Tag: i18n

On globalizing your contact information but still managing to confuse somebody

by on Dec.10, 2011 , under facilitative leadership, localization, random

My friend Ruth M Sylte has been doing a great series on how to inter­na­tion­al­ize your email sig­na­ture and other con­tact infor­ma­tion basics, and it reminded me of a funny com­mu­ni­ca­tion break­down that I once caused.

First, go check out Ruth’s series: Man­i­tou Heights Global Tune-up Series

Then come back here for an East-meets-West-better tip and story time:

A tip for those with Asian audiences

Asian fam­ily names come first and given names fol­low. How­ever, many Asians adapt their names for a West­ern audi­ence, and West­ern read­ers who don’t rec­og­nize any of the pieces (e.g. don’t know that Park is a com­mon fam­ily name) can’t be sure whether the name they’re see­ing is in tra­di­tional order or has been adapted. And West­ern­ers can con­fuse their Asian col­leagues when they attempt to be help­ful by putting their fam­ily name first.

Here’s the solu­tion many global-savvy Asians and their obser­vant West­ern col­leagues have adopted: put the fam­ily name in upper-case, e.g.

  • PARK Won­Jin
  • Erin VANG
  • UCHIDA Noriko
  • Ruth Marie SYLTE

A com­ment about (Mr), (Ms), etc.

Ruth advises includ­ing a title in front of your name, mod­estly enclosed in paren­the­ses, e.g. “(Ms) Ruth M Sylte.” This a com­mon tac­tic for dis­am­biguat­ing gender.

For years I included (Ms) before my name for exactly the rea­sons Ruth antic­i­pates: because I was tired of get­ting email to “Mr Erin” and “Mr Vang” from peo­ple who really had no way to know better.

How­ever, this led to some amus­ing con­ver­sa­tions with Amer­i­cans who had known me so long that it didn’t occur to them that my given name “Erin” is not par­tic­u­larly com­mon and is some­times mis­taken as a male name (and who also didn’t per­haps real­ize that women in high tech man­age­ment posi­tions are still enough of a minor­ity to pro­mote doubt among those who do know the name).

For exam­ple, this one:

Story time

Grant (gen­tle­man who had been work­ing with me for years, near the end of a meet­ing in my office): I noticed you put “Ms” in your email signature.

me: Yes.

Grant: What does that mean?

me: You know–Ms as opposed to Mr.

Grant: Oh. (Uncom­fort­ably long pause.) You’re not say­ing Ms as opposed to Miss or Mrs.?

me: No, I’m just clar­i­fy­ing gen­der because I’m tired of being addressed as “Mr” by peo­ple who haven’t met me. (And peo­ple stand­ing right in front of me, for that matter–yes, a woman can have short hair and be taller than you–but I didn’t bring that up.)

Grant: So you’re not clar­i­fy­ing mar­i­tal status.

me: No.

Grant: Oh. (uncom­fort­able chuckle)

Grant says a few pleas­antries and exits the office. My office-mate watches him leave, waits a safe moment, and then bursts into gales of laughter.

I raise an eye­brow, and John explains. He has real­ized what I have not: that while I thought I was explain­ing that my name is gender-ambiguous to col­leagues around the world, Grant was try­ing to deter­mine whether he could ask me out.

As it hap­pens, I was sin­gle at the time as well as female. But there was another ques­tion that this per­fectly lovely gen­tle­men neglected to con­sider, that it never occurred to me he might have even­won­dered about, and right there, we did it. Two Amer­i­can native speak­ers of Eng­lish sit­ting a few feet away from each other in Chicago, Illi­nois, USA and observ­ing each other’s body lan­guage and every­thing, still man­aged to have a total com­mu­ni­ca­tion breakdown.

I don’t think there’s an email sig­na­ture solu­tion to that prob­lem, though.

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Erin Vang facilitates again—Localization World, Santa Clara pre-conference session

by on Sep.20, 2011 , under facilitative leadership, localization, program management

Erin Vang will mod­er­ate a panel dis­cus­sion on “Lead­ing Glob­al­ized Soft­ware Devel­op­ment in Your Com­pany” pre­sented on Mon­day, Octo­ber 10, 2011, 2:30-5pm at the Net­work Meet­ing Cen­ter at Techmart.

Devel­op­ing Soft­ware for the World – Inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion, Local­iza­tion and Beyond

This event is by invi­ta­tion only and lim­ited to 50 par­tic­i­pants. Reg­is­ter online and join us on Mon­day, Octo­ber 10th at 2:30pm in Santa Clara, CA for an expert pre­sen­ta­tion and panel dis­cuss on lead­ing glob­al­ized soft­ware development.

What: Lead­ing Glob­al­ized Soft­ware Devel­op­ment Pre­sen­ta­tion and Expert Panel Discussion

When: Mon­day, Octo­ber 10, 2011; 2:30-5pm

Where: Net­work Meet­ing Cen­ter at Techmart

5201 Great Amer­ica Parkway

Santa Clara, Cal­i­for­nia 95054

Cost: Complimentary

Open to: Lin­go­port cus­tomers and friends (space is lim­ited; approval required)

Reg­is­tra­tion: https://​www1​.gotomeet​ing​.com/​r​e​g​i​s​t​e​r​/​3​0​8​1​4​6​424

Pan­elists: Tex Texin, Chief Glob­al­iza­tion Archi­tect at Rear­den Com­merce, Andrew Bre­denkamp, CEO at Acrolinx, Loic Dufresne de Virel, Local­iza­tion Strate­gist at Intel, Richard Faubert, Man­ager, Soft­ware Devel­op­ment QA at Cisco, and Adam Asnes, Founder & CEO of Lingoport.

Panel Facil­i­ta­tor: Erin Vang, Global Prag­mat­ica LLC®

This event is by invi­ta­tion only and lim­ited to 50 par­tic­i­pants. Reg­is­ter online and join us on Mon­day, Octo­ber 10th at 2:30pm in Santa Clara, CA for an expert pre­sen­ta­tion and panel dis­cuss on lead­ing glob­al­ized soft­ware development.

Cus­tomers & friends of Lin­go­port and Acrolinx are cor­dially invited to join us for a spe­cial event on the eve of Local­iza­tion World in Santa Clara on Mon­day, Octo­ber 10th at 2:30pm. Join us at Tech­Mart for an inter­ac­tive pre­sen­ta­tion and expert panel dis­cuss on how to lead glob­al­ized soft­ware devel­op­ment at your company.

Together, indus­try experts from Rear­den Com­merce, Acrolinx, Intel, Cisco and Lin­go­port will present and discuss:

  • Devel­op­ing soft­ware for the world
  • Clos­ing the loop between inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion and localization
  • Con­tent author­ing with local­iza­tion in mind
  • Mea­sur­ing soft­ware devel­op­ment for globalization
  • How to jus­tify and gain­ing approval for soft­ware glob­al­iza­tion (i18n and L10n) from management
  • Mea­sur­ing ROI on your glob­al­iza­tion projects
  • Agile soft­ware devel­op­ment best prac­tices, and much more

The event is open to Lin­go­port cus­tomers & friends and reg­is­tra­tion is requested. The event tar­gets customer-side inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion, local­iza­tion, and glob­al­iza­tion man­agers, soft­ware devel­op­ers and engi­neers, con­tent devel­op­ers and tech­ni­cal writer, and any­one inter­ested in under­stand­ing and pro­mot­ing the soft­ware glob­al­iza­tion process and the effects i18n and L10n have on an orga­ni­za­tion as a whole.


2:30–3:00pm: Intro­duc­tions and networking.

Cof­fee and cook­ies will be provided.

3:00–3:50pm: Pre­sen­ta­tion and Case Stud­ies: Lead­ing Glob­al­ized Devel­op­ment in Your Company

Tex Texin, Chief Glob­al­iza­tion Archi­tect at Rear­den Com­merce and Adam Asnes, Founder & CEO of Lin­go­port, will dis­cuss how to lead glob­al­ized devel­op­ment within a com­pany. Tex and Adam will also show­case real-life case stud­ies and many best practices.

3:50–4:10pm: Break

4:10–5:00pm: Expert panel dis­cuss – To Glob­al­ize, or Not. That is the Questions!

We’ll con­tinue the after­noon with an expert panel dis­cus­sion fea­tur­ing some of the most expe­ri­enced indus­try experts from Rear­den Com­merce, Acrolinx, Intel, Lin­go­port and Cisco. Devel­op­ing soft­ware for the world has unique chal­lenges and can add tremen­dous growth and value to a company’s bot­tom line. In today’s fast-paced and eco­nom­i­cally chal­leng­ing busi­ness envi­ron­ment, soft­ware com­pa­nies have very lit­tle room to make costly mis­takes or to miss out on global oppor­tu­ni­ties. The goal of the panel dis­cus­sion is to stim­u­late debate on a vari­ety of soft­ware devel­op­ment, glob­al­iza­tion, inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion and local­iza­tion related issues. Panel mem­bers will dis­cuss real-world best prac­tices and answer and dis­cuss ques­tions from the audience.

5:00–6:00pm: Open Bar – Net­work­ing and Discussion

We’ll con­clude the after­noon with a net­work­ing ses­sion and drinks spon­sored by Acrolinx and Lin­go­port. Many of us will then prob­a­bly head over to the Loc­World open­ing recep­tion dinner.

Round Table Facilitator

Erin Vang

Erin Vang - GlobalPragmaticaErin Vang, PMP, is Prin­ci­pal Prag­ma­tist with Global Prag­mat­ica LLC®, which offers facil­i­ta­tive lead­er­ship for tech­ni­cal audi­ences. She has over twenty years of expe­ri­ence in sta­tis­ti­cal soft­ware doc­u­men­ta­tion, qual­ity assur­ance, project man­age­ment, and local­iza­tion, most recently as Inter­na­tional Pro­gram Man­ager for the JMP Research and Devel­op­ment at SAS, and pre­vi­ously with Aba­cus Con­cepts and SYSTAT. Vang holds degrees in music per­for­mance and math, is a PMI-certified Project Man­age­ment Pro­fes­sional, and has exten­sive train­ing in facil­i­ta­tive lead­er­ship and con­flict res­o­lu­tion. She writes a reg­u­lar col­umn for Mul­ti­lin­gual mag­a­zine and is in much demand as a speaker, event mod­er­a­tor, and facilitator.


Tex Texin

Chief Glob­al­iza­tion Archi­tect at Rear­den Commerce

Tex Texin, chief glob­al­iza­tion archi­tect at Rear­den Com­merce, has been pro­vid­ing glob­al­iza­tion ser­vices includ­ing archi­tec­ture, strat­egy, train­ing and imple­men­ta­tion to the Tex Textin - internationalization expertsoft­ware indus­try for many years. Tex has cre­ated numer­ous glob­al­ize prod­ucts, man­aged inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion devel­op­ment teams, devel­oped inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion and local­iza­tion tools, and guided com­pa­nies in tak­ing busi­ness to new regional mar­kets. Tex is also an advo­cate for inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion stan­dards in soft­ware and on the web. He is a rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the Uni­code Con­sor­tium and the World Wide Web Consortium.

Andrew Bre­denkamp

CEO at Acrolinx

Andrew Bre­denkamp is cofounder and CEO of Acrolinx. Andrew has over 20 years’ expe­ri­ence in mul­ti­lin­gual infor­ma­tion devel­op­ment. Before start­ing Acrolinx, Andrew was head Andrew Bredenkamp, CEO at Acrolinxof the Tech­nol­ogy Trans­fer Cen­tre at the Ger­man Research Cen­tre for Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence lan­guage tech­nol­ogy lab. Andrew holds degrees in tech­ni­cal trans­la­tion and lin­guis­tics and a Ph.D. in com­pu­ta­tional lin­guis­tics. He is on the advi­sory board of a num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing Trans­la­tors with­out Bor­ders and The Cen­tre for Next Gen­er­a­tion Localisation.

Loïc Dufresne de Virel

Local­iza­tion Strate­gist at Intel Corporation

Loïc Dufresne de Virel is cur­rently a local­iza­tion strate­gist within Intel’s in-house local­iza­tion team. In this role, his main activ­i­ties include over­see­ing the use of Intel’s trans­la­tion Loic Dufresne de Virelman­age­ment sys­tem and deploy­ment of other local­iza­tion tools, con­stantly advo­cat­ing for proper and improved inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion and local­iza­tion prac­tices and processes for web, soft­ware and “print” col­lat­eral, as well as defin­ing the train­ing roadmap for local­iza­tion and inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion. Prior to mov­ing to Ore­gon and join­ing Intel, where he has been involved in local­iza­tion for the past 12 years, Loïc spent a few years in Costa Rica, work­ing as a regional tech­ni­cal adviser for the United Nations Con­fer­ence on Trade and Development.

Richard Faubert

Man­ager, Soft­ware Devel­op­ment QA at Cisco

Richard Faubert - CiscoRichard Faubert has over 20 years of expe­ri­ence in telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­ni­cal sup­port for ROLM/IBM/Siemens. Richard joined Cisco Sys­tems in 2000 and has worked in a num­ber of capac­i­ties, includ­ing Soft­ware Devel­op­ment Man­ager and Pro­gram Man­ager. He is cur­rently the QA Man­ager of Cisco’s TeleP­res­ence. Richard is an alumni of Wash­ing­ton State University.

Adam Asnes

Pres­i­dent & CEO of Lingoport

Adam Asnes founded Lin­go­port in 2001 after see­ing first­hand that the niche for soft­ware glob­al­iza­tion engi­neer­ing prod­ucts and ser­vices was under­served in the local­iza­tion indus­try. Adam AsnesLin­go­port helps glob­ally focused tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies adapt their soft­ware for world­wide mar­kets with expert inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion and local­iza­tion con­sult­ing and Glob­a­lyzer soft­ware. Glob­a­lyzer, a mar­ket lead­ing soft­ware inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion tool, helps entire enter­prises and devel­op­ment teams to effec­tively inter­na­tion­al­ize exist­ing and newly devel­oped source code and to pre­pare their appli­ca­tions for localization.

This event is by invi­ta­tion only and lim­ited to 50 par­tic­i­pants. Reg­is­ter online and join us on Mon­day, Octo­ber 10th at 2:30pm in Santa Clara, CA for an expert pre­sen­ta­tion and panel dis­cuss on lead­ing glob­al­ized soft­ware development.

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Free sample of Erin Vang’s facilitation

by on Aug.04, 2011 , under facilitative leadership, localization, program management

A record­ing of the webi­nar panel dis­cus­sion I mod­er­ated yes­ter­day is now avail­able here.

Bridg­ing the gap between soft­ware devel­op­ment and localization

If you’re involved in soft­ware devel­op­ment, local­iza­tion, inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion, or glob­al­iza­tion, you should watch this for a great intro­duc­tion to the issues par­tic­u­larly with regard to stake­holder aware­ness, edu­ca­tion, com­mit­ment, and communication—it was a lively panel with more than a few “hot but­ton” top­ics get­ting lively debate, fea­tur­ing a num­ber of indus­try experts:

  • Val Swisher, Founder & CEO of Con­tent Rules
  • Dan­ica Brin­ton, Senior Direc­tor of Inter­na­tional at Zynga
  • Dale Schultz, Glob­al­iza­tion Test Archi­tect at IBM
  • Edwin Hooger­beets, Senior Inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion Engi­neer at Palm
  • Adam Asnes, CEO & Pres­i­dent of Lin­go­port
  • Erin Vang, Prin­ci­pal Prag­ma­tist of Global Prag­mat­ica LLC®

Free sam­ple of Erin Vang’s work as a moderator

If you’re in charge of set­ting up panel dis­cus­sions or con­fer­ences for your com­pany and you’re won­der­ing whether engag­ing a pro­fes­sional facil­i­ta­tor as your mod­er­a­tor for the event is worth­while, you might want to watch this as a free sample—see how I work to make the con­ver­sa­tion more valu­able for the audi­ence mem­bers and panel par­tic­i­pants. I work as an audi­ence advo­cate to ensure that the event deliv­ers the con­tent that was promised, that it’s lively and inter­est­ing, and that we get past the buzz­words, spin, and hot air right away—we get right into the content.

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Bridging the Gap Between Software Development and Localization

by on Jul.28, 2011 , under facilitative leadership, localization, program management

Erin Vang mod­er­ates panel dis­cus­sion on soft­ware l10n

Cross-posted from Lin​go​port​.com

So, you’ve devel­oped a new soft­ware appli­ca­tion, and have high aspi­ra­tions in terms of sell­ing your appli­ca­tion to a global audi­ence. Now what? Prob­lems often arise between devel­op­ers, local­iza­tion man­agers, and busi­ness man­agers due to per­ceived lack of sup­port, time, and money.

This lack of under­stand­ing can lead to great frus­tra­tion within the devel­op­ment tiers. Join us for an hour long online panel dis­cus­sion and learn how some of the best known indus­try thought lead­ers are con­tribut­ing to bridg­ing the gap between soft­ware devel­op­ment and local­iza­tion.

The panel fea­tures the fol­low­ing indus­try thought lead­ers and experts from the soft­ware devel­op­ment, con­tent devel­op­ment, inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion, and local­iza­tion industries:

  • Val Swisher, Founder & CEO of Con­tent Rules
  • Dan­ica Brin­ton, Senior Direc­tor of Inter­na­tional at Zynga
  • Dale Schultz, Glob­al­iza­tion Test Archi­tect at IBM
  • Edwin Hooger­beets, Senior Inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion Engi­neer at Palm
  • Adam Asnes, CEO & Pres­i­dent of Lin­go­port

Online Panel Discussion: “Bridging the Gap Between Soft­ware Devel­op­ment and Local­iza­tion”
Date and Times: Wednesday, August 3rd at 9:30am PT / 10:30am MT / 11:30am CT / 12:30pm ET
Registration: Register for free @ https://​www1​.gotomeet​ing​.com/​r​e​g​i​s​t​e​r​/​9​6​4​4​1​5​249
Where: Your desktop

Erin Vang, Owner of Glob­al­Prag­mat­ica will be facil­i­tat­ing the online panel dis­cus­sion. Erin has over twenty years of expe­ri­ence in sta­tis­ti­cal soft­ware doc­u­men­ta­tion, qual­ity assur­ance, project man­age­ment, and local­iza­tion, most recently as Inter­na­tional Pro­gram Man­ager for the JMP Research and Devel­op­ment at SAS, and pre­vi­ously with Aba­cus Con­cepts and SYSTAT. She is cur­rently design­ing a local­iza­tion pro­gram for Dolby Lab­o­ra­to­ries.

This pre­sen­ta­tion is intended for tech­ni­cal man­agers, soft­ware engi­neers, test engi­neer­ing man­agers, QA man­agers, inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion and local­iza­tion man­agers, tech­ni­cal writ­ers, con­tent devel­op­ers, and any­one want­ing to learn more on how to opti­mize their global soft­ware releases.

We’d love to hear from you. Please send any ques­tions or top­ics you’d like to have dis­cussed dur­ing this panel to Chris Raulf @ chris (at) lin​go​port​.com.

Update 4 August 2011

The record­ing of our panel dis­cus­sion is now avail­able here.

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North America from the outside in and the inside out

by on Aug.30, 2010 , under localization, random

This arti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished in slightly-edited form by Mul­ti­lin­gual mag­a­zine, Sep­tem­ber 2010 and is reprinted here with per­mis­sion. Erin Vang would like to thank Mul­ti­lin­gual for gra­ciously con­sent­ing to repub­li­ca­tion of this arti­cle in the Glob­al­Prag­mat­ica blog.

In 1998 I planned a trip to Nor­way and set about edu­cat­ing myself. In addi­tion to the usual stack of guide­books, lan­guage books, and cas­settes, I picked up a copy of Nor­way: Cul­ture Shock! A sur­vival guide to cus­toms and eti­quette. I hate being the Ugly Amer­i­can when I travel, so I wanted to learn some of the lit­tle niceties that would help me blend in.

I enjoyed the book, but it felt inside-out and back­wards to me somehow—all kinds of behav­iors and cul­tural details that I con­sid­ered nor­mal were explained as if they were com­pletely bizarre. It was aston­ish­ing to me that, for exam­ple, the book went to the trou­ble of explain­ing that you shouldn’t ask Nor­we­gians how much money they make. You shouldn’t expect Nor­we­gians to divulge much about them­selves to strangers, or even for that mat­ter to friends. When vis­it­ing a Nor­we­gian fam­ily in their home, you should decline offers of food and drink at first and only relent after repeated offers are made. Fur­ther, an offer of “cof­fee” doesn’t mean a hot bev­er­age. “Cof­fee” means a full lunch spread, with open-faced sand­wiches, a vari­ety of side dishes, per­haps some fruit soup, and at least an assort­ment of cook­ies if not cake for dessert. If you’re lucky, there will be left­over dumplings and ham, sliced and fried up together.

Well, duh! That’s nor­mal, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

I should prob­a­bly men­tion that I grew up in the snow belt of North Amer­ica in a series of small towns set­tled in large part by Nor­we­gian and Ger­man immi­grants and still pop­u­lated mostly by their descen­dants, who tell Olé and Lena jokes and would call a Norwegian-Swedish cou­ple a “mixed mar­riage.” It turns out that I grew up with a Nor­we­gian sen­si­bil­ity about things.

Even­tu­ally I turned to the “About the author” sec­tion in the back of the book and learned that she was an Asian woman who had mar­ried a Nor­we­gian man and moved to Norway.

So the book was inside-out and back­wards for me! Osten­si­bly it described Nor­we­gian cus­toms, but I learned more about which Nor­we­gian cus­toms seem odd to an Asian and in turn what the Asian norms are. I also learned how my sense of nor­mal dif­fers from the rest of North Amer­ica, because the very things she pointed out about Nor­we­gians are the traits that have made me stick out since I left the snow belt.

North Amer­ica from the out­side in

I’ve since had the priv­i­lege of trav­el­ing quite a bit in Asia and Europe as a local­iza­tion pro­gram man­ager, con­tin­u­ing my inside-out cul­tural learn­ing over din­ners and drinks with my local­iza­tion teams and in-country colleagues.

What par­tic­u­larly strikes me about Japan is its quiet, com­pact order and elab­o­rate atten­tion to man­ners, and upon return­ing home from Japan I’m always star­tled by how big, messy, and casual we Amer­i­cans are. We think noth­ing of tak­ing a sip of a beer as soon as it arrives, and if we pause for a toast, it’s just “Cheers!” with much noisy bang­ing of glasses, and no atten­tion to whose glass clinks higher or lower. We walk down office hall­ways talk­ing in full voice, we’re more likely to call some­thing sar­cas­tic into our col­leagues’ open doors than to notice whether they’re busy, and by the time we’ve gone past three people’s offices, we’ve walked past more space than a dozen com­pa­ra­ble Japan­ese office-workers would use, and all of it is messier.

Over din­ner in Korea one night I learned what I’d never noticed before in years of sam­pling Korean music, dance, and the­ater: that it reflects mil­lenia of sad­ness. Korea’s long his­tory is full of inva­sions, wars, cul­tural loss, and great depri­va­tion. Korea’s clas­si­cal and folk arts express the reserved, wary sad­ness of a peo­ple rav­aged for tens of cen­turies by neigh­bors in every direc­tion. A Korean attend­ing an arts fes­ti­val in North Amer­ica would be stunned to see singers smil­ing, actors laugh­ing, dancers frol­ick­ing, and per­form­ers of all types mak­ing joy­ful eye con­tact with their audi­ences. Korean arts serve a more impor­tant pur­pose than enter­tain­ment and fun: they remem­ber loss and strug­gle, they record per­se­ver­ance, they offer per­spec­tive about daily chal­lenges in a con­text of sur­viv­ing the unsurvivable.

North Amer­i­cans think we are famil­iar with Chi­nese food until we actu­ally visit China and are con­fronted with the real thing. Theirs is a cui­sine of poverty, mak­ing the most of scarcity by using parts of the ani­mal we call scraps, using plants we call “weeds,” and using elab­o­rate tech­niques and richly lay­ered fla­vors to make them all palat­able. We might think that “Amer­i­can food” would seem sim­ple and deca­dent to Chi­nese vis­i­tors, but in fact they are as per­plexed by our foods as we are by theirs. The thing that puz­zles them the most? That our foods come in big hunks and sep­a­rated piles—think of a din­ner at a typ­i­cal Amer­i­can steak­house, where your plate comes with a huge hunk of meat, an enor­mous baked potato, and a pile of one veg­etable, all arranged so that noth­ing is touch­ing. I was star­tled to dis­cover that the foods my Chi­nese col­leagues pre­ferred were those that min­gled meats and veg­eta­bles in one dish, all in one-fork pieces, such as a casse­role. Their com­fort had noth­ing to do with the fla­vors and every­thing to do with shapes!

North Amer­ica from the inside out

What most North Amer­i­cans prob­a­bly don’t con­sider is that we are all out­siders in North Amer­ica. Our planet’s third largest land mass after Asia and Africa is home to twenty more nations besides the biggest three, Canada, the United States, and Mex­ico. We are all out­siders in twenty-two of those coun­tries. Nar­row­ing the focus to just the US, our nation’s young his­tory is one of myr­iad immi­grant and native cul­tures set­tling tiny pock­ets of a vast con­ti­nent. Cul­tures have blended to a cer­tain extent with those of the other peo­ples in the vicin­ity, and the result­ing regional iden­ti­ties per­sist to the present. The lines are start­ing to blur in the age of national and global tele­vi­sion, radio, and inter­net, but the poten­tial for cul­tural con­flict and mis­un­der­stand­ing is far greater than many peo­ple real­ize. I’ll share a few of the more amus­ing exam­ples from my own life.

When I left my Nor­we­gian enclave in the snow belt and arrived in Chicago for grad school, I couldn’t fig­ure out why my friends never offered me any­thing to eat or drink when I vis­ited. It wasn’t until some fel­low Norwegian-Lutheran-Minnesotans from my alma mater joked about our com­mon ten­dency to turn things down three times before accept­ing that I real­ized what the prob­lem was. My friends did offer me drinks and snacks, but out of Norwegian-American habit, I always said some­thing along the lines of, “Oh, I’m fine–no, thank you.” But that was that! My friends didn’t real­ize that the first three times you offer some­thing don’t count!

I spent about a dozen years work­ing for SAS and trav­el­ing fre­quently to cor­po­rate head­quar­ters in Cary, North Car­olina. Much later I found the Cul­ture Shock! series book on the Amer­i­can South and finally began to under­stand some of my expe­ri­ences there. When my col­leagues had responded to one of my ideas with, “Bless your heart!” they weren’t grate­fully com­mend­ing my cleverness—they were say­ing, approx­i­mately, “Oh, you poor baf­fled freak… you just don’t under­stand any­thing.” When they called me “Yan­kee,” it wasn’t a slight as I thought; they were just acknowl­edg­ing that I was dif­fer­ent. When I jok­ingly called myself a “damn Yan­kee” once, I was cor­rected with a smile: “You’re not a ‘damn Yan­kee’! You’re just a Yan­kee. Damn Yan­kees are the ones who don’t leave.”

We’re all outsiders

When a friend of yours grieves a death in the fam­ily or is recov­er­ing from surgery, do you send flowers?

What on earth for? What good are the flow­ers going to do any­one? Where I’m from, we make a tuna noo­dle hot­dish com­plete with crum­bled potato chips on top, and we bring it over to the house, hot and ready to serve, in a casse­role care­fully labeled with our last name on a piece of mask­ing tape. We do this whether we like tuna noo­dle casse­role or not, because it’s what is done.

Being an out­sider in North Amer­ica is not a priv­i­lege reserved for vis­i­tors from other countries.

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