Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Experiencing the Intercultural Strangeness

Entry for 12 September 2006:

There is so much that is just a bit different that we are constantly confronted with situations where we find it difficult for others to understand us or for us to understand them. This leads to endless confusion, often impossible to trace to one side or the other, but rather emerging out of a strange interaction between us and the person we are trying to communicate with. Often we don’t even know that we have missed something until the conversation goes off the track entirely because we are talking at cross-purposes. The less we know the person, the more this happens. Tonight, a phone call with Elke helped me enormously to understand and begin to figure out a very frustrating interaction I had today with the fellow in charge of the Professional Development Unit. Talking with Dave and Elke, is like drinking clear, fresh water after this. It is such a relief to present presented with such a clarity and patience!

The interim priest at Trinity Episcopal Church in Toledo is Ann Webber; she is a Brit living in the Midwest, so she has been through the situation from the other end. Today she wrote Diane the following message, which I found a particularly apt way of putting it:

“Getting settled in does take some time - especially when you don't quite speak the language! ... One thing I found took a lot longer than understanding American when we moved here was understanding the American nuances of thought - I'm still not a 100% sure I do. I think that is probably the most difficult part of changing cultures - it is as if everything is just slightly off centre- our logic doesn't quite match up - it's an interesting experience!

Here are some couple of pieces of intercultural Scottish/British-American strangeness:

-The most unnerving Scots word we have found so far: An entirely new preposition not found in American (or British) English: outwith, used as an opposite to within or inside, i.e., meaning as far as I can tell, outside of. Example: A sign at our local doctor’s office says something like, “If you need care outwith the surgery’s opening hours, please phone ...” Everytime we see this, we think it is a typo, but it is standard Glaswegian and commonly used.

-An uplift is a cost or living increase.

-A yard consists of dirt or paving; if it has plants growing in the ground in it and/or grass, it is called a garden (this is British English, i.e., pretty much consistent throughout the UK).

-To call means to visit someone; if you telephone someone, it’s called ringing up. Another word for calling is knocking up, which sounds very strange (this is general British English also).

-Contrary to American opinion, there are many different forms of Scottish dialect and local accents. Every part of Scotland has its own dialect and accent. In Dundee, apparently, they use the word ken to mean know, but not in Glasgow. Lorna C. can tell that the Dean of the Education Faculty is from the western island of Lewis from his accent; to me he just sounds Irish. Lorna C. won awards as girl for her readings in what is referred to as “broad Scots”, but she can’t understand people from Aberdeen. Etc. etc. So part of the strangeness is that we are confronted with not just one new culture, but a whole collection of new cultures to deal with.

I will try to collect more of these and post them from time to time.

1 comment:

Risukun said...

I'll have to watch out the next time that someone tells me that something is 'uplifting'.