Foreign to Familiar
Relationship vs. Task Orientation
Communication must create a “feel-good” atmosphere, a friendly environment
Though the individuals may be otherwise, the society is feeling oriented
Efficiency and time do not take a priority over the person
It is inappropriate to “talk business” upon first arrival
Communication must provide accurate information
Though individuals may be otherwise, the society is logic oriented
Efficiency and time are high priorities, and taking them seriously is a statement of respect for the other person
Direct vs. Indirect Communication
It’s all about being friendly
Every question must be phrased in such a way as to not offend by its directness
Avoid yes or no questions
Avoid embarrassing people
Short, direct questions show respect for the person’s time, as well as professionalism
There are few hidden meanings
You can say what you think “nicely” and it will most likely not be taken personally
Individualism vs. Group Orientation
I belong, therefore I am.
My identity is tied to the group (church, family, city, political tribe)
The group protects and provides for me
I do not expect to have to stand alone
My behavior reflects on the whole group
Team members expect direction from the leader (or boss, pastor, teacher)
I am a self-sustaining person, with my own identity
Every individual should have an opinion and can speak for him or herself
Taking initiative is very much expected
One must know how to make one’s own decisions.
My behavior reflects on me, not on the group
Inclusion vs. Privacy
Group and family oriented (it is rare to go places alone)
Individuals know they are automatically included in conversation, meals, and other activities of the group (family, church, etc.)
Possessions are to be used freely by ALL: food, tools, cars, clothes…There is a saying in Nicaragua: “Things do not belong to their owner, they belong to the person that needs them the most.”
It is not desirable to be left to oneself
It is rude to hold a private conversation or make plans that exclude others present
People enjoy having time and space to themselves
People are expected to ask permission to borrow something or to interrupt a conversation
Each person is considered to be a steward of his or her things and has the responsibility to maintain them
In a community setting, it might be common to label one’s food or tools to set them apart
It is acceptable to hold private plans and conversations and not be inclusive
Concepts of Hospitality
Hospitality is spontaneous, often without an advance invitation
It is the context for relationship
It takes place in the home
The host (now matter how poor) takes care of the needs of the guest. The guest pays for nothing.
A gift is usually expected
Food and or drink are involved
Travelers are taken in
Hospitality is taken seriously and is planned for in advance
It is usually not spontaneous
Guests are usually expected to pay for their restaurant bills, transportation, etc
It is a special, not every day occasion, taking the FULL attention of the host
High Context vs. Low Context
Nicaraguans: Everything matters.
Who you are related to matters.
How you know matters.
It is better to OVERDRESS than to underdress.
****Because everything matters, so does how you dress. Even in poor areas, the people dress their very best when going to church or out in public. For Americans, wearing sensible shoes, khaki shorts, and a nice t-shirt seems adequate. That can be an insult in Nicaragua as it is a matter of dress that says, “I don’t respect you or your protocol, and I express how casually I take it by not bothering to dress appropriately.”
Watch to see how others respond in a situation and apply appropriate behavior
Remember to honor the people you are dealing with; too casual is insulting
Greetings are VERY important…greet each person as you enter a room
Americans: Nothing matters, anything goes- within reason.
Who you are matters more than who you know
Dress and atmosphere is casual
Lack of protocol does not mean rejecting, nor is it dishonoring
Rules are for your own house and each family is free to make their own “code of conduct” for their children
Dress and manners and very casual and there is flexibility to express individuality and taste preferences
Different Concepts of Time and Planning
Are not oriented towards the clock
Are event oriented: church is over when it’s over
Are spontaneous and flexible in their approach to life
Respond to what life brings as it occurs in real-life time
Consider that saving time is not as important as experiencing the moment
Have informal visiting as part of the event
Are time oriented
Are structured in their approach to life
Enjoy using time efficiently
Try to plan their day
Expecting the event (dinner, the arrival of the guest, a meeting) to begin at the time announced. Visiting or informally chatting happens before or after the event.
******Final words: Go about your day listening and observing. Don’t pass judgment until you have discovered the reason for someone’s “strange habits.” Ask questions. For example, Nicaraguans tend to be more delicate with their clothing, trying hard to keep clean and keep their children from getting dirty. This may seem fastidious and impossible in the climate but when you realize that clothes are expensive here and almost all clothes are washed by hand, naturally, the Nicaraguans take much better care to keep them from being stained. Assume the highest about Nicaraguans. Assume they know what they are doing and their behavior is founded in experience and their belief systems. The important thing to ask is “What are my own cultural habits? And are they suitable for Nicaragua?” We are all a bit ethnocentric (including the Nicaraguans!), thinking our way is a bit superior to someone else’s. If we can get beyond that, we’ll find we can begin to learn, respect, and enjoy the differences. Soon, what seems foreign will become familiar.
All from the book: “Foreign to Familiar” by Sarah Laner