…cultural differences

This column could be so much longer… and yet so interesting, in spite of focusing only on surface differences in a popular communications medium like film! And the fact that I’m writing it might actually make it less interesting than it could be, if I wasn’t such a nerdy academic… perhaps a funny writer would make it more readable, but it probably doesn’t matter because if you have read other columns of mine and you’re still reading this, I’m probably not so bad after all…

See? There’s the first of those cultural differences that those of us who live in two (or more!) cultures often have to endure. Self-deprecation is so atypical of individualistic cultures like the one we live in! And not only are we living in the USA, one of the most individualistic nations of all, but also we chose to major in or dedicate ourselves to Business! Putting ourselves down in front of others –let alone in a publication with national distribution—is not a good idea! Yet, growing up in a Hispanic family, with all of its traditions and religious norms, is a major influence that shows up when we least expect it, when we don’t need it, when we wish it had not.

Business negotiations, hiring interviews, even simpler social events –which we know can lead to work-related projects!—are some of those contexts in which we might wish we had not said publicly that “we didn’t think you were the best” for the job, that so-and-so can do a better job (even if you didn’t think so to begin with, but that’s the “polite” thing to do, according to our upbringing, right? ...can you hear Mom or Dad telling you, “Don’t blow your own horn! If you’re good, people will notice and there’s no need for you to tell anyone…”? Well, somehow this doesn’t seem to happen in reality…!). So, we undermine ourselves so often, in spite of the business training, against our friends’ or mentors’ advice, at odds with what we know is best for our company or for our career…

Two films, two cultures

Well, the diatribe above came right after I saw a charming French film called Je vais te manquer (“I will miss you”), at the time that my neighbor in the plane was watching He’s just not that into you. Interestingly, both films have a similar theme: the lives of several people intertwine, showing us love, life, encounters, separations, even sickness and death.

It was interesting for me to see how many brands had excellent exposure in the US film (you know… product placement!), whereas the French one had all the company names (even some that would have been quite “natural” to show, like signs in buildings or at the airport) blurred, in an evidently manufactured way.

Of course, there were many similarities between both films. Several scenes were so badly overacted (I know, I am no critic and probably I would have made the scene worst, but I did not need to be a connoisseur to feel that some segments were so contrived!). And, of course, there were some discrepancies you would expect in the cars, the music, the dialogues, the places, some clothing items, norms about relationships, etc.

Another major difference is that the US film had only young and pretty people as its main characters. On the other hand, the main characters in the French flick ran the gamut from a young child to three older individuals, from a Senegalese immigrant to a racist officer, and many of them looked quite common! I am not saying that Hollywood’s product did not have its share of African American, Asian, gay, and other token characters. And the French film also had some diversity that looked superficial, perhaps compliance-oriented. Still, the demographic differences shown in Je vais… “felt” more authentic; you know what I mean?

Five airports, many cultures

Unfortunately, those were not the only cultural differences I experienced during this trip between Clarion (PA) and Vaasa (Finland). You see, I went through five airports and the corresponding flights and stopover periods during approximately twenty-two hours. I have to admit that I enjoyed the generous service offered by non-US airlines, wishing the food and drink in our domestic flights weren’t as stingy as they currently are. In addition, I don’t think I can ever get over the wide diversity of dressing, languages, and people one can see in major European hubs like CDG in Paris. But I also felt increasingly bothered by some differences that I didn’t think would. For example, people from some non-Western nations were chewing their food loudly, without closing their mouths. Or a family with two very young girls who, in less than 45 minutes, spilled soda on the floor –and surrounding travelers—and left cookie crumbs on my coat. I guess it’s payback from the times my kids have cried on airplanes because they were not aware that jetlag would make them so uncomfortable. But, is it really too much to expect people to cover their mouths while coughing or sneezing? –especially while the H1N1 virus still seems to be a significant health threat in our world…!  It's easy to get crabby when you're jet lagged! 

Your turn…

What do you think? Would you mind posting your thoughts about the cultural differences that are most salient to you? I know there are hundreds of movies but, if you have seen these two, would you mind sharing your thoughts with me?

¡Hasta la próxima!