorrei (“The Life I Wish I Had”). While watching what appears to be a luxurious life to desire, suddenly the viewer finds the idea distasteful as the plot unfolds, ultimately leaving him or her sure of at least one single thing as the credits roll: the life they wish to never have.

 

I would recommend this to my peers as well as any adult transitioning into a different phase of life. We, as college upperclassmen, are preparing to exit the world of academia and enter the one of the professional workforce. I graduate in December – just six months away. In some way I’m feeling all the things that the characters in this film do as they try to decide what they really what and the extends to which they will go to get it. That’s why this film can speak to so many people of all different ages, languages and cultures. When you explore the frustrations and decisions our humanity presents to us on a daily basis, you touch the heart of mankind.



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