A story about cultural misunderstandings and how to become more culturally aware.

English Level: B1 🇨🇦

Full Transcript

The first time I visited Germany was in 2012. I had spent 3 years in Costa Rica and decided to do a Euro trip before returning to Canada.

Costa Rican and German culture could not be further apart. I quickly figured this out when I visited a friend in Hessen. I entered his home, walked up to his mother and kissed her on the cheek. The lady was stiff and I could tell something was wrong, but nobody said anything. From what I had learned in Costa Rica, this is a sign of respect for your elders.

A few days later I visited another friend and when I kissed his mother, I got the same reaction. That’s when I learned that kissing strangers is not common in Germany.

I used to get frustrated and ask my German wife, “why do you guys do this or that?” But in the end, it’s simply how it is. When I accepted that, it became easier to adapt to life in Germany.

In a globalized society, those who can better connect with different types of people are more likely to get opportunities. You can improve your cultural awareness by being open-minded when you meet new people. Instead of asking ‘why do you do it this way?’ ask, ‘how does it work?’

“Ok, so in general I shouldn’t kiss strangers. Is that right? Good to know.” I learned that lesson the hard way, now if only I had clear instructions on when to use “Sie” or “du”.

Vocabulary Words

  1. stiff (adj.): not easily bent or changed in shape; rigid.
  2. stranger (noun): a person whom one does not know or with whom one is not familiar.
  3. open-minded (adj.): willing to consider new ideas; unprejudiced.

Phrases to Remember

  1. figure out: reach an understanding of a person’s actions, motives, or personality.

Question to consider

Have you ever had a cultural misunderstanding with someone from another country? What happened?

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Baking cookies with Germans on my first trip to Germany. Dec. 2012

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