These past few weeks, I was in Nepal teaching some physio (physical therapy) classes, and a class on cross-cultural communication. Part of the time I used English, and part of the time I used Nepali. As it has been many years since I lived there, my Nepali language isn’t quite what it used to be, so I often opted for a translator. So much goes into communication, even within our own culture, I just wanted to make sure I was understood. And there are even more issues when crossing cultures and language barriers.
During the class on inter-cultural communication, we identified many cultural cues that would help us to understand a different culture, not only for adjustment, but also to try to understand and appreciate a culture different from our own, and to be able to communicate effectively. Only through trying to understand and appreciate the differences of a new culture, do we move past the tendency to interpret and evaluate the culture only in comparison to our own. For example, when I first started teaching physiotherapy in Nepal, we discussed the idea of appointment times for the outpatient clinic. My work partner and I decided that this was not culturally appropriate in Nepal, as at that time, most people didn’t have watches. If they showed up on the right day, we thought that was a good thing. The importance of ‘time’ and ‘time management’ tends to be a very western concept, and the lack thereof shouldn’t be judged according to western values. In Nepal, and in other parts of Asia, they are more “event oriented”, as compared to “time oriented”, and things happen when they are supposed to happen, not before and not after. And, things last as long as they are supposed to. That’s the way it is in Asia. This isn’t “wrong” – it’s just different. And, to tell the truth, I kind of like this, in some circumstances. When meeting with someone for the evening, that is it for the evening. No grabbing a quick bite to eat and then running to a movie. It is just the evening together. Lots of talking, and no running off to something else after the meal is over. And the entire family gets involved. One night I had dinner with one of my former students, Krishna. Many years ago, it was dinner at his parents’ house. Then, several years ago, his mother came into town to have dinner with Krishna, his wife and me. And now, the evening was with Krishna, his wife, their children and me. It was a very ‘family oriented-event oriented’ delightful evening.
So how do we identify different cultural cues? Dr. Donald Smith, in his book, “Creating Understanding”, says, “Most human communication happens through the 12 different systems of signals. Each system is virtually a language in itself, with its own vocabulary and grammar. The systems normally reinforce one another, but they can also be contradictory. When this happens, not only is it difficult to understand the message, but the messenger also seems insincere. The 12 signal systems are: verbal, written, numeric, pictorial, audio, artifactual, kinesthetic, optical, tactile, spatial, temporal, and olfactory. The specific signals used, and the meaning assigned to signals, vary from culture to culture. Participating in another culture requires learning more than the verbal language. Other systems may be learned sooner, making interpretation of the verbal a simpler task – and communication in the new setting more effective”. In the class, we talked about some specifics in these twelve signal systems. By paying particular attention to notice these things, it would be easier to begin the process of trying to understand a culture, communicate more effectively, and not make so many cultural mistakes. The students really got involved in this exercise and had a lot of experiences to share. One thing that came up was the use of color. In the west, white is a color worn in weddings, and black is worn at funerals. In Nepal, however, red is worn in weddings, and white is worn at funerals. Just by noticing what colors a person is wearing communicates a lot. Another important cultural cue is the giving and receiving of gifts, business cards, etc. In the west, either hand is used. In China, both hands are used together. But in Nepal, the right hand is used to give and receive, and by adding the left hand under the right forearm, this shows great respect. I think that we all learned a lot that day.
One of the basic tenets in communication is that, “communication is what is heard, not necessarily what is said”. This means that a lot of information has to go back and forth, often many times, for communication to have occurred. Just saying something once, does not mean that it has been understood. My favorite example of this is a classic Gary Larson Far Side cartoon about the difference between what we say to dogs and what they hear. In the cartoon, the dog (named Ginger) appears to be listening intently as her owner gives her a serious talking-to about staying out of the garbage. But from the dog’s point of view, all he’s saying is “blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah.” Having lived in several different cultures, I often feel this same way!
Another example of this is that during the autumn, I teach crochet to 10-12 year old girls in my city. In the past, it has always been with native English speakers. So on five Saturday mornings, the girls learn to crochet. The end product is a snowflake finished by Christmas (and I get the rewards of ‘borrowed daughters’ for a short time). These girls all get the same instructions and help for the exact same crocheted snowflake. And, the end result is that the snowflakes all turn out different! As each snowflake is different and unique, each girl is also created as a different and unique individual. This also reminds me that it is what is heard, not what is said, where true communication takes place.
There are many more instructions that can be given on communication. These were only a few examples. While the differences between the east and the west are often quite easily seen, we need to remember that ALL communication is cross-cultural, it takes time, and it takes involvement. And only by continuing to work on communication will it ever be achieved.
So many memories came flooding back to me during my short visit to Nepal -- memories of when I lived and worked there. It will take a while to process it all, especially with all the changes that have been and are currently taking place. These photos will have to do until I can really say more...
This last photo is not a photo of grasses in a basket. What you can't see is the legs of the old woman carrying the basket up the hill.
I am on a short trip to Nepal right now, and thought I wouldn't be able to post, but due to strikes, city-wide closures, etc., I find myself stuck inside, and actually able to get on the internet! I don't have much time right now, as I somehow have to find my way to the teaching hospital, as I am scheduled to teach a class there this afternoon. I have actually researched this topic over the past week not knowing what the SS topic would be, not on the internet, but in actual house-to-house, shop-to-shop, and restaurant-to-restaurant research. My topic: Nepali Tea!!! (Yummmmmm!!!!)
What makes Nepali Tea so special? I am not quite sure. Maybe it is using water buffalo milk instead of cows milk. I hope not! I think that the secret lies in the spices. I have traveled around to many places over the past week, searching out the best Nepali Tea, and finally found it. There is a small community in the hills around the Kathmandu Valley, called Nagarkot. When I lived here many years ago, I would often take a bus to Nagarkot on Fridays after work, watch the sunset on the Himalayas, spend the night in a tea house, watch the sunrise on the Himalayas, and walk back to Kathmandu on Saturday, totally refreshed for work on Sunday. But now, with the political situation as it is, it is not safe to walk back to the city, so I had to take a bus both ways. And the tea houses are all gone! They have left large hotels in their place. I did find, however, a rather quaint little guest house that reminded me of some of the old tea houses, but then, without the cardboard-box 'wallpaper', it wasn't quite the same... And then this morning, because of road closures, I had to walk quite a way back, as it was. Oh well... But sunrise was incredible! And, the Nepali Tea at Nagarkot is some of the best I have ever had. The warmth of the tea on a chilly morning, the aroma of the sweet spices, and the comfort of talking with my friends will keep me content all day. I love this country. The Nepali have a saying, "My heart and Nepal's heart are one". I got choked up and teary-eyed everytime I said this over the past week, as things are just not the same.
The recipe? Now that I have wetted your appetite, I will give you the recipe so that you can make some of this yourself. Since you probably cannot get the actual Nepali tea where you live, my Nepali friends in America say that "Lipton Tea" mostly closely approximates the taste of Nepali tea. You can use regular tea or decaf, both come out fine. Use one tea bag per person. I am writing this recipe for 6 people (12 cups of tea, as one cup per person is never enough). You may adjust it accordingly for however many cups you want.
In a large pot, heat 6 cups of water, and 6 cups of milk together. Tie 6-8 tea bags together (my Nepali friends would say use 10-12 tea bags), and dip this into the water-milk combination as it heats. Dip the tea bags up and down, up down, continuously, and watch the color of the milk change. When it is as dark as you want, kind of a caramel-color, stop dipping the tea bags and set them aside. Add sugar - add as much as you want, according to your taste. This is a sweet tea, as compared to the Tibetan salt-butter tea, where they ALWAYS use rancid yak butter (definitely an acquired taste!). Just before the tea is ready to boil, remove from the heat. Sprinkle a little bit of ground cinnamon on the top of the tea (not much, maybe a pinch of cinnamon). Next, open 2-3 green cardamom pods, toss the pods, and between your fingers, grind the little black seeds onto the top of your tea. Stir, and drink this delicious nector of the gods. Yummm.... I hope this is clear. I have done a lot of research into where the best Nepali tea is found, and my friends have helped me come up with this great recipe. Please write and tell me how you like it, or if I have made a mistake. Oh, I don't use water buffalo milk normally - only in Nepal! Namaste!!!
I want to stay and work in this country… so I would never write about politics and religion, or other sensitive issues. I am NOT a political person anyway…
The USA may have freedom of speech, but that is not so in many other countries in the world. While not perfect, the USA has many good qualities: a sense of justice, of right and wrong, though sometimes, even my own sense of justice is violated; of humanity, and helping others; and of freedom: to do, say, and believe what you want, and to express oneself creatively. These values are important to me: freedom to have as many children as you can love and care for without fear of forced sterilization; education and training of others, so that those who don’t know, may learn; helping those who are less fortunate than me; and the freedom to believe in a loving God. In the late 1950’s, Tom Dooley said, “You don’t stand and try to pull Third World people out of the muck. You get down on your knees in the muck with them, and help push them out.” It is not just about providing humanitarian aid to those in need, but to then teach them how to improve their lives. And old Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” And, if I may add, “Teach a child to fish, and he may feed the entire world.”
These are some of the people I love:
Because I love these people, I want to help them, care for them, and teach them so that they can move ahead in this world. So I won’t write what I would never write. It hurts too much to see others suffer, and I want to stay and help.
...Open up the doors and let the music play.
Let the streets resound with singing.
Songs that bring your hope,
And songs that bring your joy.
Dancers who dance upon injustice...
from "Did You Hear the Mountains Tremble?"