I remember when I was still at university, we were bored listening to courses like International Business, English for Business purposes, wherein our lecturers kept reminding us of the communication gap between different cultures which may be an obstacle for cross-border business. After graduating from universities, during my job hunting process, I remember coming by a lot of job requirements, in which candidates with international experience were highly prioritized. Although I am currently working in an international firm, having some colleagues from Japan, Australia as well as having abundant clients from various countries, mainly Japan and Korea, I still often find myself confused on dealing with clients coming from different cultural background. Perhaps some conflicts originated from my poor communication skill instead. However, in some cases, it should be the cultural gap that made the situations worse.
Three months ago, when I discussed with a Singaporean colleague of mine in audit department on an tax-related issue of a Chinese client of mine. During our communication, there was a point that I was not clear about her idea, therefore, I tried to confirm by repeating what I understood and pointing on her laptop screen. Her attitude suddenly changed. Her face expression turned out to be angry, shouting: “Please do not touch my laptop screen.” I was highly confused, my hand inadvertently touched the screen again. She looked annoyed, angrily saying: “Please do not touch my laptop screen.”. It was not until her second reminder that I realized what was going on. She seemed to be impatient and angry. I did not know what to say, being so confused that ran out of word for around 1 minute. Then I took a deep breath, trying to confirm with her again and saying sorry for such mess-up. But it seems that she does not give it a heed. I really expected that when I said sorry to her, she would say that it was totally okay or kind of “no problem”. She just said that she had just come back from three-month leave and there were lots of work awaiting her. I tried as much as possible to keep myself from crying. At this time, I was deeply buried in heavy workload as well and I had long refused myself the right to be angry whatever took place. I had not been in such a weird situation like this since I joined the firm. Such incident made me feel uncomfortable for the whole day.
Four months ago, when my project manager and I had a client meeting with a Korean client. There was a gap between client’s expectation and our deliverable, therefore, the client representative kept angry,clapping at the table and almost burst out into tears. Although I was already aware that Korean clients, especially male, were especially short-tempered, it was still uneasy for me to find some ways out to calm him down, let alone we used English, which was not mother tongue of both sides.
When I came to Taiwan, taking Chinese course in NCCU, it was my first time ever to be immerse in such a multicultural environment. As I have written in my entry on my Chinese learning experience (link) , during the course, I have been entitled to understand how things are different from the East to the West as well as confirm some of my previous cultural prejudices. I knew that the Japanese felt that drinking wine would make business relationship better, the French was indeed humorous (and sometimes I do feel that they share with us some senses of humor) and in some cases not willing to follow the rules as well. The Westerners do not understand why the Easterners work that hard and they cannot make sense some ideas related to family or love relationship of the East. Such cultural exchange indeed makes my Chinese course much more interesting. However, there still existed communication gap which made me really confused. Last Friday, when I discussed with my French classmate on our plan for the weekend. When he said about coming to Xiangshan, it seemed that I shown him some attitudes related to Xiangshan (actually I did not remember what I was saying but it seemed that I asked him why Xiangshan and I said that there were lots of people). He then turned into commenting my plan of Yangmingshan like there are lots of people in Yangmingshan and the atmosphere is not good, etc. I just thought that he just teased me and I actually did not give it a heed. Then when it came to our discussion on recent American presidency election, he just said something like he did not like the American (perhaps for their ignorance) and I just asked him if French election was also as worrying as American election (My original text: 你們的總統選舉是不是一樣糟糕？). And then he said to me that my comment was not polite. And I remembered a couple weeks ago when I just teased him and his girl friend and he said to me that I was impolite. “Impolite” (“沒有禮貌”) should be the harshest comment I have ever heard and it made me really sad. For the first incident, perhaps, in some cases, we do not share the same sense of humor so that which may be fun to me seems to be offensive to him. For the second incident, he got angry as he said to me that he did not understand when I said “French election is as worrying as American election” and he wondered if I was trying to mock him. And then when I said that I did not want to mock him, he said that sometimes he did not understand why I said something and he referred to the example of Xiangshan, in which he expected that I should not say bad about it but I should say something good about it. For example, I should not be surprised at the reason why he chose Xiangshan and I should comment like: “Well, it’s nice”. It made me sad indeed. Perhaps I felt sad because of being said to be impolite while I thought I did not deserve it. Perhaps he was right on saying that I should not make a negative comment on other plans but I was just a little bit confused when he got angry when it came to politics and the two problems were not totally the same. Sometimes, I just felt if Asian people actually seemed to be more tolerant when we often accepted some behaviors which seemed to be impolite of the Westerners for they are Westerners but at the same time felt guilty when we violated any norms of the Westerners. The Westerners, however, sometimes felt that it should be okay if they do not follow the norms as they are foreigners. I was confused as while my friend can make such a comment at the American, I cannot make such a comment on the French. I felt really sad and confused during the weekend and I really prefer not to see him on Monday.