What happens when you are standing in someone else’s shoes? Well, you are still you interpreting the situation from your own point of view. When it comes to culture this can lead to an impasse in communication. Here is my example that I often retell:
When I was fifteen years old, I spent a month as an exchange student in the beautiful German town of Loerrach. I stayed with a family and we spoke German the entire time. I was often asked what I wanted to do… I replied in German but directly translated from English “I would like to… or If we could do…, it would be great…!” Well, nothing that I ever suggested came to fruition.
After a month it was my exchange friend’s turn. I asked him what he wanted to do in the US. His answer “I want this and that… want… want… want…” Of course I was mad… everything that I had suggested never happened and here he comes demanding things from me and my family.
I was really wrong! Actually my translation from English into German was really wrong and my exchange friend’s translation was wrong too… Wrong for the culture we were trying to use it in. Perhaps you know this already, but when you suggest something with a hint of uncertainty (and I thought I was just being polite) in German this means that you don’t know what you want. And to say something with a little more force (I want to…) means you just have an opinion. You see, standing in his shoes was not the issue here… I really had to take it a step further and learn about who he was and what his background was. If I had known more of the culture… there wouldn’t have been such a big mess!
If you ever get to the point of frustration with someone from a different culture, make sure that even if you are speaking the same language… that you know something about each other’s cultural background.