Wednesday, November 08, 2006

An Arab friend and I were having a conversation today and I’m not quite sure how it happened, but we ended up on the topic of communication, specifically when it relates to different genders and cultures. I told him the following humorous anecdote:

A woman looks into her closet and claims that she has nothing to wear. Translation: she needs to go shopping for new clothes. A man looks into his closet and claims he has nothing to wear. Translation: all of his clothes are dirty and need to be washed.

In this case, both people are verbally saying the same thing, but the implied meanings differ completely. I then shared with my friend the following story of when my wife and I were first married. During our first year of marriage, we had several arguments about the lack of communication in our marriage. It wasn’t that we weren’t talking; on the contrary, the problem was that we just weren’t “speaking the same language”.

For instance, if I were watching television and I happened to notice my wife washing the dishes, I would stop and say, “Would you like me to do the dishes for you?” What I really meant was, “Would you like me to do the dishes for you?” Her reply was generally, “No, go ahead and keep doing what you are doing.” What she really meant was, “If you love me, you’d figure out that I need help and come and wash these dishes, even though I told you not to worry about it.” The problem was that because I made a straight-up, honest offer (which I wouldn’t have made unless I was willing to go through with it), I would in turn accept her reply at face value, assuming that she meant what she said. Then I would continue watching television.

This went on for a while until it blew up in the form of a heated argument. According to my wife, I wasn’t “listening” well enough, which was a surprise to me since my hearing was perfect and I seemed to remember most of our prior conversations. What she meant by “listening” was that I wasn’t thinking intuitively, something that generally doesn’t come naturally to men. Rather I was thinking rationally, assuming that the words that were coming out of her mouth were what she actually meant. We were talking, but not communicating.

In the end, we came to an agreement. We decided that it would be easier for her to say what she meant than it would be for me to read her mind and translate her phraseology (which could potentially change from day to day). This has since led to 11 years of solid, honest communication in our marriage.

Upon hearing this story, my friend ventured to say that this may be the same problem affecting communications among cultures. Having lived abroad for a period of time, my friend noticed a more honest dialogue among people in Western society, since the issue of honor is less important than the issue of honesty. In an Eastern culture, however, the aspect of honoring another person can become more important than being honest with them. In my friend’s opinion, he felt like he was constantly forced to interpret the difference between what people say and what they actually mean.

Sometimes I wonder if this is a problem that plagues this blog? Could it be that some readers are prone to misinterpreting some issues and opinions simply because they have been conditioned to “read between the lines”?

It wouldn’t be too difficult to prove such a theory. If I made a statement along the lines of, “I don’t really like modern Arabic music”, I would most likely to receive a variety of replies ranging from civil responses to hot headed retorts and rebukes. Some responses would most likely be completely out of context, possibly along the lines of “Oh, so you don’t like anything Arab now? Are you a racist? You Americans think that you are all high and mighty and that only American music is good enough for the rest of the world!” In essence, all I am simply saying is that modern Arabic music is not to my taste. Neither is country music, for that matter. It’s just a simple statement concerning personal musical taste, not a political or arrogant statement.

There is a definite difference between talking and communicating. Sometimes I wonder if our cultures are simply conversing under the guise of communication and we’re actually just falling short of the issues completely.


Blogger Summer said...

I know exactly what you mean, and i am a woman! :)
there are many different ways for men and women to communicate and interpret each others thoughts, mainly men are more straight forward about things while women always have hidden meaning behind their words, and want to be understood accordingly!

Cultural communication is just another example to interpret others people words, depends on a lot of factors. I think the way people approach on any matter depends on what to say about it and how they say it, and then how others from other cultures perceive it depends on their own views and own interpretation, and a lot of times on their own feelings towards the who says what.
I hope i made myself clear enough to be understood!!

11/08/2006 3:14 PM  
Anonymous salam said...

It is often the case when body language could cause you to interpret a whole phrase differently,an accompanying look would alter the whole stream of conversation.I'm afraid I too am guilty of what your wife does.Sometimes even a sorry my husband says is not good enough ,even later when he insists that he wouldn't have said it unless it was genuinely meant.There is a commnunication gap among genders and cultures alike,and you have have put it beautifully.Nice post Dave!

11/08/2006 5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading between the lines of your post, I understand that you are preparing a book regarding this matter. Nice way of promoting your book, so we Easterners are liars now,eh?And you are all honest and straight to the point?

And according to your theory, Women are dishonest so they expect men to be dishonest in their replies? And men are honest and frank? I"ll leave this to women, defend your honor women!

(For those who got Bush's IQ, I was being sarcastic)

11/08/2006 9:21 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Firas, I'll get you back for that, you sarcastic bum. :)

11/09/2006 8:25 AM  
Anonymous dragonsvamp said...

well said and i completely agree with you

11/09/2006 8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh the American will get me, oh I'm scared...

11/10/2006 9:49 PM  
Anonymous nestlegrl said...


12/13/2006 3:30 AM  

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