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Full Transcript: Pellegrino Riccardi on Cross Cultural Communication at TEDxBergen

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. At the time, we went for a drive, we went for a drive with my father, and we are all looking at the same thing. Look at this beautiful Norwegian landscape. And my father is taking photographs that he wants to show his friends. The road is kind of bumpy, so he says to my wife, “Could you slow the car down please? Stop the car. I want to take a proper photograph.”

My wife says, “But Mr. Riccardi, there is nothing here.”

He looks at her and he says to her, “I know. I’ve never seen nothing before.” What was amazing with this is we’re looking at the same pictures and we’re using completely different words to describe it and this is the challenge of working across borders. We’ve got different ideas of accepted and familiar.

Here is what is accepted and familiar to me when I queue. I was raised in the UK, we’re the world champions of queueing, waiting in line. And you know? We’re fantastic. If you’re waiting in line in a supermarket in the UK, let’s say there are 10 people waiting in line, and we all are getting a bit impatient because we’re all waiting in line — and then they open a new cash register, do you know what will happen in the UK? The first four people, they won’t move, they’ll stay in the queue. The next six people will move to the next cash register in more or less the same order, and they kind of check with each other.

And if they open another cash register, the same will happen. It’s like a formation dance, it’s fantastic. Would the same happen in Norway? No. What would happen if they shout in Norwegian “Ledig kasse”, which is “Available cash register”? What happens? Everybody goes for it. It’s first come, first served, isn’t it? Isn’t that what is accepted and familiar?

Now the first time that happened to me, I was shocked, and I said some not very nice things about Norwegians. But, you know, you got to dig a bit deeper to find out why Norwegians do that. Why are they running for that cash register? Why is it a free for all and first come, first served? I think it has got to do with this. “What?” they say. This is the King of Norway on a train in 1973, that guy in a cap on the right. This is equality, and I think the queueing system in Norway is all about equality. First come, first served is about equality, and it’s the ability to dig under the surface and find out what the underlying values are. That’s how you know how to communicate with people, and this thing with equality is really important in Norway. It’s the reason we’re so laid back with each other, we don’t bother with titles, we dress casually, it makes a fantastic business environment actually, doesn’t it?

But sometimes, this can take you a bit by surprise, and in those situations where you feel uncomfortable or irritated, we have a tendency to jump to the negative conclusions rather than the positive conclusions. I mean I travel all over the world — and this is not an advertisement for the airlines — but it is Scandinavian Airlines, and it’s Lufthansa, and it’s Singapore Airlines, and everybody knows Singapore Airlines has the best service; why? Because they have a whole lot more hierarchy in their societies. Therefore, when they serve you, they serve you, and the Singapore Airlines staff – I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a Singapore Airlines flight — but from the moment they welcome you, they look like they’re going to serve you. I mean, it’s just the body language, it’s like, “Anything for you, sir.”

Now, if a Scandinavian Airlines person did this when you came on, yeah, exactly, you would get suspicious, wouldn’t you? What is going on? Because it is not accepted or familiar, that’s it, you know. This is what it’s all about. So this is how we do it. And look at the space. Space is important, nobody is touching. If you go to somewhere like Finland, that space becomes even more, can you see? It’s fantastic.

And look at the way they queue in France. There is nothing like the way I’m used to queueing, and it’s different every day, it’s never the same. And in some cultures, you need a bit more motivation to stand in line. This is my favorite one, this is fantastic, look at this. Isn’t that great? They’re all different. We are all doing the same thing in slightly different ways.

Now, how do you get across borders? How do you navigate through this? Because you can’t learn all the codes, it’s impossible. Here is a tip. This is what I’m really passionate about: Curiosity. I am, have been, always will be a curious person. Curiosity gets you through a lot of things. I believe you can ask any question to anybody just about anything, provided you do it with curiosity. That’s it.

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By Pangambam S

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