Monday, November 20, 2017


Different cultures conceptualize ideas in different ways, so you must be sure to communicate in a style that Americans will readily grasp. Today we’ll move from the European pattern to how a Middle Eastern one can also cause problems with American listeners. This pattern applies to Arab, Israeli and other cultures in the Middle East. It is, metaphorically speaking, noisier and more intense than the American one, like the difference between Tahrir Square in Cairo, and Union Square in San Francisco.

The Middle Eastern pattern is illustrated by a series of parallel arrows, each a little longer or stronger than the one before. A point is not made until it is repeated several times, each time a little more forcefully.

By contrast, a single straight arrow represents the American style of expression. It goes directly and immediately to the essential point. Americans will react to the first thing they hear. And their responses will be immediate and final.

So an American tourist might be wandering through the bazaar in Turkey, when approached by a rug merchant. The merchant asks, “May I show you a beautiful rug?” And the American politely says, “No thanks.”

The merchant persists: “This is an exquisite rug.” The American repeats, “No thanks.” The merchant continues, “Look, let me show you the small, tight knots, all by hand!” The American is now annoyed and says flatly, “Very nice but I’m not interested.” Undeterred, the merchant says, “Come inside and I’ll work out a special price for you!”

The tourist stops, shakes his head at the merchant and says, “Sorry, no! I’m not interested in buying a rug. I have no money for this. I have no time now, and at home I have no space. So please! NO THANK YOU!”

“Okay, have a good day. Remember Istanbul happily!”

What happened here? The American thought he had settled the question when he initially said “No thanks” (direct answer to a direct question). Meanwhile, the merchant felt he had not asked the question fully until he had repeated his point several times, each time with more urgency. And he did not hear the tourist’s answer until that was also repeated many times. Once the Middle Eastern pattern of Q&A was complete, the merchant was happy to end the interchange pleasantly.

In America, Middle Eastern speakers should be careful not to repeat themselves, nor to infuse their words with excessive, heated expression. And they should listen for the first quiet but clear answer!