Saturday, May 11, 2013

Norwich City of Interculture

I was privileged today to participate in the Norwich City of Interculture event, part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival celebrating cultural diversity and arts in the East of England.
We did a table of "Language Tasters", providing folks with 5-15 minute activities around basic language and cultural teasers for various countries. I and a PhD student from UEA's School of Language and Communication Studies ran the American booth. Lori prepared a really great quiz of situations British folks may find themselves in were they to travel to the States; I prepped a mini glossary of common American/British language differences. We chatted through them with visitors to the booth. Had quite a diverse crowd - folks from Israel and Mauritius stopped by, in addition to a number of Brits and American ex-pats.

Text Only versions of our teasers (with apologies if the formatting goes a bit crazy):

Is American culture really that different from British culture?

How would YOU react in these situations in the USA?

1.     Your new American friends have just asked if you’d like to go tailgating on Saturday.  What do you say?

a.     Definitely not!  That’s illegal!
b.     Excellent!  I don’t have tickets but I’ll bring a cooler.
c.     Sounds great – but could you bring the gear for me?  I don’t have tailgating kit.

2.     A cute guy or girl you’ve recently met asks you if you’d like to go out for coffee sometime.  What could this mean?
a.   They are attracted to you romantically and have just asked you out on a formal date. 
b.   They think you’re a cool person and would like to have a casual chat. 
c.   They are trying to figure out what religion you are. 

3.     You are in a line at a bank and you notice that the customer in front of you has a handgun tucked into his belt.  What do you do?
a.   Get out your cell phone and dial 9-1-1 to speak to the police.
b.   Try to get the attention of a bank employee so they can try to handle the situation.
c.    Nothing.

4.     You are at a restaurant and when your meal comes to the table you realize you’ve ordered three times more food than you thought.  What do you do?

a.           Do your best to eat it all – it’s rude to leave too much food on your plate.
b.           Ask the waiter if you accidentally ordered a sharing platter.  You will get charged extra and you have to be careful not to get ripped off.
c.            Eat what you want and ask the waiter for a box.  And still order dessert!

5.     You are sitting down to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with your American friends.  They ask you what you are doing tomorrow for Black Friday.  What might you say?

a.     Going for a long run to burn off some of the pumpkin pie.
b.     You don’t observe Black Friday due to your religious beliefs/orientation.
c.     Staying in and spending quality time with your family or friends.
d.     You have a battle plan that begins at 6am and includes a map route.

6.     You are camping in the forest with some American friends.  At the end of the evening, you’ve finished eating s’mores.  As you’re putting out the campfire your friends hand you a rope and bag, and ask you to hang the food in the trees on the other end of your campsite.  What do you do?

a.     It’s a typical joke Americans like to play on foreign friends to make them look silly.  Don’t fall for it!
b.     They’re serious – go ahead and do it!

7.     You’ve had a fantastic time with your American hosts, and as you are saying your goodbyes, you joke: “Well, apart from the weather and the company, I’ve had a brilliant time.”  They give you a strange look.  What do you do?

a.     Keep going with the sarcastic jokes – Americans love the British sense of humour.
b.     Backtrack and give them lots of compliments: “No, I’m joking of course.  In all honesty, you have been fantastic hosts and I have enjoyed every minute.”
c.     Just ignore their funny look and depart – they probably understood the joke but they would think it’s impolite to joke back with a guest.

8.     You have just begun a new job in an open-plan office.  You’re settling in and mid-morning you decide you’d like a hot drink (tea/coffee).  What do you do?

a.     Wait for someone to offer you a drink – it’s a customary way to make new colleagues feel welcome.
b.     Offer to make a drink for the colleagues in your immediate area.
c.     Go to the staff kitchen and make yourself a drink but don’t worry about anyone else.

Suggested answers and explanations

1. Probable answer: B or C.  Explanation: Tailgating is an American tradition revolving around (American) football.  In the parking lot of the football stadium, football fans often arrive hours before the game begins for tailgate parties.  Friends and families gather around the backs of their pickups to socialise (hence ‘tailgating’). 
It can be a very organised party, and some people bring full barbeques, canopy shelters, chairs, and – usually – coolers full of beer.  If you are invited to a tailgate party you should find out whether your friends will be cooking and providing food or just hanging out.  You should ask whether you should bring along some food.  You should generally always bring drinks and chairs along as their guests.

2. Probable answer: A, B, or C.  Most likely A.  Explanation:  A: In the United States, meeting for coffee is often a more formal type of meeting than it is in the UK, and it is a very typical way to ask someone out on a formal first date.  If you think you are being asked out on a romantic date and you want to accept the invitation, you should try to set a time and meeting place for the date, or exchange phone numbers.
B: However, people in the US do also meet as friends for coffee, so you might need to pay attention to contextual clues to figure out which one is more likely. 
C: In some areas of the United States, particularly in Western states like Idaho and Utah, Mormonism is a popular religion and one of their practices is non-consumption of caffeine.  It is impolite to directly ask someone about their religious beliefs, but asking someone if they are a coffee-drinker is an indirect way of finding out if they are Mormon.  If you tell them you drink coffee, they will assume you are non-Mormon.  If they are a non-coffee drinker (or a decaf fan) they are not necessarily Mormon but very well might be.
If you suspect the person is trying to find out personal information about you, you could answer in many different ways, depending on what information you’d like to share.  If you do have religious beliefs that influence your decision whether or not to drink caffeine, you could generally say this or tell them your religion (if any) and it would not be considered rude, even if you are not the same religion as them.  Or, if you’d rather be vague, you could say you prefer hot chocolate but that meeting up sounds fun. 

3. Probable answer: C.  Explanation: You are probably aware that the United States is a ‘gun culture’ but you may be surprised by the situations where you will see guns.  In some states, it is legal to carry guns into banks, as long as the owner has the appropriate gun permit – and these are often held by ordinary citizens (not just police or military).  Any business, including banks, can post notices that say they don’t allow guns on their premises but it is not unusual to see banks where guns are allowed.
If you do decide to travel to the United States, it is worth spending some time thinking about the implications of gun culture and how you might feel if you see guns.  Although there are many guns around and it may seem that people have casual attitudes toward them, guns should always be handled with care – if you do handle a gun, always assume it is loaded, just to be safe – and NEVER point one at someone, even if you have been assured that it is unloaded or the safety is on.

4. Probable answer: C.  Explanation: The United States is famous for its big portion sizes.  Luckily, it is very common (and even expected) that you might not finish all your food.  But that doesn’t mean you should waste it!   You should definitely ask for a box, or a ‘doggie bag’, and bring the leftover food home with you.  And even if you have boxed up most of your main course, it is not rude to order dessert.  If you can’t finish that, you can ask your waiter to box it up too!

5. Probable answer: C or D.  Explanation: Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, and is perhaps roughly equivalent to Boxing Day in the UK.  Many people have the day off from work, and most shops offer products like electronics for very low prices to attract customers on the busiest shopping day of the year.  Some families spend several days before Black Friday looking through advertisements and making ‘battle plans’ which are usually lists of which stores they plan to visit, and what items they intend to purchase, organised with maps and time schedules.  If you are after a particularly sought-after item, it can sell out within minutes of the shop opening.
However, the sales and crowds can be too intense for some people, and not all Americans enjoy the consumerism of Black Friday – there is an alternative name for the day that also has a strong following: Buy Nothing Day.

6. Probable answer: B.  Explanation: Many campsites in America have regular visits from bears looking for food – if you hang the food in the trees they can’t reach it and won’t come looking for it in your tent.  Although it’s usually not very dangerous when this happens if you’ve taken the right precautions, it is very dangerous to have food with you in your tent!  In fact, there are many things about the United States, particularly in the wilderness, that have potential dangers that aren’t typical in the UK.  You should always listen to trustworthy advice from friends or forest rangers, even if it sounds a little strange at times.

7. Probable answer: B. Explanation: Although you might think that Americans are very aware of the sarcasm that Brits are famous for, you will probably find they don’t always know when you are being sarcastic.  If you say something sarcastic and you think it has been taken wrong, it is usually best to explain that you are being sarcastic and reassure them by saying something genuine and nice.  In the United States it is much more typical to give friends and family lots of compliments.  Of course British sarcasm isn’t meant to be nasty but just remember that it can take some time to adjust to people who have a different sense of humour to your own.

8. Probable answer: C. Explanation: Although every office is likely to have its own culture, people generally make their own drinks at work.  If you do feel compelled to offer to make a drink for someone and they decline, or no one offers to make you a drink, it is probably not meant as a slight.

Common Vocabulary Differences:
British English
American English
Candy Floss
Cotton Candy
French Fries
Icing Sugar
Powdered Sugar; Confectioner’s Sugar
First Floor
Second Floor
City Centre

Common Spelling Differences:
·      “re” versus “er” (theatre, theater; metre; meter)
·      “s” versus “z” (realise, realize; specialise, specialize)
·      “ou” versus “o” (colour, color; behaviour, behavior)

How much do you weigh in America?
·      1 Stone ~ 14 Pounds
·      Most Americans would have no idea what a “stone” means in this context!

Which floor do you live on?
·      In America, the Ground Floor (Floor 0) is the First Floor (Floor 1). Add or subtract a number depending on which country you’re in!

1 comment:

  1. I definitely failed #7. I'm not snide, I'm British!