If America advocates women's empowerment, why is it so hard to achieve? 

The message from both government institutions and private enterprise to women publicly encourages them. You can do it. Then Facebook CEO, Sheryl Sandberg famously told women, to lean in from her eponymous  book. In a Presidential Proclamation, President Barack Obama said, “Across the globe, there are girls who will one day lead nations, if only we afford them the chance to choose their own destinies.” While the word “women” was mentioned 82 times in a 2013 State of the Union Address -- more than any other -- the overall reaction to the speech on Twitter was negative. 


China is a 4,000 year-old mega country of 1.7 billion people bursting with enough exports to fill every mall in New Jersey. That's a lot of clothes, toys, refrigerators, luggage, Christmas decorations, dog food, and laptops and we’re hungry for more. You'd think we'd know more about the people we buy all this stuff from, but with China being one mind-boggling superlative after another, it's understandable. For some, seeing the Broadway show Chinglish or watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics was about as close as most Americans would ever get to understanding this ancient merchant, but take a look at this infographic.


Older and less understood than other Arab cultures in South Paterson, the Syrians have an ancient story to tell. And much like the Road to Damascus there is an “ah hah” pay off at the end. It is Bible-speak for the mother of all epiphanies paved with the magnitude of St. Paul's transgressions, including his attempts to wipe out Christianity, in which all was forgiven. One just might need an epiphany to figure out who the Syrians are and why they’re here in the midst of Whitman’s “beaten up and tragic…industrial chaos”.

It begins with their history, which is, by all accounts, among the oldest in the area, stretching back to the early 20th century, as the first Arabs to arrive and set down roots here. What made them immigrate. What they eat. How they differ from other Arab cultures, will be eye-opening for the “Suburbanites”.

The real Damascus (Dimashq,commonly known as al-Shām also known as City of Jasmin) is the capital and largest city of Syria. It is perhaps the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world. Since the copper age from about 8,000 BCE with a population of about 1.6 million people. But a jaunt to the Damascus of South Paterson is easier and begins at Fattal's Syrian Market (975-977 Main Street (973) 742-7125 where the owner, Norman settled forty years ago. He is cautious and diplomatic. Formal, yet hospitable. And avoids the obvious Middle Eastern hot button topics. But I persuade him to talk about what’s in his store that is particularly Syrian and he says, diplomatically: everything and nothing. We are Arab, but “from all over the world” as he puts it.

According to “Syrians place a high degree on tradition and present themselves well both at home and abroad. It is normal to find Syrian families all over the world who still live their lives as if they were in the Old Country.” So, in keeping with tradition, he does and he doesn’t. His store is, and it isn’t, Syrian. This trait of cultural ubiquity has its roots in ancient Greater Syria, when encompassed parts of Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and parts of southern of Turkey including Alexandretta and the ancient city of Antioch, the pre-Islamic capital of Syria. To understand Syria is to understand much of the Middle East.

And so, there is a little bit of the bazaar in his market. Things for getting and spending. A travel agency.  Display cases unabashedly brimming with eye-popping trays of 18 and 24K gold bling. Overall, despite the powerful influence of Islam in people's lives, some elements of folk religion persist. Particularly in rural areas, there is a strong belief in the evil eye as well as in jinn (spirits). And Fattal’s has an entire display case devoted to them.

Though Syria is not tribal like Saudi Arabia, it is stratified and the caste system is alive and well. Norman being fair, male, and of the merchant class, chances are he would’ve fared well no matter which country he chose. There are also things for cooking. Like Halal meats and the indispensable Seven Spices. Rice. Middle Eastern canned vegetables. Pita. Racks of honeyed sweets. And more than a dozen kinds of olives. For a quick take out or lunch there’s a sit down area to eat garden variety Arab dishes to savor. The food is good and honest. Try the hummus on Syrian bread (pita). Also try their lahim biajeen (pronounced LAH MAHZHEEN) which are meat pies on Syrian bread.

Though Syria is homogeneous, Sunni, and over ninety percent Muslim, there are a few ancient tribes. And one in particular speaks the language of Christ: Aramaic. And here just might be the epiphany. A culture that contains a language from a religion found everywhere on earth, and yet is extinct. Spoken in Mesopotamia about 14 centuries ago, it is now modern day Hebrew. Syrian culture is omnipresent and yet hard to pin down. A little like Norman. In addition to Fattal’s, the othergame in town is Nouri Brothers Syrain Bakery a block away at 999 Main St Paterson, NJ  07503 Phone: (973) 279-2388 which has been around for about twenty five years. Though it is smaller and mostly bakes breads, it is equally authentic.

Aleppo (named for Syria’s second largest city) is the Syrian watering hole. The restaurant for local Syrians (and Egyptians, Palestianians, you get the idea) at 960 Main Street Paterson, NJ 07503-2307 (973) 977-2244‎ or (973) 569-4545, open from 9:00am-10:00pm. It is owned by the charming and jovial Mohamed who also immigrated about 40 years ago, with a not too different immigrant story to tell about the need to get out from beneath the shadow of his great father and strike out on his own. The sign on the outside reads Al Safa, but that was the old restaurant. They haven’t gotten around to changing it, but it doesn’t matter because anyone who comes here knows what they’re looking for.

The quintessential Middle Eastern host he welcomes everyone from“the boys” to local families with babies in tow and serves up the home grown dishes. Halal, roasted or grilled chicken or lamb with side dishes of rice, chickpeas, yogurt, and vegetables. Mezzeh including hummus, a puree of chickpeas and tahini (ground sesame paste); baba ganouj, an eggplant puree; meat rissoles; stuffed grape leaves; tabouleh (a salad of cracked wheat and vegetables); falafel (deep-fried balls of mashed chickpeas); and pita bread. Olives, lemon, parsley, onion, and garlic are used for flavoring. Tea is as ubiquitous as the Hookah pipe flavors ranging from apple banana peach rose cherry and just about every other flavor in between. Weekend evenings you’ll find him orchestrating several dining rooms, glad handling, and shaking it with the belly dancers while seating new customers.

The Road to Damascus may be an ancient one, but along the way, embracing the deep connective roots of the Syrians to much of the world, is an epiphany we can all share.

Seven Spices: 2 tablespoons ground black pepper, 2 tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons of ground cumin, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 tablespoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom



Axtell, R. (1997). Do's and Taboos around the World for Women in Business. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Dresser, N. (1996). Multicultural Manners. New York: John Wiley.

Foster, D. (2000). The Global Etiquette Guide to Asia. New York: John Wiley

Huntington, S. P. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Morrison, C. B. (1994). Kiss Bow or Shake Hands. Holbrook, MA: Adams Media.

Ball, Warwick. Syria: A Historical and Archaeological Guide, 1998.

Beaton, Margaret. Syria, 1988.

Beattie, Andrew, and Timothy Pepper. Syria: The Rough Guide, 1998.

Galvin, James. Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire, 1998.

Hopwood, Derek. Syria, 1945–1986, 1988.

Lye, Keith. Take a Trip to Syria, 1988.

Mulloy, Martin. Syria, 1988.

Quilliam, Neil. Syria and the New World Order, 1999.

Sinai, Anne, and Allen Pollack, eds. The Syrian Arab Republic, 1976.

South, Coleman. Syria, 1995.

Tareq, Ismael Y., and Jacqueline S. Tareq. Communist Movement in Syria and Lebanon, 1998.

Wedeen, Lisa. Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria, 1999.

Winkler, Onn. Demographic Developments and Population Policies in Ba'athist Syria, 1998.


Web Sites

Destination Syria,

Guide to Syria,

Syria: A Country Study, www.lcweb2.loc/gov/frd/cs/sytoc

Syria—The Cradle of Civilizations,

U.S. Government, Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook: Syria,,_New_Jersey


Unless you’ve been living in a cave lately, you’re probably experiencing considerable anxiety about the economic condition of the United States. This emotion is immediately followed by further panic when recruiters or employers are asking you to “go global” to make yourself more marketable. That’s if you still have a job.

How and when is all this supposed to happen? Is this a form of outsourcing? I mean, it’s not like you’re ever really going to live or work outside the United States, right? So, why should going global concern you?

It’s Official: Wake Up and Smell the Outsourcing
With the stunning realization that America’s financial crisis is the world’s crisis, the biggest misstep an American woman can make, is to think that fluttering of her entrepreneurial wings does not affect the rest of the world. Or the reverse, that what is happening around the world, doesn’t affect your business. Today, when one country sneezes, very often we all catch a cold.

The other mistake is to not have a passport and think that it’s unlikely that you’ll ever have to work, travel, or live in another country. According to the State Department, although the number of passports issued to Americans has risen, because of post 9/11 homeland security measures, to the tune of about 74 million in 2008, most Americans still view them as just another form of identification.

No Culture Is Foreign, It’s Just Different.
But there is a great deal of fear that comes with going global and things “foreign”. How can you deal with it? One way is to reframe the issue of what is “foreign”. How you frame, or name, what you speak about, determines how to think about it. If you change the semantics, you change your perceptions. With a “clear lens” cultures become less foreign and more familiar. You can also readjust how you think about your place on the earth. You’re part of the global village. You breathe the same air as 4 billion fellow inhabitants. You are not separate from them. In any way. No matter who you are or where you live. Calcutta. Copenhagen. Cincinnati. All. The. Same. Therefore, you, as an American business woman, are a part of the global community. The term international doesn’t refer to those people “over there”. Reframing the way you refer to your place in the world will help you get more comfortable in it. For many Americans, who are like coming of age adolescents, it’s time to get down to business if we are to compete up in the 21st Century global economy.

Multicultural Manners: Handle With Care
As women business owners, the statistically fastest growing sector of the economy, it is incumbent upon us to look ahead to the all the trends that affect our businesses and embrace them with education and an awareness into multicultural manners, in order to do great global business. Because even if you don’t speak another language, as you will find many other people around the world do, it’s wise to know the soft skills that will make your professional, hard skills sing if you are involved in:

  • Intercultural Business: In a position to manufacture your scarves in China? You’re going to need to pull guanxi (pronounced gwan-SHEE) or make the right connections before you begin the deal
  • Diverse Teams or Intra-Office: Is the new team member on your design project, from India, but you don’t know why he seems unenthused about your concept. Maybe it’s because he is waiting for his boss to tell you.
  • ExPat: Have you been assigned to work for an upper management ExPat (Ex-Patriot) who’s just returned from a two-year stint in Prague, but can’t understand his moodiness?
  • Relocation: Is your finance background an asset to a firm in Portugal? Do you find yourself upending your life to work there for a year, but unable to cope with the preparations?

These are just a few of the typical examples that require cross cultural professionals to help you do global business, better.

What Makes Them Tick
Of course it’s important to know how to handle ourselves in another culture, but what’s more important, is how we’re being perceived by the other culture. And which behavior on our part will make a good impression. The following chart is actually applicable to many other cultures, with a few tweaks here and there.

Understanding the cognitive behavior — how people process information, or what makes them tick — is the key to giving your business dealings traction, and therefore revenue. Here are some key personality traits that delineate between Western and Eastern national character.

After setting my cultural compass, one way to continue to bridge the cultural gap is to focus on making personal connections, when the time is right. It’s not just these national values one should learn, but also our shared personal interests that can create deeper, more harmonious relationships. After the foundational elements are addressed – whether to kiss, bow or shake hands – you can progress to a more sophisticated level of communication with the help of topic starters. A positive “point of entry” to socialize, conduct business, and create personal relationships.

I find that point of entry through film. You may find it through food, music, or some other conversation starter other than the usual off limits topics like religion and politics. But it’s usually a popular cultural topic that will “speak” to you. Before I travel, I relish in conducting pre-travel homework by starting with a trip to Barnes & Noble. Combing the stacks to find that travel perfect guidebook. Some are linear; others are more contextual. I prefer the contextual ones like the Insight Guides and the Rough Guide because I can understand the story of a culture through literature and film, which gives me a human interest story to relate to. And then of course, there is nothing like researching on the web. Cultural Detective has some really good tools called the Values Lens that have dozens of country specific guides. But no matter where in the world you come from, it’s good to know where you’re going and how to act once you get there, because a little local knowledge goes a long way.



At the same time, the more unaware we are about where our cultural GPS is positioned, the greater the likelihood that we may expect everyone else to be just like us. Failure on the part of someone else to be like us leads one to conclude that something's wrong with those Arabs, or those Americans or those French. Then, we complain: why can't they be like us? Or why can't they just do it my way and by my rules? When the other guy doesn't play the game "my way" we might say, "you're either with us, or against us" and the unintended consequence is likely to be mutual, puzzled frustration, misunderstandings, if not outright anger between people and countries that often leads to war -- in short, a failure of cross-cultural understanding.

Take for example the life or death situation I faced in the American hospital when my father was gravely ill. When it came to dealing with my father in that context, I knew what was expected of me and how to act. Or so I thought. In fact, the way I was about to handle his wishes according to my role with all the rights and responsibilities I believed I knew, were wrong, especially in the context of an American hospital. I was not taught that in death we assign sacred roles and responsibilities to strangers with whom we have not built trusted relationships. As a Pakistani, I do not have an advocate at the hospital bed in a life or death situation. It is understood that I am that person. We don't have to go through the patient privacy issues with children or parents.

I learned that when it comes to health in the American context, Americans defer either to the spouse or an outside expert, like an attorney. In fact, Americans often turn to outsiders for help like talking to therapists regarding for personal problems; lawyer to settle their disputes. This is a reflection of two more dimensions of culture at work beneath the iceberg: American Individualism versus Collectivist (about 80 percent of the rest of the world, including mine) and Transactional (deal-based) culture (US) as opposed to mine which is Relationship orientated.

Do we think about who will call the shots about a gravely ill parent if we are not a native? I never thought I didn't understand the cultural laws of my adopted home (America). I did very well in building my career and by adopting the Western mindset and life style. And however much I am a product of both the Eastern and Western mindsets, when it came to a life and death situation that involved my Dad, my Pakistani mindset kicked in and, to my surprise, American laws circled right around me to his legal next of kin, which is considered his wife, even if she's not his first wife or his children's mother.

Although I successfully brought my Dad home from Yemen in good health to Washington D.C., the authority I had "over there," did not apply "over here" in America. I couldn't advocate for my Dad's health without his prior written consent to appoint me. This time, as he was headed for major surgery, Dad and I both realized that according to American law, his (second) wife was considered his legal guardian and next of kin, with complete authority to make decisions, not me. 
My father opted for an arranged marriage after my mother passed away in 1995. According to Pakistani custom and Islamic laws, this second wife has rights but they do not exclude existing children from their rights. Now she was in complete charge of my father's health which made me feel culturally, emotionally and psychologically, powerless.

Conscious Competence

The cultural insecurity I felt, coupled with the shift in my role about my Dad's health care, made for a situation that was ripe for misunderstanding. I realized that not only was cross-cultural training an absolute necessity, but that even if we think we have some degree of intercultural competence, we can't know all that we do not know.

Even if we are aware of how to culturally "style switch" and to "relate, regulate, and reason" synergistically, with the adopted culture, our psycho-social-emotional IQ must also be "fit." Together they form a holistic approach for handling situations. (We get the word "manner" from the Latin word for hand or "mano.")

My Dad died in September 2012. This was the most poignant moment of culture shock for me because even though I have lived in America for 25 years, I was shocked to learn that I was powerless to make decisions that may have yielded a different outcome for my Dad. He may or may not have lived. I cannot bear to think what may have been. This reflection is not about the laws or customs of one culture being better than another. My Dad may have not lived no matter which country he was hospitalized in. That's something any child would have to deal with. We all do the best we can.

But I can't help but wonder, as I look back on across my landscape of loss, could this tough cultural lesson have been easier? Perhaps, if I was more aware of the unseen dimensions of our humanity at work, like culture, personality, and emotion things might have turned out differently. Maybe not, but I do see now, with the gift of hindsight, how each one profoundly influences behavior in ways I could hardly imagine.

It's an understatement to suggest cross-cultural training become a requisite to immigration -- anywhere, not just in the USA. With this knowledge base for immigrants and expats, no matter where in the world they intend on living they can embracing the full power and magnitude of their influence on our behavior, and navigate the tricky roads that lay ahead, such as the implications of what is custom versus law. Perhaps we can "re-engage more directly in a new democratic bargain as opposed to being trapped by systems that are too big to control," as former Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou suggested in his recent TED Talk at the 2013 Global Summit. 


No question, we are living in unsettled times. It seems impossible to predict what’s going to happen next. Step out for a Starbucks, and things have changed by the time you return to your desk. The unpredictable is followed by insistent distraction. Who isn’t mesmerized by all the twitter feeds, blog posts, podcasts, and headlines? When I can’t tell code from content, I focus on changing cultural attitudes that have the power to change lives for the better.  

As an expat career coach, I create smooth cultural transitions for people in global transition. Impassioned by a lifetime of travel and anthropology, I reveal insights about people who were raised very differently from you. This is a significant factor in how well we get things done, particularly at work. Culture is also a double edged sword. As a tool to problem solve and make sense of the world, it’s also responsible for culture clashes and the chief source of mutual frustration, from the living room to the boardroom. Yet we can create more harmony by developing awareness about our own attitudes, values, and behaviors. Transforming our higher selves changes our life and the lives of others, making with world a better place.

For example, what we believe to be “common sense” is actually cultural sense. Obtaining and understanding that awareness creates a pause. And in that pause, you may notice a shift occur making room for listening. This is the space where you’ll discover new ways of thinking, empowering you to change your attitude and your life profoundly because your world view – your cultural values, beliefs, and perceptions -- account for your behavior.

Today, in the globalized workplace, cultural awareness is no longer an experience. It’s an indispensable soft skill for successfully handling intercultural incidents and interactions. While you may not be able to acquire it through expatriate experience, it can be developed with the help of a cross-cultural coach because it’s a learned behavior. By making the foreign feel more familiar, you increase your value quotient and become more marketable.

It may sound contradictory, but by looking at ourselves and our national culture, we understand others because ae don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are. By examining your American mindset with powerful cultural lenses, you’ll discover how the invisible hand of culture drives your behavior in ways you never imagined. It reveals the hidden values, attitudes, and beliefs that make you, American. That your cultural mindset – or any other perspective isn’t better, it’s just different. And anyone who has lived abroad will tell you, the evident culture like food, music, or language – doesn’t cause of culture clashes. Rather, it’s the hidden dimensions such as body language, ideas about time, attitude towards authority, and decision-making that account for it.

The invisible dimensions most Americans don’t know about America are Equality – Competition – Rules – Directness – Speed – Self-Reliance, among others. By examining Equality carefully and how it can be perceived by others, we notice people from other cultures observe that Americans are informal and they don’t understand why we insist on treating everyone the same. Equality is so central to our core values, it’s in the first line of the Constitution that “all men are created equal.” By treating everyone the same, our casual behavior is perceived as a lack of respect.

Equality is also rejection of the British and European class system by our founding fathers. We prefer a “level playing field,” so everyone gets a fair chance. Not everyone will succeed, but at least the same set of rules allows everyone to start with an equal chance. Equality accounts for random seating at gatherings and when standing in line, people are served on a “first come, first served,” basis. Each person waits their turn, regardless of age or rank.  

Equality also accounts for how Americans achieve social status, whereas in other cultures it’s ascribed by birth, title, or family heritage. Equality is a value we live by when we hear the sky’s the limit for anyone to achieve the American dream, even a “skinny kid with the big ears and funny name” who became the President of the United States. What we do makes us who we are and “everyone’s a winner”.

We believe power should be shared by everyone (in theory) and not concentrated into the hands of a few. In business, politics, and child rearing, we empower people to make their own decisions. Even children are encouraged to express their preferences and make their own decisions. They are encouraged to “play fair and share their toys” with everyone.

While we think equality is admirable, it’s the exception to the rule where class distinctions run in roughly 85% of the rest of the world. American informal ways of dressing, talking, and behaving can be perceived as rude by hierarchical cultures. Our empowered youth-oriented culture gives the impression we lack respect for elders and authority too. For example, some American kids call parents and other adults by their first name. Unthinkable in other countries.

Equality affects how we communicate with a preference for politically correct speech. While some say that such euphemistic talk disguises the nature of the truth. In the land of free speech, people from other countries are surprised that we avoid candid discourse amongst ourselves, and especially the double-speak of political discourse. This behavior has a censorial quality they perceive as misguided-fairness, rather than well-intentioned harmony. Intentional ambiguity or inversions of meaning makes the truth sound more palatable, calling layoffs, "downsizing,” "servicing the target" for bombing, “outsourcing” for employing people at low wages abroad.  

I’m not sure we may ever be free of culture’s consequences, but when you change your cultural attitudes, you change your life. The ripple effect is a positive impact that can’t help but make the world a better place.

Lisa La Valle-Finan is an expat career coach who reveals how the invisible hand of culture drives our behavior in ways you never imagined at work. She welcomes all comments and can be reached at



Courtship is romantic. Marriage ... is an act of will,” said Pippa, taking a sip of water. “I mean, I adore Herb, but the marriage functions because we will it to. If you leave love to hold everything together, you can forget it.
— Rebecca Miller, the Private Lives of Pippa Lee


As my husband and I cross the threshold of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, I thought of the 50-50 odds that we might become an “uncoupled” statistic. Until 1990, nearly half the marriages in America did end in divorce, but, we beat the odds. According to the data, there’s a good chance we will remain married. Nearly 70% percent of marriages that began after the ‘90s in America reached their 15th anniversary, and many may never divorce. 

Yet half the couples I know do. They live in the same house, but effectively lead separate lives. Others stay together, but live in different houses or states (or countries). These are the marriages of convenience, for the kid’s sake; either until the kids are in college or a way to keep the employee benefits rolling. There are couples who divorce because of an infidelity. Then there are the rare breed of couples who manage to stay together in spite of it, especially in the United States.

Overlooking the indiscretion is more common in other cultures like Italy, France, or Greece, who appear hardwired to ignore it.This is latter category intrigued me because those societies that tended to accept this behavior as part of the marital bargain, were unflustered by the American moral outrage. While we may not be above desire, we are unable to get past the deception. So I couldn’t help but wonder, why are those cultures less troubled by infidelity than others and why is infidelity a sin for Americans?

The bonds of marriage so heavy it takes two to carry them, sometimes three.
— Alexander Dumas

Infidelity is on my radar because I’m hooked on watching HBO’s dark soap, “The Affair.” I can indulge vicariously in the drama of an affair without the consequences. It’s a very American perspective of two people who have “cheated” on their spouses. Ruth, “the other woman” is wracked by the “guilt” of her past and the cad, Noah whom he has thrown his family overboard for. Season two unfurls this cautionary tale in the “aftermath” of their affair, strewn with the “wreckage” of their infidelities. The language of the narrative implies destruction and punishment. Our judgement is further beguiled by an innovative interplay two, sometimes four, different perspectives, but they are American. Viewers and creators alike condemn “the affair” because they’re sure they’re on the right side of morality. We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are, so that one man’s sin could be another man’s blessing.

Clues to decoding French attitudes concerning infidelity begin with self-awareness of American national culture. Not evident culture, such as language, food, and dress. If culture was that easy to identify, rest assured there would not be the current clash of civilizations. Evident culture is the tip of the iceberg. Unless you’ve spent a significant length of time abroad, it’s doubtful you can attest to culture’s consequences. The invisible hand of culture drives our behavior in ways you never imagined. By deconstructing the American mindset and comparing it to other cultures, we can steer safely around the unseen and more profound dimensions of hidden culture below the waterline, an avoid simplistic attribution to moral positioning.

For example, the French film “5-7,” (“cinq a sept” is the French expression for the time of day made for visiting lovers and has subsequently been adopted by other cultures as “happy hour”) infidelity is not only acceptable, it’s institutionalized. It shouldn't be a deteerent to love. The Greeks an view that if the gods intended making love strictly for procreation, they’d have made people come in heat like the animals once a year.  

Human attraction may be too hard to comprehend, but by connecting seemingly unrelated dots about why people do what they do based on national culture offers an interesting explanation. Culture is the result of a series of historical events that have occurred in a certain place. The result is a set of values, attitudes, and perceptions that explain the world accordingly to a certain group of people. What’s important, especially for Americans who rarely expatriate to understand this point is, people do what they do not because they don’t know any better, it’s culture making that decision for them

It doesn’t matter that we are offended by French views about infidelity no matter how much self-righteous indignation our views. There’s no way to shame them into monogamy because they don’t share our puritanical legacy. Of course, every culture thinks it’s on the right side of an issue, but it’s worthwhile to note that Homer’s Odyssey was the Greek bible for 5,000 years and continues to informed their mindset.  

Cultures are dynamic, yet few of us know who are we or why, but the powerful lens of culture helps us understand why behavior like infidelity is or isn’t tolerated. While every culture shares common traits -- how they think and make decisions, how they process information, view time and communicate -- culture explains the differentiating approach. For example, Americans believe people should be INDEPENDENT with the FREE-WILL to decide and form their own opinions. The truth is, we think our opinions are purely our own, but in reality, it’s a decision that was already made for us.

Americans prefer rules over relationships, so crime shows bringing offender to justice appeals to our values. The same show might get lost in translation in Asian or Arab cultures where the witness would look the other way. Most people are born dependent and connected. Americans are the exception to this way of thinking, not the other way around. In their mind, it is as if they were related to the offender, so they cannot betray that relationship. They don’t believe they are complicit, they’re just not going to squeal if it means sending mom to jail. In fact, for the majority of the world’s cultures, not all of the rules apply to everyone all the time. It depends on the situation and context. This is why we have difficulty negotiating with Eastern cultures.  Nevertheless, Americans think they’re absolutely right when people from other cultures behave differently. We think they’re being deceptive but actually it’s our linear thinking and expectations that everyone should adhere to the rule of law.  

DIRECTNESS is one of the 6 major values of the American national mindset. We need transparency, even at the cost of divorce. We view seduction negatively because it’s an indirect behavior. We’re also uncomfortable with “veiled” cultures because we feel manipulated by it. What’s more, because cultural maturity takes time, America is an “adolescent” culture that’s experienced few significant cultural shifts compared to older one, but when cultures do change, powerful imprints alter our frame of reference and the change is passed on to the next generation.

What is the basis for our national values and just how much the world shares them is important message for Americans to learn because most of the world doesn’t. The rest of the world may like Hollywood movies, not because admire American culture so much as a car chase is easy to understand. It’s LOW CONTEXT. Americans miss signals because we don’t know how to look for them. Listening goes beyond words. The Japanese call it reading the air. What’s not being said is significant. So is body language. Voice tone. Timing. Message location. I think of the closeness and implicit understanding relationship I have with my husband; certain references, messages, and ideas are understood without words or explanation. We speak a matrimonial shorthand. Our shared meaning is the backstory. Similarly, this is how other cultures communicate. Imagine trying to do business with high-context communicators and it becomes clear we’ve got a lot to learn.   

To understand French acceptance of infidelity, we must begin with the American mind that’s entrenched in INDIVIDUALITY perfectly defined by Robert Day, “American’s have a hard time telling you specifically why this is a good thing; either because it’s something they haven’t thought about, or don’t think it’s worth going over.” Again, thanks to our history, this is a fundamental American value that stems from the early PIONEER and PROTESTANT settlers who were brave RISK-TAKERS; nomads who left everything and everyone they knew to live somewhere else. Having said that, like so much else that’s changing right now in real time, America’s rugged INDIVIDUALISM is becoming uncharacteristically risk-averse, abrogating personal responsibility which is being substituted by rampant litigiousness. Crybabies. He goes on to say “Although Americans may think of themselves as being more unique than they actually are, what’s significant is that they think they are.”

The unintended consequence of expressing personal opinions and feeling so special can feel self-indulgent to the outside world. For example, while Americans believe each person is unique and entitled to a personal opinion, they cannot fathom that other people outside America differ with it, regardless that they represent only five percent of the world’s population.”

The French communication style is clinically direct and they see no advantage in ambiguity or ambivalence. The French language is a crisp, incisive tongue, a kind of verbal dance or gymnastics of the mouth, which presses home its points with an undisguised, logical urgency. It is rational, precise, ruthless in its clarity.
— Richard Lewis

Which brings us to their tendency for ASSERTIVENESS, which compels Americans to tell you what they’re thinking. Consequently, these unsolicited opinions can sound self-righteous. However, in their mind, this behavior is not desirable but a deeply help truth based on their certainty and entitlement to the Manifest Destiny; not considering they didn’t come to that conclusion personally. In the end, they are astounded that not all cultures share their views, much less their moral position on infidelity.

While the French are nothing if not articulate, they might even say nothing at all about their feelings, leaving you to “read the air” because the way to disagree may be to say nothing at all. Such silence leaves Americans genuinely bewildered and while they don’t mean to be rude, this direct US communication style is often irreversible in the wrong company. Once you've let it out of the bottle, it’s hard to get it back. For many cultures, saving face is impossible to reverse, and may resort to an error of omission, an outright lie, change answers, or rearrange the question to suit the situation. This appears deceitful to Americans and intolerable. In most other regions of the world, including Asia, Europe, South America, and parts of Africa, this kind of answer is a necessary function of interactions and holds no moral underpinning. For them, the goal is harmony and the end justifies the means to achieve peace over justice.

Brandi Moore underscores this utterly foreign notion, “Nothing like it exists in America or to Americans who never lose face. Being embarrassed is not losing face. Embarrassment is about guilt, which contains a causal nature. Face is about shame and the ripple effect of one’s actions on the group, now and for the future.” Striving for harmony, or “big picture” thinking conflicts with our “bottom line” mentality. She goes on to say “Americans operate in a matchlessly DIRECT culture, where losing face is nearly impossible. The level of separation, homogeneity, and variety in America that focuses on the individual, eliminates the possibility, and therefore why we seem to be so opinionated to others.”

Therefore, something as innocuous as expressing an opinion about infidelity can be perceived by others as self-righteous and the American will not refrain from doing it or become being embarrassed; remember, honor is not at stake. Moore goes on to explain, “Their remarks are born of a direct communication manner that’s essential to the dissimilar nature of Americans. Because virtually everyone originated from somewhere else, no matter how far back, they must understand one another and they must communicate with the utmost explicitness. Meanings relay through a direct route of words, unlike other cultures, and to a lesser degree France, that can feel like an eternal kabuki dance before getting to the point.” She concludes, “Communication consists of shared meaning, encrypted signals, environment, or an elaborate contextual backstory that requires a lot of deciphering. Americans who are not in the habit of hearing these messages and become exasperated with their circuitousness because they haven’t learned how to “listen loudly.”

You can, believing that you’re obeying French dining etiquette, say bon appétit at the start of a meal — but you shouldn’t because this isn’t correct it’s too direct a reference to the body, leaving little to the imagination, and thus less seductive. Or you can treat food as a task (are you still working on that?) — but you shouldn’t do that either.
— Elaine Sciolino

Clear and clever language from people who never apologize. They are known for being unafraid to share their opinions and argue a position. You’ll find this is embedded in their national motto of Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite and also Edith Piaf’s lyrics that are a battle hymn testament to this sentiment, “Je ne regrette rien” means “I have no regrets” (about straying from the marriage). The message itself, however, may not be expressed directly in the words. Reading between the lines is often necessary to find the full message. The way a message is communicated may be determined by relationship, rank, status, and position. The way someone speaks, dresses and behaves also communicates who that person is. Sitting quietly and not participating may show lack of interest or commitment to the French, so sharing opinions, demonstrating a passionate, well-presented position will earn you their respect. Use of title is the norm until a relationship has developed. New acquaintances address each other with “vous” until it is agreed that they will switch to the familiar “tu.” This is relaxing with Millennials but it’s still pervasive in traditional business or government settings.

In Paris, women and men are supposed to please each other on the street, and never go out in public without looking impeccably put together. You can dress as you like, but you shouldn’t neglect your appearance; a reflection of the Gallic approach to virtually all area of life in which seduction is so pervasive.
— Elaine Sciolino

When it comes to American INFORMALITY, our kids seem authorized to treat elders as equals. As adults, bosses are handled the same level as subordinates without much distinction. This kind of cultural tendency is famously depicted by Hollywood in the “California minute” in which two complete strangers can meet for the first time and yet immediately reveal intimate personal details without regard. Again, Americans hold no recourse in stating opinions publicly as mentioned before because as Moore concludes, “honor is not at stake. Everything must be said, and (it’s presumed) everyone is open to hearing it.”

Lewis points to the French education system, “From childhood, places a premium on articulateness and eloquence of expression. Unlike Japanese, Finnish or British children, French children are rarely discouraged from being talkative. In the French culture, loquacity is equated with intelligence and silence does not have a particularly golden sheen. Lycée, university and École normale supérieure education reinforces the emphasis on good speaking, purity of grammar and mastery of the French idiom.” The French language, unquestionably, is the chief weapon wielded by authority and less articulate French show no resentment. Masterful use of language and logic implies, in their understanding, masterful power.

Americans don’t have sex, they have problems.
— Marlene Dietrich

While both the French and the Americans share the space of DIRECTNESS, it’s express differently. Americans are perplexed when they’re labeled rude and inappropriate, but they would be genuinely surprised to learn that eighty-five percent of the world views the American values of INDIVIDUALITY and ASSERTIVENESS not without reservation. To put their opinion of infidelity in sharp focus, the English Broadway actor, Allen Cummings aptly remarked, “America was established by Puritans who left England because it wasn't puritanical enough.” Yet, they hold these beliefs because they are “self-evident” or because they choose them, when in fact they were chosen for them by history.

If the underpinnings of the French communication style is of the mind and they revere history and AUTHORITY, the American mind has an honest aversion to it. With a past rooted the in both the PIONEER and ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM that prevents Americans from exploring profound concepts deeply, this may well be their tragic flaw; tainting the entire American education system. It seems as though American history categorically precludes itself from producing many more great thinkers, philosophers, or theorists given a COWBOY QUICK sense of urgency, pragmatism and self-reliance to survive. Diane Johnson observed this and an increasing “religious fervor comes and goes like seasonal flu, and each time leaves it weakened for the next attack.”

Culture hides more than it reveals and strangely enough, what it hides, is most effectively hidden from its owners; not unlike the American attitude about infidelity.
— Edward Hall

While they prize the fine Cartesian mind: “I think, therefore I am,” PROCESS counts enormously. The revealing, enjoying, ritualizing, codifying, and tantalizing pursuit about the idea of an affair counts more than the affair. For Americans to characterize France as an immoral culture is the result of their unconscious PURITAN legacy the French were untouched by. A culture of taking mistresses was inherited by the French kings, beginning with Henry II during the Middle Ages, serving a practical purpose. It unambiguously established a kind of psychological national security with a demonstrable virility, signifying longevity and preservation of the throne through succession according to French historians. France created a culture of love by his wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine single handedly. Marriage had little to do with love and sex was vulgar. The rules of love codified by Andreas Capellanus, were idealized in poetry during the Crusades, enacted by Chivalrous knights, who declared Courtly love only to a married woman.

You can remain faithful to your husband instead of taking a lover — but you shouldn’t. After all, you have your foundation as a couple, a history, and a marriage. You’ve built something you can be proud of, and this tiny romance in Paris is not going to disrupt it.
— Inès de la Fressange

While they make a good case for taking a lover by elevating the behavior through poetic words, razor sharp intellect, and codifying love, not even the French have a vaccine to prevent the pain of infidelity, but the rules of love mitigate the possibility of exposure. Central to that is discretion and never to confess: “Rule #13. Public revelation of love is deadly to love in most instances.” Ines De La Fressange observed, “After all, why forsake the natural and inevitable pleasures of the long seductive run up to the affair, simply for the cause of loyalty?” Despite the long and winding history and process of these centuries old French attitudes about love, not even they are inured to the consequences. The real reason for the rules are to preserve the FAMILY because family preserves the order of society. The rules keep the HARMONY. Parents stay together; children are spared emotional trauma; property stays in the family; and voila, financial security is retained. In stark contrast, while Americans can’t tolerate dishonesty, we’d be just as inclined to take on a lover, but it seems the French handle it more pragmatically because does the American disclosure-confession solution really solve anything with the destruction of the family? The rules of love established the thought of a great epoch and explain this much-maligned propensity for adultery. They are French to the core; didactic, mocking, and lighthearted, preserving the attitudes and practices of a medieval tradition about love’s alternatives.

Divorce rates are about the same and there’s the same amount of infidelity going on, and French spouses get as angry as American ones. The difference is that Americans carry the weight of a puritanical legacy that France does not.
— Author Diane Johnson of the L’Affaire, Le Mariage, and Le Divorce

These attitudes persist through the 19th century, when love, marriage and infidelity are treated lightly in the popular comic "boulevard theaters". The plots were centered on a love triangle--a husband and wife and a lover who hides in beds and cupboards or jumps out of windows to avoid being discovered. For over the last hundred years, the cocu (cuckold) has been a source and symbol of amusement, characterizing adultery as less tragic and more of a laughing matter, explaining, at least in part, why their attitude seems blasé.

In 2001, Lynn Smith wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Americans won’t admit the nature of lust, forgive it, and create a separate compartment for it that doesn't affect our feeling for somebody. The French resembles the Dutch, who prefer transparency when it comes to pot and prostitution because they know people do it, so it might as well be regulated to minimize health risks. She goes on to say, “We insist our natural impulses must be managed and contained for the sake of the family or because adultery is a sin and violates marital vows. In reality, French and American couples behave about the same and they both want the same thing: to preserve the family. It’s just that we go about it differently.”



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Unless you've been living in a cave the last few weeks, you no doubt been bombarded with the horrific images of the recent rash of violent school-based incidents. Teens luring a cheerleader classmate to a home and beating her repeatedly while the video camera rolls; a teacher being assaulted in her classroom by students; a high-schooler throwing a metal chair at another in class knocking the victim unconscious; a 13-year middle schooler who admits that he planned to shoot up his school because he was being bullied.

Even more appalling than these animalistic acts themselves seems to be the general lack of outrage about them! A few choice "oh my GOSH-es" and we seem to be done for the day. The media is more interested in post-game quarterbacking, trying to decide if these children should be tried as juveniles or adults, or whether a well-known comedian's mother's book would be the answer to these ills, than it is in actually analyzing the root cause and investigating solutions.

What's WRONG with this picture?

We as a country spend billions of dollars annually on anti-bullying programs in our schools, yet the incidents not only continue, they appear to be getting worse in severity and frequency, and occur in increasingly-younger students. Today, our kids stand a one-in-four chance of becoming victims of some form of school-based violence before they reach high school. NEWS FLASH: what we're doing isn't working!

So, the knee-jerk reaction is to play the blame game: it's YouTube, it's the Internet, it's broken homes, it's our global lifestyle. But, blaming isn't fixing. We have to accept that instead of trying to minimize or manage the existing problem of bullying and school-based violence, we have to focus on preventing it in the first place. Today's children are just not coming into school - into life - equipped with adequate social skills and character development that helps them understand that this kind of behavior is simply NOT OK. They are not taught to respect and value differences among people, in opinions, in actions. "It's all about me!" is the mantra of many of our youth today, and the behavior we see splattered all over the 'net is the result.

People may argue that social skills education belongs in the home, not in the schools, and I'd be the first to agree. But, our schools have become a war zone, where teachers spend more time disciplining students and trying to keep order than they do teaching! Is it any wonder our schools under-perform? If you were losing 20/30/50% of your average educational time because of behavior issues, how effective do you think you could be?

The good news is that there is a better way. Social skills education works, when properly implemented. Bullying is not just reduced - it's eliminated. Not because there are more "enforcers" around, in the form of extra administrators, counselors, or police, but because the students won't stand for it. A comprehensive social skills program, integrated into the core curriculum, can restore order, sanity, and productivity to the schools. It raises student and teacher morale - it even contributes to better test scores. It helps produce not only good students, but good people.

How many more of our kids must be intimidated, hurt, or killed before it becomes important enough to DO something about instead of just talk about it around the water cooler the next morning? Our children deserve to feel safe, to feel valued when they leave our homes to go to school. We as parents and as taxpayers must insist that the increasing cycle of school violence be stopped.

Instead of just shaking our heads and saying what a shame it all is, let's ask ourselves the tough questions about why it happened, and actually be willing to be honest with the answer. Then we can start doing something to fix it.