Body-language and nonverbal communication

To smell and to taste a new culture is to meet yourself

To smell and to taste a new culture is to meet yourself

Some weeks ago I talked to a German manager and sinologist, who had worked in China for a couple of years. His first visit to China was about thirty years ago. Perfect in reading and writing, really well-experienced in relating to Chinese people, he knew, what he was talking about.

We talked about relating to Chinese people as well as to people from other cultures. Both we were convinced of a big difference in intercultural communication.

On the one hand it is almost too simple to doubt on this fact.  On the other hand many people seem not to know the essence of the following message:

When you learn a language, when ……….you try to get familiar with a language, you have to know about your vocabulary and the grammar and you have to talk to people in this language, even if you’re not able to use the vocabulary and the grammar correctly, by talking, you can taste and smell the language. It is the same with getting familiar with another culture. You have to know about the recipe in the strange cultural kitchen and you have to step into this kitchen in order to smell and to taste.

People from this other culture realize very clearly if you follow the recipe in relating to them or if you try to smell and to taste also.

To know about the recipe of intercultural communication looks like “good behavior” but it is not you who behaves, it is not you who shows up with your personality and your interest in tasting and smelling. It is just good behavior. It is what others make you believe, not you.

So, knowing about vocabulary and grammar is the one side, talking to people is the other side of the coin.

The coin, that means the essence of intercultural communication, is related to the people, to show up in the way they are, respecting your counterpart in a way he shows up and the way he is.

My experience concerning this attitude in intercultural communication is the following: By relating in this way, you often will experience very strange situations, which you, will not understand yet. But relating to these people, to this other culture, in this moment, now,, even if you don`t know everything correctly, you can’t avoid being also personally and emotionally involved in this experience. Involved in this moment.

So sometimes I get the idea that it is almost as difficult to learn a new language or get to know a new culture as it is difficult to handle being emotionally lost in yourself, in experiencing this.

To make it short: wherever you go, whatever culture you meet, you always carry yourself in your own rucksack. And as a fact you always are involved in both.

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