Monday, 21 February 2011

Cultura Franca

There is a bogeyman that lives under the beds of all BE students.

It comes out when all the lexis has been mastered, and all the skills honed.

It is a 50-metre wall.

It is a lake of fire.

It is quicksand.

It, of course, is culture.

What particularly strikes me about some intercultural discussion is the assumption that without it we would have communicative perfection.

If only we didn't have to worry about shaking hands, kissing cheeks or doing nothing at all when we meet, everything else would be ok.

One multinational bank has built a generations-long advertising campaign on the back of its reassurance that because they know whether or not to wear red trousers in China, everything else in their business will go well.

Culture, it seems, is often the last barrier to full and transparent communication.

Anyone who's ever run a business in their own country knows that this simply is not the case.

Culture is no more a hindrance to full understanding than is an ignorance of participle clauses, or the small print in your electricity provider's contract. 

The idea is a kind of bogeyman that prevents a positive appreciation of culture as something interesting to learn, in the same way we appreciate a language.

Having said that, of course, there remains the fact that culture is a source of misunderstanding.

And in that vein, if we are now simplifying language in the form of BELF, can we not do the same with conduct and codify a cultura franca?

If, for example, we can get rid of the 3rd person 's', why not banish tardiness?

And, speaking personally now, I could live without the business breakfast too.

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