Full Transcript: Pellegrino Riccardi on Cross Cultural Communication at TEDxBergen

Curiosity is a great thing. Now, I’ve got three kids. Kids are the most curious creatures on the planet. A recent survey — I can’t believe this, but I have to quote it — apparently, 4-year-olds will ask up to 390 questions per day. 82% of those questions will be to mothers rather than fathers. You know why? Because when the kid goes to the father, what does the father say? Go and ask your mother. Curiosity is so important.

And I remember the time — one of the most difficult situations I had — I was having a meal in Helsinki, in Finland, and I was sitting there, and the thing is, Italians, when we talk, we have to talk actually. We eat and we talk, we eat and we talk. We’re not alone on that actually, there are many cultures that do that. Finns, on the other hand, don’t have to talk. They can talk, but they don’t have to.

So, I’m sitting next to this Finn, and I’m trying to be curious and create a conversation, and I thought, “OK, small talk.” The rules of engagement of small talk.

Rule number 1: ask a simple question. Curious, simple question. Rule number 2: listen to the answer, pick out a word, follow up that word. It’s really simple actually. So, I was there, this quiet Finn was sitting next to me. And I turned to him, and I said, “So, have you lived in Helsinki all your life?” And he looked at me a little strange, and he said, “Not yet.” Moments like this – you know, which word do I follow up: ‘not’ or ‘yet’? – they really challenge your curiosity, but you’ve got to be curious, and it’s really simple.

Do you know what it is about the Nordic cultures? It’s all about economy of language. Italians use loads and loads of words to say very, very little actually. In the Nordic countries, it’s different, it’s the opposite; it’s minimum words, maximum message. So, where I was raised, in the UK – the UK, it’s also lots of words, by the way — look at this, “Excuse me, may I just interrupt you for a second?” That is 10 words. That is way too many words. The Norwegians manage to do this in one word, that’s what I call economy of language. What is the word? Look at this. Yeah. “You?” That’s it.

Here is another example. “Sorry for bumping into you like that, terribly clumsy of me.” That is way too many words. The Norwegians do it in one word. Ready? There it goes. Fantastic. My favourite and you know the answer – “Sorry, I didn’t quite catch what you just said.” Hæ? Well-done. “Hæ?” One word. The first time I heard that, I just heard this, “Hæ?”

I’ve got three kids now going, “Hæ?” “Hæ?” “Hæ?” But look beyond the negative side, and look to the curiosity. And this is it, we are often misperceived because, on a serious note, this “Hæ?”, which I’ve heard many times, doesn’t often get perceived very positively by other nationalities. You get it, yeah? Everyone has been misperceived in their life. The Dutch are often misperceived, they complain a lot, they are the world champions of complaining. But why do they do it? They do it because they are looking for something better. One way you do it is to complain and seek a better result, that’s often difficult.

I used to work with a guy who was French – he is French – I used to work with him, his name was Yves. Yves. Yves complained a lot as well. He complained about everything, and he questioned everything. He had a fantastic mind. I would come into work and once I came into work, and I said to Yves, “Good morning!” He looked at me and said, “Is it?” He was on that level, you know.

I’ve had my challenges too. The biggest challenge I’ve had living in Norway and trying to communicate with my fellow Norwegians, is, of course, feelings and expressing feelings. Where I come from, we express. What I’ve learned to do, I’ve had to learn to do is kind of tone myself down actually living in the Nordic countries, in Norway, to tone myself down, keep it low, keep it calm, because that works better, which is often very, very difficult.

Another thing is rules, I still find rules a little tricky. I must admit that is where I’m quite Italian. These are people driving into work in a town, in Norway; they are following rules, can you see? They are simple rules, the rules are: keep between the lines and don’t use the lane over there – that’s the public transport lane – unless you’re a bus, a taxi, or an electric car; simple rules. And look at this: every single car manages to drive between the lines, it’s fantastic.

Now, this is a little clip that I took this summer driving down to Italy. This is a police car; that car has nothing to do with the police car. It’s just a little, short clip, but look at it. I mean, would you do that in Norway? You know you wouldn’t. This is another clip in France. What they do — yeah, yeah, look, what happens is that, you see, they drift. I love that guy in the BMW, the French guy is going, “Left or right? I do not know yet. I have not decided.” It’s fantastic.

In some countries, you can’t even see the lines. Where are the lines? Where are they? I suggested once to an Indian colleague of mine, “Perhaps, if you painted the lines more regularly, people would follow the rules.” And he just said, “No, that would be a waste of paint.” That is why we have traffic wardens in Norway. This is a traffic warden in Norway giving a ticket, a fine to this car.

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