Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

Cultural exchange is not a one way street

Posted by Ron Coleman on December 18, 2007

We always assume, in our culture, that more information, more transparency, more exchange is better.

But as Avakesh says, “on this day [tomorrow], a fast was proclaimed because the Torah was translated into Greek. This is why.”

(The term ruach hakodesh in the post literally means “Holy Spirit” — that is, Divine inspiration.)

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6 Responses to “Cultural exchange is not a one way street”

  1. YAC said

    Just look at the whole Internet culture universe: Every man (or woman) is a journalist, a gossipmonger, a political theorist. P2P File sharing; same thing; social networking, and on and on and on.

  2. Ah, so you are linking this thesis with this one, YAC!

  3. jaymaster said

    Jeez, Ron. Are you heading toward a vow of silence or something? Two posts on minimizing communication in one day, and all.

    I like the linked post a lot. I can relate it to the modern world and my day job especially.

    Just about everything I write of any significance gets translated into German, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Its mostly pretty technical stuff, which makes it even harder.

    And after a couple years of dealing with the various translators, I find that my everyday writing is significantly impacted. My vocabulary is smaller, and I pay more attention to tense and cultural references. Some “elite” English speakers actually look down on me now as some kind of simpleton because I don’t use hip phrases or multi-syllabic words. Oh well…

    One educational moment that stuck with me occurred when I was speaking to a group of Taiwanese/Chinese engineers and managers a few years back (half of them US citizens, I should add). I speculated on potential outcomes to a project we were working on, and offered suggestions for how to react to each. For one, I recommended that we just “drop back and punt”.

    They reacted with a moment or two of silence and quizzical looks, followed by a few minutes of Mandarin chatter. Eventually, the lead manager responded to me with a question: “What does it mean, to punt?”

    That brought a lot home to me (so to speak!). Even when dealing with technical and business peers, with probably a 95% contemporary cultural overlap, a few odd words and phrases could muck up the entire communication process.

    Just imagine extrapolating that effect over a few millennia, with cultures and lifestyles we can barely comprehend today.

  4. Yeah, that’s me. Mr. Mum.

  5. Pete Madsen said

    This subject reminds me – all four of my grandparents were from Denmark; my mom’s family and my dad’s family didn’t live all that far from each other in Jutland – and my parents spoke different dialects of Danish, to the point where it was a little hard for them to understand each other. To put that into present-day United States terms, it’s as if a farmer from Enumclaw and one from Poulsbo, sixty miles away, both had to talk Seattle English so they could understand each other at the Pike Place Market. We really don’t know how good we have it in this country when it comes to communication.

  6. jan said

    Interesting essay. A coworker of mine is Iranian, and even though he’s been in the US since 1978 (and spoke good English before he got here) there are still times when asks me to explain things to him. Like just this week what a “potluck” was, as the office was having our annual Holiday party. And yet where popular culture is concerned, it’s usually him explaining things to oblivious me. 🙂

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