February 14, 2007

understanding and being understood

Straight off the train from Trento to book club. This month’s book, Snow, by neo-Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk. What kind of Italian cultural moment could I have with nine other American women and one French one (married to an American), discussing a book set in a desolate border town in Eastern Turkey by a Turkish author?

Well, I did! Pat mentioned how difficult it had been to follow the train of thought of the Turkish characters, their very different ways of thinking, “I was looking for a linear thought progression and I was getting something else. I finally just sat back and relaxed and just hoped I would somehow understand something of their exchanges.” We all laughed because it was true, the characters did have a different way of interacting and conversing that left us a bit confused. Then she added, “it’s like my Italian husband, I figure out the subject and the verb but then he dwindles off, never finishes the phrase and expects me to have understood.”

Ahh Haaa. Me too! Its that ole context thing. We are just supposed to get it without “it” every being said – to read meaning from the context instead of the words. From the heads nodding in the room, I think a few of the women in the room were thinking the same thing. Then we got back to the book.

Context. When it is high, knowledge is already shared (as with in-groups) so there is no need to spell it out, meanings are communicated indirectly instead of explicitly, mutual expectations are accurate, the emphasis is on relationships and processes instead of practical outcomes, and relationships are accepted as being very supportive and important instead of placing importance on individual self-reliance. History is also essential to an accurate reading of the context. Communication is aimed at the building the relationship not necessarily conveying or receiving information.

I just call it the natural Italian radar that follows them around.

A domani,

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