Cross-cultural bumps! Whew! Just last night I felt so bad for myself. I felt I didn’t do a good cultural mediator- act. Basically because the persons involved, which include me, lack awareness of conversation topic taboos.
I felt bad for myself because all the while I have been talking about intercultural communication and explaining its concepts and principles to the best of my knowledge, at least from what I learn in class. Yet, I violated it myself; I didn’t even totally apply it. Now I realize that it is harder to play than to plan a game. I realize I was purely theoretical so that still, application would be best. Experience really counts.
This was what happened: a really strange encounter in such a conventional situation.
I have a new friend named Michelle Booth. She is a Filipino-American and is currently studying in one of the campuses of University of California. She is in her final year in college and is working on her thesis, which scopes the Filipino Culture. For her study to be realized, she needs to take up a two-month crash course in the Philippines together with some fifty Fil-Am students who have the same goal as hers. And they took it in UP Diliman. Just before they go back to their respective universities abroad, I thought of treating her somewhere interesting in Manila – to relax, to enjoy, to know each other even better. I just felt it essential because this girl happens to be the daughter of my aunt’s best friend (both their families now live in California, visiting the Philippines once in a while). My aunt entrusted her to me, at least during her stay in UP. So I thought of bringing her with me to Greenhills Shopping Center hoping that she may be interested to purchase cheap products she will bring back home.
And so we went there. Because my phone was broken, I had to have it fixed, so we went to the Cellphones Section. While the technician was about to give me my repaired phone, he spoke in a very “calm” manner to my friend and spill a word to her, “Are you a gay?” And simultaneously I answered a sshhh!!, gave him an odd stare and returned my eyes to my friend hoping that she didn’t noticed it. But she did. She was confused so that all she could say to the technician was “What?”
Honestly, I didn’t know what to do. I was not prepared for that situation to possibly happen to us, but it happened. I was kind of shifting the topic to another, something that popped up to my mind at that time. I felt I had to, to neutralize the scenario. Just before we left, Michelle commented, “It’s my first time to hear that!” I didn’t speak up. Instead, I gestured her not to mind it. Really, I didn’t know what to say, or how to react to it…so all I could say to the technician was “she went to Boracay that’s why she got a tan. And we left!
Whew! What an awful experience. But even though, I didn’t regret it. I shared this to my Speech professor and these were the things she said:
“Filipinos are a curious lot! Many times, we don’t know personal space because “personal” items or topics to foreigners are not personal at all to us. Your technician doesn’t know only a privileged few can ask the question “Are you a gay?” He’s not even anybody to your Fil-Am friend. I think what you did was just apt and smart of you. It’s not your fault anyway.
Cross-cultural bumps. With this experience, it helped me a lot to be aware intercultural communication. I hope that by next time, I can already become an effective cultural mediator. I hope so. I will.