Warning: Most likely, I will be seeing everything through the lens of intercultural communications for the next several weeks -- everything...like the golf-cart ride I took during a scramble-round of nine holes of golf yesterday near Lake George, by the Hudson River:
My cart-mate, previously a stranger -- and that's how the scramble's set up by design annually -- was apparently not very curious, and not into small-talk compared with me. We met each other's partners for a moment before the four of us split into three different teams. She and I were on Team #7, and so we started on the seventh hole:
On the way to Hole #7: Me: "Where are you from?"
Me: "My sister and her family live in Brooklyn."
I tell her and ask where she lives and she gives me the cross-streets.
On the way to Hole #8: "My sister's a Brooklyn-bigot. She feels that there's nowhere else like it."
Cart-mate: "It's true that it's like living in a suburb while still being in the city, with parks and pools and ice-rinks and museums, you don't really need to go anywhere else."
On the way to Hole #9: Why isn't she asking me where I'm from? I'm wondering. I pause for a moment, hoping she'll ask me a question. None is forthcoming. I can't help myself; I must fill the silence: "There's a great writer, who wrote a novel I love, which takes place in Brooklyn, *The Fortress of Solitude*. Jonathan Lethem. Have you read it?"
Me: "Well, probably, you wouldn't get all of the references from before your time, like to Crazy Eddie's...."
Cart-mate: "I remember those commercials from when I was really young. They're making a movie about Crazy Eddie, about how it fell apart. And the corruption."
Me: "Please tell me he wasn't also Jewish, like Madoff."
Cart-mate: "Yes, he was."
We hit our drives and I realize that I haven't given my cart-mate context for why I cared if he was Jewish or not.
On the way down the green: "I should have mentioned that I'm Jewish and I just hate it whenever any of my people do anything wrong. I know there can be bad people everywhere, but...I also hate it when a lesbian does something bad."
Cart-mate: "Yeah, my mother says she likes Ellen [DeGeneres] better than Rosie [O'Donnell]. My girlfriend's Jewish."
Me: "How did you meet your girlfriend?"
In a sentence or two, she tells me about the venue where they met 12 years ago, and I'm waiting for her to ask me how I met my partner. Nothing.
Me: "What's your background? Are you Italian? Irish? [She looked Italian, but my sister Deb once asked me, "How come it seems that most [U.S.] lesbians are either Jewish or Irish Catholic?" and so, agreeing with my sister's general observation from my own experience, too, I took a guess.]
Cart-mate: "I'm half-Columbian and half-Serbian. Talk about bad PR...."
Me: "Wow. How did your parents meet?"
Cart-mate: "In English class. It used to be required, in the '60s."
Me: "If my partner were here, she'd be calling me Barbara Walters. She says I'm always interviewing people."
Cart-mate: (A chuckle) "It's OK."
Me: Why isn't she asking me even one question about me? I'm feeling practically hostile about what feels to me to be a lack of curiosity and basic socializing on her part.
On the way to Hole #1: I'm so surprised at her apparent lack of curiosity about me that I've decided she must lack intelligence and must do clerical work or some form of manual labor. I ask the question I never meant to: "What sort of work do you do?" Now, I'm breaking a taboo; we're just supposed to be enjoying golf during a weekend getaway and I've brought up work.
Suddenly, she becomes animated. She explains that she works in a rehab section of a big New York hospital, as the counselor for people with traumatic injuries, helping them plan their new lives. It turns out that she has a Masters and several certifications.
Me: "That's so neat. I'm just working on my Masters now."
Cart-mate: "In what?"
Me: "Education. Adult Learning and Leadership...Adult Education."
On the car-ride home from the weekend, I'm reading a chapter for school, "Mindful Intercultural Verbal Communication" and recognize what happened in the golf-cart -- to me, if not to my cart-mate:
Interethnic frictions arise when a group uses its own verbal style yardstick to evaluate another group's verbal output. Even routine conversations can escalate into major conflicts because of our ignorance of each other's preferred verbal styles. More importantly, our ethnocentric evaluations can clutter our ability to listen clearly to ongoing communication from others. Recognizing and respecting verbal style difference requires mindfulness (Ting-Toomey, 1999, p. 110).
Maybe it's just my own aggressive shyness, having nothing to do with my culture. Maybe her Jewish girlfriend is nothing like me, or maybe she's very much like me, and it works because my cart-mate is satisfied with being the quiet one....
Love and Action
Another moment of intercultural communication occurred this morning, at breakfast: One of our friends is telling me about a "courseo"(sp?) (little course, from Spanish tradition) that she planned for a year and a half for her Episcopal church, where people who were already believers came to the church for a weekend retreat. The retreat she told me was designed to flood its participants with love all weekend, rather than doctrine.
She spoke about all of the cool things that her many months of organizing had enabled and I said finally, "My over-simplified understanding of Christianity is that love is its essence."
"My father, who was a minister always said the same thing -- that it was about one word: love."
"Well, I was thinking to myself, if Christianity is all about love, what is the essence of Judaism? And I think it's: action. I mean, we have 613 commandments and all sorts of rituals, and I think they're all designed to get us to where we can have the spiritual moments; they're all preparation for those moments...like when you were talking about all you needed to do to get ready for that weekend, so that people could have the freedom to experience the spiritual moments they did; didn't you feel honored that you enabled their experiences?"
"And it was all about your preparation."
"Yeah, that makes good sense."
During the car-ride home, I was talking to Pat about my exchange with our friend and Pat said, "Right. Judaism is all about doing acts now, in this life, without trying to do them for a future reward in some after-life. It's all about "L'Chaim!', (to Life!)," she said.
Action and love both are essential. At my best, I am action-oriented and loving. Now, if only my golf-game would ever improve....