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Full Transcript: Pellegrino Riccardi on Cross Cultural Communication at TEDxBergen

Cross-culture expert Pellegrino Riccardi discusses Cross Cultural Communication at TEDxBergen event. Here is the full transcript of the TEDx Talk.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Cross cultural communication by Pellegrino Riccardi at TEDxBergen


It’s really great to be in Bergen, this is the second time this week I am in Bergen. I live in Oslo, I guess I’m living in the wrong place.

As you quite rightly say, my name Pellegrino, which is my first name, means ‘pilgrim’. It was given to me by my Italian parents. It is as if they knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life. “Let’s give him the name ‘pilgrim’, and then he’ll travel the world.” That’s basically what I did. This is my workplace. I do a lot of travelling.

I can give you a fancy title of what I do, but what I really do is I try to help people communicate better, especially in the global business world. So I try to help people communicate better with other nationalities. You know, the first thing you think of when you work with other nationalities and cross-cultural communication, is “Let’s look at the other cultures.” Well I take a slightly different approach. I say to people, “Take a look at yourself.”

So I am going to talk a lot about perception because it’s all about perception and understanding what people see. As you see, I have Italian in me, I have a lot of British in me. Some people are often surprised by my English accent, it’s quite nice, isn’t it? Because you weren’t expecting this, I know, you were expecting me to speak with an Italian accent. I don’t speak like that.

And I’ve been in Norway for over a third of my life actually, so I’ve got a lot of Norwegian in me as well. What I like doing to people is I have these little social experiments to test their perception of me. Now as I said, I travel a lot, so I like playing with the airlines. I like going up to the airlines and talk in English, or sometimes talk with an Italian accent, to see what kind of reactions I get. And English is the best one. If you want a good service, you speak English like I do. It’s fantastic. People take you seriously.

Well, they do, you know. I mean, yesterday, the plane to Bergen was late. If I go up and say, “Excuse me, it’s 30 minutes late, I’m a punctual person, I don’t like being late,” they just take you seriously. But yesterday I thought I’d try in an Italian accent.

So I went up, and I actually said, “Excuse me, but the plane is 30 minutes late, I’m a punctual person, you know.” Exactly! I got the same reaction as you did there. This is one of the problems when working with other nationalities: people see what they want to see, they don’t always see what you see. And this is one of the challenges.

Just before we get into it, culture, let’s look at culture. My definition of culture, and I know this doesn’t cover everything, but let’s keep it simple. I usually do two day workshops on this, I’ve got 18 minutes — “a system of behavior that helps us act in an accepted or familiar way”. Keyword there: accepted or familiar. We’re basically doing things which are accepted in our social group and which are familiar.

So a lot of my work is actually explaining Norwegian behavior to other nationalities. So I’m constantly looking for this sort of, “Can we describe a Norwegian in a nutshell?” And I think I found it.

I found this fantastic text on the Internet, I want you to read it, it’s really worth reading. “If you were to use a color to describe this person, he’d have to be green. He lives in isolation in his home, a place he best describes as ‘his’ and ‘cosy’. However, he is not the most receptive of people when it comes to visitors.” The typical Norwegian. “He is somewhat primitive, but he is honest, straightforward, all he really wants in life are the simple little pleasures like peace and quiet.” Do you recognize any of this?

There are some key words — can you see that? They jump out at you. And you think OK, it’s a stereotype, but a lot of this is a bit true. And I show this to Norwegians, and they kind of nod, “Yeah, OK. I’ll give you that one.” And then I surprise them: this is a description not of a Norwegian, but of a Hollywood film star. Yeah! Would you like to know who it is? There it is. Is that person there.

And the point about this is you often believe what people tell you as well. I could sit there and tell you this is a Norwegian, and you believe it. It’s not a Norwegian at all; although maybe this could be a Norwegian that is going off to this house, but there are many words in there which are accepted and familiar.

Another accepted and familiar thing about Norwegian life is the Norwegian forest; I live in the Oslo area, it’s all forest. Working across borders is basically not accepting completely that your assumptions are the assumptions of others. I mean that’s logic; you know, common sense. The Norwegian forest is a good thing, isn’t it, Norwegians in the room? It’s all good, it’s fresh air, nature, elks, skiing, it’s fantastic. Well that’s what my wife thought the first time my father visited us in Norway because she thought we would do something nice.

So my wife asked my Italian father, “Would you like to go for a walk in the forest?”

And my father looked at her and said, “Why?” And I had to explain to my wife that if you say to another Italian, “Hey, you and me, we go for a walk in the forest,” that means something else, you don’t do that. But how can you know that? How could you know that? Accepted and familiar.

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