Evaluating Intercultural Behavior
The key to effective intercultural communication is knowledge. It is important that people understand the potential problems that may arise from intercultural communication and make a conscious effort to overcome these problems. In this post, I shall share about an intercultural encounter I had to emphasize on how knowledge about the other culture is essential.
Four years ago, I went to Thailand for a holiday trip with my family. Shopping at Thailand was one of the highlights as the things there were generally cheaper. Being all excited and ready to strike good bargains at the street stalls, I began asking the stall owners politely with a smile for a lower price. However, the replies I received from the stall owners were frowning faces and phrases like “no, very cheap already” and “cannot discount”. From the intonations and facial expressions the stall owners gave, I thought they were very unhappy at me for haggling. As such, I got a little worried and upset at my failed shopping attempts.
Soon, as I stayed on a few more days, I realized that the Thais generally speak in this manner. They tend to sound whinier and the intonations they used were slightly different from us due to the native language they speak every day. As a result, I mistook them at the beginning of my trip for being disgruntled at me.
Towards the end of my trip, I picked up some Thai phrases and began speaking like them. This time round, the shop owners appeared friendlier to me while I bargain with them for a cheaper deal.
After returning to Singapore, I got very fascinated by the Thai language that I went to self-learn a little more on the language through the net. As I researched more, I actually found a video on Youtube of a Thai providing tips on how to bargain in Bangkok. He actually highlighted that our intonations and facial expressions used are very important. Relating to my first experience, the owners did not frown because she was angry, instead, it was an expression of friendliness during haggling. In addition, the Thai on Youtube also emphasized that we drag our words to sound whiny, because the whinier we sound, the more appealing it is to the owner as they take it as a friendly gesture.
I only found out after the trip that it is in the Thai culture that they love to haggle, and so do the Thai shopkeepers. Hence, from this post, I want to highlight that so long as we take the initiative to understand the culture of the other person or country, we can actually get a lot of fun out of immersing ourselves into their culture instead of receiving the wrong message and get offended.
Having a knowledge of different cultures and traditions will definitely help us go far in getting along with people from other cultures and in preventing any problems that may arise through incorrect interpretations. One should be patient and careful in intercultural exchanges, and not jumping to the conclusion that you know what is being thought and said.