Being Bi-cultural (part 4) Communication

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Don’t beat around the bush. Just tell me!

Generally speaking, U.S. culture values clarity and honesty in communication. We value details. Facts. We are pretty good in analyzing information. In our communication we are direct, explicit and to the point, literal, and informal. We do not use a whole lot non-verbal communication. We are practical, logical and have a precise agenda. We rely on the message or content itself, communicated verbally.

Communication in Mexico is different. It is more implicit, less obvious, more indirect. Language is more flexible, figurative and at times cyclical.  Mexicans use a lot of non-verbal clues, both facial and in the form of gestures. They are less concerned about details and time, and more artistic in their delivery. Mexicans rely much more on context. For them to spell everything out clearly would be, well, insulting.

Remember, they are people-oriented. They don’t want to insult you. They want to please you. They won’t intentionally put you in a difficult situation. So they might not tell you the whole story. They will refer to a past incident and expect you to understand how that impacts the present. With a glance, or a wink, or an inflection they will be telling you things. You need to stop being a dumb gringo and figure it out. (This takes decades to learn, by the way.)

Consider this quote: It is…characteristic of Mexicans (and other Hispanics) to speak in circumlocutions, literally zigzagging all over the place rather than getting right to the point in as few words as possible, something that non-Hispanics often find confusing and sometimes irritating. The North American custom of speaking directly and succinctly, laying everything on the line and expecting a similar response, is therefore alien to Mexicans and can be equally upsetting to them. There’s a Word for It in Mexico, by Boye de Mente p. 43

Very true!

social ills

Abstract painting by José Luis Arizmendi, Mayra’s brother.

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