Understanding how culture affects the ways we communicate — how we tell jokes, greet, ask questions, hedge, apologize, compliment, and so much more.
We can learn to speak other languages, but do we truly understand what we are saying? How much detail should we offer when someone asks how we are? How close should we stand to our conversational partners? Is an invitation genuine or just pro forma? So much of communication depends on culture and context. In Getting Through, Roger Kreuz and Richard Roberts offer a guide to understanding and being understood in different cultures. Drawing on research from psychology, linguistics, sociology, and other fields, as well as personal experience, anecdotes, and popular culture, Kreuz and Roberts describe cross-cultural communication in terms of pragmatics — exploring how language is used and not just what words mean.
Sometimes this is easy to figure out. If someone hisses “I’m fine!” though clenched teeth, we can assume that she’s not really fine. But sometimes the context, cultural or otherwise, is more nuanced. For example, a visitor from another country might be taken aback when an American offers a complaint (“Cold out today!”) as a greeting. And should you apologize the same way in Tokyo as you would in Toledo? Kreuz and Roberts help us navigate such subtleties. It’s a fascinating way to think about human interaction, but it’s not purely academic: The more we understand one another, the better we can communicate, and the better we can communicate, the more we can avoid conflict.