Last year, when I was a final-year student at the University of Central Lancashire, I enrolled onto a module, which was called 'English in the Work-Placement'. This module required students to find a five day plus work-placement. Due to the 20 hours' working limit per week for international full-time students, I had to find a part-time job and after 2 job applications, luckily I found a weekend kitchen porter job at a restaurant. Although this work was very hard, I decided to keep working after finishing the 5 days of compulsory work. The reason is that I could get an insight into how U.K industry works, people's cultural minds and other things. Additionally, at the restaurant, I could meet and talk with British people and gain a lot of knowledge of English history, music and the British way of thinking. 2 weeks after I had started working, I got my weekly pay slip, and I found that my weekly-based wage was less than my working hours. I was very disappointed because I really worked hard even though it was very gruelling work. However, I did not complain to the manager straight away. I thought she made a mistake and she would pay me for the missing hours next time. Furthermore I did not want to talk about money directly with her. As time went by, there was no change in my bank account, even 3-4 weeks after this incident. I reported this issue cautiously to my chef instead of the manager because I needed the money to buy books. A week later, the manager came to me with an upset and annoyed face and yelled at me "why didn't you tell me this issue directly and immediately when you found out you got less pay?" At that time, I did not know what to say and how to respond and I said to her "It's O.K. I want to pass on it." The words slipped off the tip of my tongue. She asked me "Are you sure? If you find missing hours next time, report it directly to me" and went away.
I felt quite embarrassed and even angry at her yelling, because I thought I was the one who was in the right about the missing hours. I did not understand why or how she could be mad at me at that time. The worst thing for me was that I did not get paid for the missing hours just because I told her that it was O.K. My meaning 'O.K' was courteous refusal and was used for appeasing her anger. My real intention was to get paid for the missing hours. Furthermore, the incident was too sudden to allow time for calm deliberation, and I was even worried about losing my job at that time. However, I expected that she would pay me even though she was upset.
In this case, two cultural incidents can be identified. One is that I reported an issue to the chef which should be dealt with by the manager. Another is that I did not express my thoughts to her explicitly and I allowed her to misunderstand my intention. During self-reflection, I tried to search for suitable answers to explain why these incidents happened to me through relevant literatures. There might be other theories which could explain these cultural differences but I would like to approach and apply two key norms, which are 'Cultural value' and 'Cultural dimension 'in my interpretation.
Firstly, I would like to mention cultural value. Samovar and Porter (2001: 57) showed that 'Cultural values are derived from the larger philosophical issues that are part of a culture's milieu'. In Confucian society, Koreans seldom asks for favours from others who are not close with them. We regard asking as possibly causing him/her difficulty. Furthermore, if others who I consider to have good and close relationships with do not accept my request, then an awkward atmosphere could occur within our relationship. A second cultural value in Korea is that people are encouraged not to openly express their own emotions to others, especially when the matter seems to deliver negative ones to them. Also we are taught not to immediately receive others' favours. We normally refuse their favours 2-3 times and then accept them. We regard these kinds of behaviours as courtesy and politeness to others. Hence I chose to deliver my message intentionally to the chef who I worked for and was very careful not to have my manager lose face. Moreover, I told her that it was O.K to pass this issue over based on my cultural value. However, from the manager's point of view, my attitude and words guided her misinterpret my intention. She could even regard my attitude as tittle-tattling about her mistake and thus she got annoyed. She might have wanted me to use direct communication to convey my message clearly regardless of our different position instead of the indirect message that requires the listener to read between the lines. As I was the first Asian staff at the restaurant, she probably did not know how to communicate with individuals whose cultural background is different from hers and she did not realise how I wished to be perceived in this interaction.
If I approach this incident with another theory, then a second application might be cultural dimension. Among many cultural dimensions, this is related with 'Affective versus Neutral cultures'. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (2012: 93) discusses that 'A variety of problems of communication across cultural boundaries can arise from the differences between affective and neutral approaches. Figure 6.1(Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner 2012: 88) presents the relative positions of a sample of countries on the extent to which exhibiting emotion is acceptable, and the U.K's score is 45%. There is no specific Korean data shown on the figure, but I feel safe to assume that Korea would get similar score with Japan (74%) based on same Confucius background. The Korean dimension is very 'Neutral culture.' This means that People from affective cultures like Kuwait or Oman tend to show their emotions and immediate reactions whereas someone from a neutral norm like the Japan or Korea will appear more reserved and refrain from expressing what they think or feel. This interpersonal element of cultural dimension is important in terms of doing business with others whose cultural background is different from the beginning point since they can build mutual trust and understand each other.
Questions and Critical Reflection
This reflective log asked me to identify some key elements of different cultural perceptions using one of my cultural incidents. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner(1997: 197) wrote that 'An initial step towards developing respect for cultural difference is to look for situation in our own life in which we would behave like a person form another culture.' This illustrates that we need to learn to understand the behaviours and values which are different from ours before or when we communicate with them. During my critical reflection this incident, one session tutor in MODL5012M, introduced a concept of the 'Intercultural speaker' and this enabled me to get an initial step for approaching inter/cross-cultural communication issues. Byram (1997: 53) defines "Critical cultural awareness" as an ability to evaluate, critically on the basis of explicit criteria, perspectives, practices and products in one's own and other cultures and countries. Wilkinson (2011: 297) interpreted his definition of the fact that he emphasizes the intercultural speaker's ability to engage critically and reflect with his/her own and other cultures, to be able to interpret, analyse and evaluate familiar and unfamiliar cultural phenomena. In other words, although someone who is very fluent in a target language, if he/she has little intercultural competence of linguistic and cultural knowledge, he/she would possibly face cultural barriers for communicating. However, from my several experiences, I have to admit that understanding other cultural styles and applying them to real life draws very complex processes which are time-consuming to solve. Furthermore, although we understand others' cultures, our behaviours or speech is still are rooted in our cultural value and dimension. Lewis (2011: 162) also mentioned that 'The moment people of different cultures are involved, the approach of each side will be defined or influenced by cultural characteristics'. The reason is that we have a mental 'schema' for situations or contexts we are familiar with which tells us how the situation looks then what usually happens in which order, and what behaviour is expected of us. However, there can be a problem if we try to apply our own schema as it isn't universally recognised. On the other hand, we also have a 'script' for these situations which tells us what we should say and how we should respond it. Holliday, Hyde and Kullman (2010: 104) referred to Wierzbicka as follows, 'Cultural scriptsâ€¦ are not meant to describe how all people behave in a given society, but rather to articulate certain norms that people in a given society are familiar with, and that serve as a shared frame of reference for a given speech community(1998: 245). This means that we ought to relate with the use of the script or schema to avoid collision between different cultures At this point, I would bring some questions myself. "Is it that new and other cultural aspects cannot affect one's cultural identity? But if it is possible, to what extent should we expose to other culture? And finally how can we know that our own cultural identity has changed?" The reason why I asked this question to myself is that I was confident that I could fit myself into a western culture before this incident occurred. With increasing globalization, Koreans try to adopt Western values and lifestyles and are becoming more westernised. Moreover, although I was born and grew up in Korea, I have lived in western cultures and environments since 20's. I have studied at the U.S and the U.K universities, and worked with the U.S, U.K and other military and business people during my service. Nevertheless, I am still questioning why I behaved and responded to her based on my Korean cultural value and identity. In relation to a third question, I may give a brief answer that identifies when we come back home and feel cultural differences based on a behaviour comparison with people of the same nationality then we may be able to realise that our cultural aspect has changed. On the other hand, in terms of cultural identity, it is difficult for me to measure how much I have been influenced by other cultures since I left my own. The key questions concerning cultural identity which remain unsolved are how we unconsciously act using the cultural factors we have possessed and how we can consciously respond with the new factors which have been acquired by another culture. Also, how we can consciously choose which aspects of culture we have to apply in a given situation. As pointed out by Holliday, Hyde and Kullman (2010: 21) 'Being sensitive and understanding others' cultural production and the way in which they play with the various identities available to them is a crucial part of good intercultural communication'. We could assume then that identity is one of the most important factors for successful communication between cultures.
Nowadays, we live in an era of globalisation. In particular, the growth and development of technology and media has had a huge influence on individuals, societies and countries across the globe. Although, Piller (2011: 69) argued that 'cultural and communicative style and values have become diluted and have acquired a mix-and-match flavour as more and more people travel and migrate and as mediated cultural flows criss-cross the globe.' we still have difficulty in being absorbed in other cultures we encounter. This incident makes me look at the concept of cultural identity and additionally, it enables me to learn an important lesson being that it is important to understand the framework and surrounding backgrounds in which communication takes place. This allows me to broaden my cultural horizons and to get to know other cultures. In terms of conceptualising cultural identity, although I am still unsure as to whether I would provide suitable answers for my self-reflection questions, this incident and reflective log has definitely opened my eyes to further studies. I have chosen the topic "Globalisation and cultural identity" as the second assignment of MODL5012M. While preparing this assignment and studying for the next MAPLIS sessions, I have become encouraged to do further research on this subject and to provide adaptable answers for my self-reflection questions. Therefore, when dealing with other cultural incidents, I will be able to to gain an insight into the intercultural communication and understand the concepts of cultural adaptability whilst being able to cope with them without cultural misinterpretation or misunderstanding.