We need to be able to interact effectively
with people from other cultures.
These exercises are designed to improve
inter-cultural communication skills.
Generalisations and stereotypes
Stereotypes are dangerous!
 We tend to use the norms of our own culture
as standards when we judge the behaviour of
people from other cultures.
 We need to try to understand the world from
other cultural perspectives.
 We are often not even aware of the cultural
assumptions that we make.
English Culture
 An Individualist culture
 The need for personal space/privacy
 Independence/self reliance
 High achievement/career
 Take credit and responsibilty for what
we have achieved
English Culture
 Reluctance to accept compliments
 Reluctance to answer personal questions
 A clear and firm distinction between your private and
your public life
 Westerners tend to speak directly-plainly and openlyWe ‘get to the point’
 Tolerant of behaviour that does not conform to cultural
norms-accept a wide range of views and values
 Family relationships-care of elderly/independence of
the young.
Chinese Culture
 A Collectivist culture-view themselves as members of a groupfamily/work unit/-consider the needs of the group to be more
important than the needs of the individual
 Obligation to help others in their group
 Generosity
 The host culture
 Modesty
 Tend to communicate in a way that is more indirect and subtle
 High degree of conformity is expected-a clear consensus as to
what is/is not acceptable behaviour. Pressure to conform
 Self respect, dignity and ‘face’ are perhaps more important in
Chinese culture.
Understanding other cultures
Intercultural communication
 Rule 1: Be careful, and don't jump to conclusions
too quickly.
 Rule 2: Try to see things from the foreigner's
 Is it possible that this foreigner means something
different? If so, what could it be?
 Rule 3: Always keep trying to learn more and
understand better.
1.Why didn’t she want my help?
2.The shopper
3.Reading Alone
4.Not Eating
5..The taxi
6.Getting to Know You
7.The Gift
8.Out of the Nest
10.The Compliment
11.Who should pay for the meal?
12.The Banquets
13.The Kiss
14.The English Teacher
16.The Interview
The Encounters-short stories
Critical incident exercises start with a
presentation of a short story describing a
problematic encounter between two
different cultures-an encounter in which there
is some kind of misunderstanding.
There are different possible explanations
for what may have gone wrong.
A broad range of possibilities are considered
when considering the behaviour of people from
other cultures.
There is no ‘right ‘explanation of the
 Encounters builds students awareness of
how they go about interpreting the
behaviour of foreigners.
 They encourage the habit of pausing to
consider alternative possible
explanations of puzzling or problematic
behaviour on the part of foreigners,
rather than jumping to often ethnocentric
and wrong conclusions.
Why didn’t she want my help?
This summer at your school there is a short term English
Training Course being offered by several western Teachers
and you have been assigned as one of the assistants for
the programme. The western teachers have not been in
China before, and don’t speak Chinese, so your duty is to
help them with daily life issues and to generally serve as a
host while they are in China. It is also your duty to make
sure that they remain safe while they are in China. During
a break between classes, you overhear Jane, one of the
older western teachers, say that she needs to buy some Tshirts. You offer to go out shopping with her this
afternoon, but Jane says, ”No thank you” and then rushes
off to class. The next day you overhear the students
talking about how Jane got lost yesterday when she went
off alone to a market on the other side of the city to shop
for the T-shirts.
Why didn’t she want my help?
 1. First, decide how you would feel when
you heard the students talking about Jane.
 2. Think of several possible explanations for
why Jane turned down your offer of help to
take her shopping. (There is no single right
answer but there are a number of likely
 3. Talk with your teacher about this
situation and see what she thinks of the
explanations you suggest.
Why didn’t she want my help?
 Discussion questions
 Why do you think westerners think it is
impolite to ask how much money someone
makes or how much they spend on an item?
 Why do you think westerners feel privacy is
so important?
 Why do you think westerners place so much
importance on independence?
Group analysis/discussion of one of
the Encounters
Working together-one person
writes-but all share ideas
The Shopper
The shopper
Xiao Wang is out shopping and in a store he sees a middle
aged western woman who is trying to ask the storekeeper
how much an item costs. The woman looks frustrated and
is using lots of sign language but the storekeeper still
does not understand what she wants.
Xiao Wang decides that this would be a good chance to
practice his English, so he goes over, explains to the clerk
what the tourist wants and then tells the tourist how
much the item costs. The tourist says thank you, and
then begins looking at other items in the store.
Encouraged by his success, Xiao Wang asks the tourist if
she would like him to acts as interpreter as she shops.
The tourist however says “no, thank you” and then walks
off to another part of the store.
The Shopper
 How do you think Xiao Wang might have
felt when the shopper refused his offer of
 What do you think Xiao Wang expected?
 Why do you think the shopper refused his
offer of help?
 List several possible explanations and then
decide which seems to be the most likely.
Reading Alone
At Xiao Lee’s school there is a western teacher called Mrs.
Coates who Xiao Lee often sees and chats with in the
cafeteria. Several times Mrs. Coates has told Xiao Lee
that she would be welcome to come over and visit her
some time and so one evening, after dinner, Xiao Lee
decides to go to visit her. Xiao Lee arrives at Mrs. Coates
apartment, knocks, and Mrs. Coates opens the door.
When Mrs. Coates sees Xiao Lee she smiles and says, “It
was nice of you to come over, but I just want to spend
an evening by myself reading. Could I ask you to come
back at another time?”
 Why do you think that Mrs. Coates says she wants to
read rather than inviting Xiao Lee in?
 List several possible explanations and then choose those
that seem to be the most likely.
Reading Alone
 Many westerners feel that it is a good thing to
have some ‘personal time’, i.e. to spend some
time alone doing whatever they would like to do.
‘Alone’ does not necessarily mean ‘lonely.’ In
China do people feel that they need ‘personal
time’ or time when they are alone?
 In China, when guests visit, what are your
obligations? Are there occasions when you can
turn them away?
 Among westerners some invitations are ‘polite’
and others are ‘real.’ In China, do you have both
polite invitations and ‘solid invitations?’ If so,
how can you tell the difference between them?
Not Eating
Xiao Wang has invited an American friend named
Nancy home for dinner and Xiao Wang’s family
has prepared a large meal in honour of the guest
with lots of local specialities. However soon after
the meal begins it is obvious that Nancy is not
eating much. Several times Xiao Wang and his
family encourage Nancy to eat more, and each
time she is urged to do so Nancy eats a little bit
more, but still not very much. However, each time
the family urges Nancy to eat more, she
comments on how wonderful the food is.
 Why do you think that Nancy is eating so little?
 List several possible explanations and then
choose those that seem to be the most likely.
The taxi - Xiao Lee
 Scholarship - study in UK
 Arrives by plane at Heathrow
 Waits in the queue - takes a taxi
 Luggage in back
 Shows address to driver
 On arrival - taxi meter reads £32.50
 Driver asks for £50!
 Why?
 In groups discuss and think of as many
possible reasons -good /bad,
The Taxi-Solutions and
 What
 What
 What
 What
could she do?
should she do?
would you do and why?
could be the consequences?
The Taxi
 Is tipping a good custom or a bad
 Are their situations in China where it is
appropriate to tip? If so, how much? How
and when do you present the tip?
 What kinds of extra charges might
surprise a western tourist in China?
Getting to Know You
Xiao Lee has recently arrived in a western country to
study English and moves into a dormitory with western
graduate students. Xiao Lee is the only international
student in her Hall. On the first day there is a party for all
the people in Xiao Lee’s Hall of Residence. First they have
a planning meeting where they all sit in a circle and
introduce themselves, and when Xiao Lee says where she
is from, one of the other women say, “You will have to tell
us all about your country,” and the other people all agree.
Xiao Lee is pleased because she wants to tell them about
China. Later, when the party starts, Xiao Lee waits for
people to come and talk to her about China, but instead
all of the western students talk to each other, and nobody
comes over to talk to Xiao Lee.
Getting to Know You
 How do you think Xiao Lee might have
 What do you think she expected?
 Why do you think that no-one went over
to talk to Xiao Lee about China?
 List several possible explanations and then
choose those that seem to be the most
The Gift
Xiao Wang has been granted a special scholarship
to an American University, and his English Teacher,
Mrs. Coates, wrote a recommendation for him that
was instrumental in his getting the scholarship. Xiao
Wang feels very grateful to Mrs. Coates, and so
decides to buy her an expensive gift, a landscape
painting, as a way of saying thank you to her. One
day after his class has ended and the other
students have left, Xiao Wang presents the gift to
Mrs. Coates. Looking surprised, Mrs. Coates says
thank you, but says that she can’t accept it. Xiao
Wang offers the gift several more times but Mrs.
Coates insists on refusing it.
The Gift
 Why do you think that Mrs. Coates will not
accept the gift?
 List several possible reasons and then decide
which seems to be the most likely.
 What are the customs for gift giving and
receiving in China?
 In China, what are some appropriate ways to
express thanks to someone who has helped
 Is there a clear difference between a gift and a
Out of the Nest
When Xiao Lee is getting on the bus, she drops one of
her packages. A young man picks it up for her, and as
the bus starts Xiao Lee begins to chat with him. He says
that he is 18 years old and has always lived in this town.
Although his family laso live in the same town, he lives
alone in a small apartment. He has just graduated from
High School this year and is now a student at the local
university. Xiao Lee asks him where he is going and he
says that he is going to work-he has an evening job at a
restaurant to make money to pay for university. He says
that although his family is not poor, he doesn’t want to
live with them or ask them for money.
 Why do you think that this young man does not live with
his family or get any money from them?
 List several possible explanations and then choose those
that seem to be the most likely.
Out of the Nest
 Most western cultures place great stress
on self-reliance and independence, and
young people normally leave home at
around 18 years of age.
 In China, do students take part-time jobs?
Xiao Wang is visiting a western teacher he knows
and looking at pictures of her family. He sees a
picture of her grandmother and asks the teacher
about her. The teacher says that her
grandmother is 83 years old and lives in a small
town. Xiao Lee asks if the grandmother lives with
any of the other family members, but the
teacher says that she lives alone-all the other
family members have moved away.
 Why do you think that the grandmother lives
alone, instead of with the other family members?
 List several possible explanations and then
choose those that seem to be the most likely.
The Compliment
Xiao Wang is visiting a local museum, and there he meets an
older western man. Unfortunately the explanations of the
exhibits are not translated into English and the man can’t
read them, so Xiao Wang offers to explain all the exhibits to
However, as he begins he soon finds that it is very difficult
to explain about all the ancient artefacts in English because
there are many words that it is very difficult to explain in
English. He makes a lot of mistakes, and often has to admit
that he doesn’t know how to say what he wants to say in
By the time they reach the end of the museum, Xiao Wang
feels very tired and discouraged because there are so many
things that he can’t say in English.
However, the man smiles and thanks Xiao Wang for his help,
and then says “Your English is very good.” Xiao Wang says,
“I’m sorry. My English is very poor.”
The Compliment
 What do you think the American really thought about Xiao
Wang’s English, and why did he compliment him?
 List several possible reasons and then decide which
seems to be the most likely.
 When and how are compliments usually given in China,
and how does one respond?
 In some western countries there is a saying “If you don’t
have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In
China, is it better to say nice things, even if they aren’t
true, or to always be honest?
The compliment
Culture note:
 Chinese people sometimes respond to compliments by directly
rejecting them (“My English is really poor”) Westerners more often
respond to compliments with the following strategies:
 Accept it-Thank you and then to return the compliment.
 Deflect it-Often Westerners will accept the compliment by saying
thank you, but then quickly pass the credit on to someone else.
 Thank, but decline- they may feel that the compliment is unjustified
or cannot be accepted and so they will thank the person for the
compliment but without accepting it-“It’s nice of you to say so.”
“That’s very kind of you.”
Who should pay for the meal?
Who pays?
Marie is an American exchange student who has recently come to
China to study. A Chinese friend met her in town and after a while
invited her to go for dinner.
They went to a small restaurant nearby and they each had a meal of
noodles. The Chinese friend felt that as she was new to the town
that she should pay for the meal and that she should treat her to the
meal. The Chinese girl paid for the meal.
However Marie, the American student was not happy and wanted to
pay for her own meal. The Chinese student kept refusing to take her
money and finally Marie agreed but she still did not seem to be very
happy about the arrangement.
The Chinese friend found the experience a little awkward and
unpleasant. She did not have that good feeling that she usually had
when she treated her Chinese friends to a meal.
 Why did the American student feel so strongly that she should pay
for her own meal?
The Banquets
Xiao Wang works for a Chinese Company and has been given the
responsibility of making arrangements for Mr. Smith, a westerner who
will visit the company for a week. Xiao Wang arranges all the meals for
Mr. Smith and makes sure that there is always plenty of food at each
of the meals.
Mr. Smith says that he enjoys the meals, but after three days of these
banquets he starts to get annoyed with Xiao Wang for some reason.
He says that he likes to make his own decisions about what to eat, at
least some of the time and that he doesn’t like being served more food
than he can eat at each meal.
He becomes more unhappy and annoyed and Xiao Wang cannot
understand this and begins to feel that he should be more appreciative
of all the efforts that he has made for him. He thinks that Mr. Smith is
being ungrateful.
 Why are there these problems between Mr. Smith and Xiao Wang?
 How could this misunderstanding have been avoided?
The Kiss
May is a Graduate student in China and over the past few weeks has
become friends with Earl, a western student studying Chinese at the
same university. They often see each other at social gatherings and
they have got to know each other very well.
One weekend, Earl asked May to go to the cinema with him. They
went for a meal and then to the movie and afterwards they talked
for a long time and then Earl walked May home. When it was time to
say goodnight, Earl took May’s hand and then kissed her. She was a
little surprised, but was not unhappy because May liked him a great
May then started to tell her friends that Earl was her boyfriend.
However, one of May’s Chinese girlfriends advised her that
westerners were very casual about relationships between men and
women. She said that May should be careful about letting him kiss
her because he probably wasn’t very serious about his interest in
What do you think? What did Earl’s good night kiss mean?
 What do you think Earl’s intentions are towards May?
The English Teacher
 Situation:
Xiao Wang is taking an English class which is taught by a
Western teacher. Xiao Wang's teacher never lectures on
grammar; instead the class usually consists of conversations
in pairs or large group discussions of cultural issues.
Today, Xiao Wang was confused about how to use "the" and
"a" in English, so in class she asked the teacher to explain.
However, instead of explaining, she said: "I generally prefer
not to explain grammar rules. Tell me what you want to say
and I will tell you how to say it correctly."
Why do you think the teacher refused to explain?
 List several possible explanations and then choose several
which seem most likely.
The English Teacher
 Some possible interpretations:
 The teacher avoids explaining grammar
because she doesn't know how to explain
grammar very well (and doesn't like it very
 The teacher doesn't think grammar is
important. The teacher's main goal is to build
students' communication skills, so she
focuses more on communication and fluency
than on grammar.
The English Teacher
 The teacher refuses to give long
explanations because she thinks they will
slow down the lesson.
 She feels her method is more efficient.
 The teacher thinks the students rely too
much on memorizing grammar rules, so
tries to encourage them to figure out rules
for themselves.
 Xiao Lee's first semester at a university abroad is
coming to a close, and next week she needs to turn
in her final paper for an economics course. Today in
class the professor of the course says that next
week when everyone turns in their papers he also
wants everyone to give him a note saying what
grade they think they deserve for this course.
 Why do you think the professor asked students to
give themselves a grade?
 List several possible explanations and then choose
several which seem most likely.
 Some possible interpretations:
 The professor feels that he is being fair or
democratic; he feels that students have a
right to have their opinion considered in the
grading process. (He may not give students
exactly the grade they think they deserve.)
 The professor wants to know students'
opinion of their own work because it will be
helpful information as he decides their
grades. (He may not agree with their
 The professor asks students to give themselves
grades because he wants them to reflect on their
own performance. He feels students will learn
better if they evaluate themselves.
 The professor doesn't feel grades are very
important, and he wants to minimize the pressure
of grades. (He will give students more or less what
they ask for.)
 The professor doesn't feel grading is right, but has
to give some kind of grade. Having students decide
their grades cuts down on the professor's work.
The Interview
 Xiao Wang is being interviewed for a job with an
American company. The interviewer, a middle-aged
American woman, first asks several questions about
his educational background, work experience, and
why he wants this job. Then she asks Xiao Wang
what salary he would expect.
 Why do you think the interviewer asked Xiao Wang
what salary he expected?
 List several possible expectations and then choose
several which seem most likely.
The Interview
 Some possible interpretations:
 The interviewer is testing Xiao Wang to see
how he deals with an awkward question.
 The interviewer wants to see if Xiao Wang
knows the profession and normal pay scales
in it.
 The interviewer wants to see how confident
Xiao Wang is of his worth.
The Interview
 Follow-up discussion questions:
 For Westerners, one part of the purpose of a job interview is
to get a sense of what candidates are like and how they
handle themselves. It is therefore not uncommon for
interviewers to ask at least one or two questions that are
awkward or difficult to handle, in order to see how
candidates perform under pressure.
 The question about salary in the situation above is one
example. Another might be: Why do you think you are
qualified for this job? (Issue of balancing modesty with
 In China, do interviewers ever intentionally ask difficult
The Interview
 British and American folk tend to avoid asking or talking
about what their salary is, possibly because it is such a
potent marker of status and because we try to be relatively
 How do Chinese people feel about this topic?
 In China, when is it acceptable to ask about someone else's
salary, and in what situations? Is it ever rude?
The Interview
 Describe a strategy for coping with job
interviews in China (how to prepare, dress,
 How much are interviews used in China as a
means of recruiting? If interviews aren't
used for selecting candidates for jobs, how
is it done?
Encounters with Westerners
 Encounters with Westerners: Improving Skills in English
and Intercultural Communication
 Don Snow
 ISBN 978-7-81095-158-6
 Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press

Cross-cultural Encounter