Pedagogica –
Socio-cultural nightmares?


Concluding my two weeks of guest lecturing in Finland, I was gifted with a delightful little comic book about cultural sensitivity from a Finnish perspective. 

The theme of Finnish Nightmares is best described by the author herself in the opening page: "Meet Matti, a stereotypical Finn who appreciates peace, quiet and personal space. Matti tries his best to do unto others as he wishes to be done unto him: to give space, be polite and not bother with unnecessary chit chat. As you might’ve guessed, it can’t always go that way." The rest of the book illustrates Matti's discomforts in a wide variety of situations, from chatting in the sauna to the rare but genuine Finnish smile.

Probably why we resent stereotypes so much is that a certain kernel of their truth hits home in self-admission of the discomfort we feel, can’t rid ourselves of, and so endure in situations that engage our cultural vulnerabilities. Thus, beyond the enjoyment and the, "Ain't it the truth..." reactions to these pages about Matti the Finn, comes the moment of reflection about the everyday discomforts I experience in social settings and in particular when I find myself in a setting quite different from my own. 

Thus, this slim book invited me to introspectively recall those moments of discomfort, not the major challenges of cultural conflict, but the little everyday things that may distress us when swimming in the choppy sea of another culture or dealing with those who are more outgoing more introspective than ourselves, even in our own culture. When we speak about recognizing, understanding, and accepting differences, it is usually about those differences that others bring into our lives. In fact, the greater challenge is likely to be that of recognizing and accepting the way we are and what we feel in the moment that others' differences impinge on our comfort. 

Though my character may be quite different from that of Matti I have my own cultural nightmares. Though "nightmares” may at first seem too strong a word, it nonetheless conveys how feeling is mixed with fantasy in ways that I can't quite control, struggle as I may to wake up. I remember my first years in the Netherlands when I accepted the direct and plain speech of my Dutch colleagues to be a kind of laudable honesty, while at the same time it left me with a slight churning in my stomach that Maalox couldn't fix. Accepting myself with the seemingly incurable discomforts I experience in such situations, I ultimately came to realize was a missing ingredient in my recipe for cultural competence.

 

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