Sunday, April 16, 2006

I'm talking as slowly as I can

White legged Touristicus americanus

Britain's Sunday Telegraph reports that the U.S. State Department and "several leading U.S. companies" are publishing a guide for Americans overseas, to give us Yanks pointers on how not to come on like the loudmouthed, bragging, pushy oafs that the rest of the world knows us to be.

Among the "simple suggestions" for how you can "help your country while traveling for your company" are:

Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller. (In many countries, any form of boasting is considered very rude. Talking about wealth, power or status - corporate or personal - can create resentment.)

Listen at least as much as you talk. (By all means, talk about America and your life in our country. But also ask people you're visiting about themselves and their way of life.)

Save the lectures for your kids. (Whatever your subject of discussion, let it be a discussion not a lecture. Justified or not, the US is seen as imposing its will on the world.)

Think a little locally. (Try to find a few topics that are important in the local popular culture. Remember, most people in the world have little or no interest in the World Series or the Super Bowl. What we call "soccer" is football everywhere else. And it's the most popular sport on the planet.)

Slow down. (We talk fast, eat fast, move fast, live fast. Many cultures do not.)

Speak lower and slower. (A loud voice is often perceived as bragging. A fast talker can be seen as aggressive and threatening.)

Your religion is your religion and not necessarily theirs. (Religion is usually considered deeply personal, not a subject for public discussions.)

If you talk politics, talk - don't argue. (Steer clear of arguments about American politics, even if someone is attacking US politicians or policies. Agree to disagree.)

This is an excellent idea. Who wants to be the Ugly American? Perhaps I can add my own two dinars worth (notice I didn't say two cents -- thinking locally!) with a sample of correct conversational style.

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Al-Zarqawi, and your friends here (afraid I didn't catch their names). Well, Mr. Al-Zarqawi, I suppose this has something to do with ransom, you hear a lot of talk around town -- yes, I pride myself on being a good listener, not much gets by me! I mean, I'm not bragging or anything; actually, things do get by me sometimes. Well, often, really.

"Anyway, I don't see a problem. I'm not really an important person, you know. That CEO title, it's just kind of a courtesy, gives me something to talk about on the golf course -- that is, the hawking sports club. If you'll just phone my company's CFO, I'm sure we can sort this out in no time -- uh, I'm not going too fast for you, am I? I'm a man of the world, I know not everybody likes to get right down to business like we Americans!

"So, I take it I can look forward to a few days of your hospitality? No problem. These quarters look perfectly fine. I like this minimalist, bare-walls look you've done the place in, just a Persian, sorry, Iraqi carpet and those ammunition chests converted into tables, hey, my interior decorator on Park Avenue hasn't got anything on you boys!

[Dead silence.]

"Okay, well as I said, I'm an excellent listener, just thought you might want to ... so what's for dinner? Do I dare hope for sheep's eyeballs? That's a delicacy that's tough to find back home, yes, even in New York. Are you a soccer fan, Mr. Al-Zarqawi? How about those Baghdad Camels, eh? What do you figure for their chances of making it to the playoffs?

"Let's see, what else ... would you like to look at some photos I keep in my wallet of my kids? Do you have any of your own, Mr. Al-Zarqawi? Sure is tough to raise them these days, they have so many temptations we didn't when we were growing up, don't you think? You'll notice I haven't said a word about my politics or asked about yours. We can agree to disagree, don't you agree? I'm sure you and your friends here just want to get ahead -- say, am I talking too fast? Just a habit, I know not everybody talks like Marty Scorsese on speed the way we New Yorkers do. I'm ... sure ... you ... and ... your ... friends ... here ... just ... want ... to ... get ... a ... head ... "

"Goodness, that's quite a sword you've got there. I'll bet that'd fetch a pretty penny in the antiques trade, I know a man on Third Avenue, if you're ever interested ... you don't find authentic native craftsmanship like that very often these days. What? Allahu Akbar? Well, Mr. Al-Zarqawi, your religion is yours, it's not a subject I ordinarily get into. My mother always used to say there are two things you shouldn't bring up at the -- "

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