German-Pinay Talks: Differing Communication Styles

communication style.jpg


How are you? 

I’m okay. 

I mean, how are you? What’s up with you? 

I am okay. Nothing’s new with me.

Have you ever felt frustrated trying to get your meaning across? I bet we all have this going-nuts experience.

Not even two people belonging to the same culture are guaranteed to respond in exactly the same way. Let’s make it more complicated by involving a person from another culture.  I bet for now, we get the mental picture, yeah?

Communicating across cultures is CHALLENGING as each has set rules, coupled with its own cultural biases introduced to us from a very early age. While some of our culture’s knowledge, rules, beliefs and values are explicitly taught, most of the information is absorbed subconsciously, which makes it even more difficult to diffuse. Enough with this lines. I think I could really get serious talking about this. 😀 and yes, I can talk about this for hours.

I have a degree in communication and language teaching but I am not spared. 😀

Let’s see how it goes with us:

My high-context Asian style vs Mein Mann’s low-context European style. It is not even about the issue of industrialization or something to that effect, but instead, of the use of contexts.

To beat around the bushes or not? Be gentle or upfront?

As a Pinays, (and perhaps Asians in general), we were taught early in life that confrontation is a “no go”. That if you confront someone, you might as well be seen as a trouble maker, or an attention seeker. And, that “people should be wise enough to read between the lines”. Let’s add to this the countless nonverbal cues and gestures available at our disposal. Take tsk tsk tsk as a way to express disbelief or disagreement. That’s just really one of it.

The result? A clueless German husband trying to figure out what is wrong and why are we arguing in the first place; dealing with the furious wife on the verge of losing sanity thinking her words and reactions didn’t mean a thing!

Then goes the explicit, direct and specific language of mein Mann (and of those English or Germanic speaking dudes). Not leaving any gaps for interpretation, saying the exact words that tells the message upfront regardless of how blunt it can be for me.

Result? The Pinay wife feeling underestimated or scolded who would then retort in a quite “arrogant” way. More of recalling the previous arguments that involved the same subject or asking of the specific events that will prove his statement. Kinda like, he said, “you are not listening”, and so she would retort with a smirk, “ah, you did the same last time, remember?”

The start of a long discussion commences.


Sequential European  vs. Synchronic Asian

One after another or all at once? Yeah, we will see.

Mein Mann, as his culture dictates, would think of time sequentially. I mean, as far as I have noticed, time is something as a linear commodity one can either “spend,” “save,” or “waste.” Simply stated, we need to talk about one topic at a time, doesn’t matter if it overlaps with another thing. Let’s talk about this thing first. First things first.

The synchronic Asian wife, however, would love to see time as something that flows constantly, and thus, it is okay to be experienced in the moment. You know, time is a force that cannot be contained or controlled. Let’s live by the moment and see  time as it flows around a circle with the past, present, and future all interrelated. So, ah yes, love, this is also related to that thing we talked about last time, right?

The result?  Chaos in making or discussing the “long-term” plans. Chaotic in the sense that all elements are scrutinized with both views present. Take for example the discussion on living in the Philippines and with me pursuing my professorship. The husband would ask, “but, with a family, are you sure you can balance everything?” which I would often retort with “yes, it is possible”. This would later drive him nuts, as “possible” means “yes, I can really do it” for him, yet I mean, “yes, I can with the help of other people”. Since we both agree that one of us should at least be present at home with the kids every day regardless of where we work, of course, “it is possible” only fans the flame of “yeah, maybe, but I won’t be home at for at least 8 hours in a day even when you are in Europe for some months”.

Boom! It is really possible? Yes, those endless possibilities defined the Asian way.

If there is ONE THING though that we both strongly agree on, that would be with the thought that the individual is the one responsible for himself as he influence the future by personal effort. But, given the multitude of variables that might derail the way to the projected future, a short-term view can be a good thing. Talking about reality and not ideals. And oh, that it is also important to think it is not really a good idea to do business with friends or family members.

Affective Asian vs. Neutral European

As with any type of relationship, reason and emotion both play a role. But, who readily shows emotions like laughing, smiling, smirking, and sometimes crying, shouting, or walking out of the room? You got it right! The affective Asian wife does. And what about the Neutral husband, you ask? Hell yeah, he rarely telegraphs his feelings and keep them carefully controlled and subdued no matter what the situation is.

The result? The husband has to deal with being told cold or unfeeling, and the wife being poked fun at for getting out of control and doing the unthinkable in the West- “tampo”. The problem, however, is the fact that many non-Filipinos define “tampo” in a way which encompasses all the expression of emotions and not with the specific “cold treatment until I get what I want” style. So, when we walk out or keep quiet for a while, it means with don’t want confrontations and that we are taming the beast within so it won’t break free to eat you alive. 😀 Affective and low-context, yeah??

With planning things, the Asian wife, eaten by excitement or worry, would drive the neutral husband, who are more inclined with whether the idea works or not, nuts.    He could say, “I agree with your thoughts on this” rather than “I feel the same way.” Seems like the wife can’t get the confirmation of feelings. You know, this rationality can be totally irrelevant for her. This is personal, me and myself think so. 😀 And the husband feeling that it is just right to say so, as it is rational doesn’t matter how emotional this affective wife can get.

Reason and emotion, when will you get married?

Is this enough to buy everything you need?

Ah, that’s cool, I can get by with this.

Is this enough?


Is it enough? Yes or no.

No, not really.

Ah…. I hate this.

The next discussion begins.

Of course, there is no single best approach to communicating perfectly with one another. I believe the key to cross-cultural success is to develop an understanding of, and a deep respect for, the differences.

Are you married to a person outside of your culture? What are the struggles (or fun) you have in communicating? Share your thoughts! 🙂



2 thoughts on “German-Pinay Talks: Differing Communication Styles

  1. I had fun reading your post,I am engaged to an Italian man.I can relate to that “tampo” moment.hahaha..when I suddenly keep quiet,or my face seemed not in the mood.. or when I reply OK.or K. haha..but he doesn’t know that it really isn’t OK at all.hahahaha

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