Cross-Cultural Activity: The Anthropologists
Divide the class into two groups. If you have a large group, you might want to have one or two people act as observers.
Send one group out of the room while you brief the other. Those in the room are told they are members of a very easy-going, peaceable culture that has three essential rules governing social interactions. The first rule is that speakers stand shoulder to shoulder, facing opposite directions, when conversing, not face to face. The second rule is that it is rude to converse too fast -- there must be at least a five-second pause between questions and answers (or statements). Both of these rules must be observed by members of the culture and those with whom they interact. The third rule applies to the members of the culture, but outsiders are not expected to abide by it: women hold their hands in front of them, men hold theirs behind them. When a newcomer/tourist/visitor violates either of the first two rules, the member of the resident culture simply walks away without explanation, thus ending the conversation. It's probably a good idea to let the insiders try this out before bringing in the "outsider" group so they can get used to the extremely slow pace of conversation and to simply walking away when someone breaks a rule. Suggest that they count the seconds silently (one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand, five-one-thousand) to keep the conversation moving slowly enough.
Once they have got the idea, go outside and tell the second group that they are visiting a new country and are very interested to learn more about it by talking to some of the inhabitants. When they enter the room, they are to try to start a conversation with one of the local people in order to learn about their culture. Give them 5 or 10 minutes to attempt this, then interrupt and do a partial debriefing of the visiting group in the presence of the residents to find out what their impressions are of the others and also to see whether they have figured out any of the rules. Don't give the rules away at this point, but allow the visitors another try at getting acquainted. After another 5 or 10 minutes, debrief the whole class, one group at a time.
For the second round, send the original stay-at-home group into the hall while you brief the new homebodies. This time they are Pacific Islanders who have a wonderful, peaceful culture that has been spared the ravages of invasion, colonization and cultural intrusions. Once, many years ago, they were visited by a group of anthropologists, but the visit was a disaster and no outsiders have been here since. Like the first group, these islanders have some rules; within the group, anybody can talk to anybody, but when talking with outsiders, men may only talk to men and women only talk to women. Islanders do not initiate conversations, but they can respond to yes-or-no questions. The answer given is determined by the facial expression of the person asking the question. If the questioner smiles while asking the question, the answer is always yes. If the questioner is not smiling, the answer is no, regardless of the truth of the answer. As before, when a visitor breaks a rule, the local resident simply walks away.
This time, the group in the corridor are told they are professional anthropologists trying to pick up the thread where their earlier colleagues' research left off. They have received funding from the government to visit the aforementioned isolated culture and to learn as much as they can about them. As their funding is limited, they want to make speedy progress.
The visiting anthropologists join the natives and try to learn all they can. Give them 5 or 10 minutes (depending on whether the anthropologists give up or keep trying) and then let the anthropologists meet and compare notes (in front of the natives). Let them have a second round of interactions, then debrief everybody. The debriefing should include how they felt about the way the others acted, what kind of people they thought they were dealing with, and how they felt about acting the way they did themselves. The activity can take up to an hour and can elicit some very interesting cross-cultural insights.
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