24 Mar 2018

Separated by a common language: Another Cross Culture Pitfall

Cross culture and language pitfalls

When an Englishman goes to China, he knows that he is on alien territory. The obvious part being that the people speak a different language and he is unlikely to understand a single word.

But unfortunately for cultures like UK and US, when people come and interact with Indians, this is not so. With largely decent English-speaking skills, it is sometimes difficult to accept the fact that this is a different culture we are speaking of.

In his book, “Speaking of India” Craig Storti says

“When all is said and done, an Indian who eats lunch at Pizza Hut every day is not an American; he’s an Indian with a taste for pizza.”

Speaking of language, one of the related quotes ascribed to George Bernard Shaw is

‘Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language’. 

Cookies over Biscuits

It’s the similar language that trips up a lot of people while trying to settle in a new country.

One of the best pieces written on this is by none other than the prolific Shashi Tharoor in one of his articles “Cookies over biscuits” (link below) for The Week.

In that he states, and I quote:

A British linguist once told a New York audience that whereas a double negative could make a positive, there was no language in the world in which a double positive made a negative. A heckler put paid to his thesis in forthright American: “Yeah, right.”

Yeah, right, indeed. With the universality of English largely a result of US global dominance, it’s time for other English speakers to accept the American usage is winning worldwide. Even Indians are saying “elevator” and “apartment” rather than “lift” and “flat”. “Cookies” are supplanting “biscuits”.

For those struggling with cross culture understanding, language can be a bridge or a barrier. What is it for you? And how would you want to tackle it?

Of course, you can always drop me a mail on vaishakhi@abacusyellow.com and we can talk. In a language we both can understand of course.

Craig Storti

Cookies over biscuits