Archive for the ‘Intercultural communication’ Category

These last few years, exchange programs between universities across the world have become very popular. Every year, thousands of students choose to go studying or working as interns abroad. They often come home with amazing memories, new knowledge and priceless experiences.

Within the European Union, the Erasmus program is the most commonly known. Erasmus stands for European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students and makes a reference to humanist Desiderius Erasmus who was, in his time, a real pioneer in terms of studying abroad. The Erasmus program was created 25 years ago and aimed at promoting exchanges for students and professors. Since then, more than 2 million young Europeans have been granted scholarships to go study in partner universities for one or two semesters. During the academic year 2009-2010, the number of students participating in the Erasmus program broke a new record and reached 200,000. France, Germany and Spain welcome the greatest number of students every year (source: http://ec.europa.eu/education/lifelong-learning-programme/doc80_en.htm).

Nowadays, having some experience of living abroad is no longer considered as a strength: it is almost an obligation.

What are the main advantages of staying abroad?

First, a better education: the tutorial system is usually different and classes are not organized as in the students’ home countries. Thus, they have to broaden their minds and go into further detail to understand perfectly their classes. They learn to master other ways of working and to consider their subject of study from other points of view.

Moreover, they are usually immersed in new languages and cultures which is an amazing experience and a real strength on a résumé. By getting in contact with the locals, they can really get to know a new culture and get a better understanding of the habits, ways of thinking and of functioning of the country they are in.

From an individual point of view, living abroad is even more enriching. Students will have to learn to live on their own and to be independent. Should they have problems, they learn to solve them by themselves as there is often no one around to help them. Multicultural experiences help broaden the mind and are really useful in a professional environment. Students usually grow up while living abroad and learn to be open when meeting new people. Strong friendships often grow between exchange students coming from all over the world. They develop international networks, which can always be useful when looking for a job.

As a general basis, managers usually consider that students who lived abroad have more managerial skills, know how to adapt to new situations especially intercultural situations. And usually, they are not afraid to go working abroad.

Still not convinced that you need international experiences?

Stop hesitating, pack your bags and go have an amazing experience that you won’t forget to find out by yourself!

More information on the Erasmus program:


Few testimonies:





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We all have stereotypes about certain cultures. Sometimes, they are based on our own experiences, sometimes they are not. We imagine Dutch people as greedy, with blond hair and pants too short, English as real gentlemen, stylish and drinking tea, Spanish people as Casanovas taking a nap, German as always on time or Russians as cold and big on vodka…

Stereotypes have always existed, no matter the culture, and they are usually reinforced by their existence in literature and the media. The discipline in charge of creating such image is known as imagology. Even if there is still little research done in this field, it is really interesting. Joep Leerssen, professor of Modern European Literature at the University of Amsterdam, is a real pioneer. He published a book entitled “Imagology, The cultural construction and literary representation of national characters”, in which he describes stereotypes of certain cultures and nationalities throughout History.

More recently, this approach is found in the works of Ferber & Davies. In their book “Pardon our French: French stereotypes in American Media”, they focus on the image that Americans have of French people. They are seen as romantic, handsome, unpleasant, arrogant, pedantic, bossy, quarrelsome, negative, selfish, immoral, food-loving and elegant. In addition, they smell bad, they don’t shave, they talk but can’t make decisions, they don’t obey rules and don’t comply with deadlines and procedures, they go on strike for anything and smoke all the time.

These stereotypes appear in Stephen Clarke’s books, such as “A year in the merde” and “Merde actually”. His novels describe in a humorous manner the integration into French society of his hero, Paul West. He focuses on the differences between the French and English cultures and on various aspects of life in France. Paul West comes to Paris with highly stereotyped opinions and once he gets there, tries to check if his clichés are true or completely made up.

To conclude, here are some funny sequences of “A year in the merde”, filled with French stereotypes:

· “This is a real Anglo-style meeting. Taking decisions.” Decisions? We can’t agree, so we decide to pay a consultant who’s going to be bribed into agreeing with the guy with the crappiest ideas. Didn’t seem very constructive to me”.

· “H.L.M.” She spelled it out in English. “It means habitation à loyer modéré or something like that. Low-cost apartments.” She giggled. “Although all the residents are lawyers, doctors etc. Or the sons and daughters and friends of politicians. Papa got me this apartment from a friend at the Hôtel de Ville”.

· “He explained that the waiter wanted to cash up now because, like all the other unionized waiters in Paris – that is, most of the blokes in black waistcoats, and they are, strangely enough, almost all male – he was going on strike as of now, “thirteen hours””.

· “At other tables, people were all taking part in the same deal but the waiter shouted at them or just ignored them”

Additional information:

Video about French stereotypes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERD2TnMNH98 (English version)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCIAyHEFTrQ&feature=relmfu (French version)

More information about Stephen Clarke and his novels:


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By Hélène Classine (5e MI)

A French success that would have great difficulties to impose itself in North America

The concept

Every year in France, at the end of September, just after the grape harvest, supermarkets organize wine fairs. For one week or two, they dedicate a large space to wine. Consumers can find a huge choice of wine, at all prices.

The biggest supermarkets also have employees working in that space to give advice to the consumers and to offer wine tasting.
This business concept is well-rooted in the French culture. Every year, supermarket wine fairs are very successful: around 20% of the total amount of wine sold annually in France is bought in supermarkets during that period.

Wine fairs were first launched by the supermarkets Leclerc and Auchan in the seventies. Later, other supermarkets as well as wine merchants and specialized liquor stores also implemented this concept.

Why is this concept such a success in France?

Wine and France
As beer is the first alcoholic beverage in other countries, wine is the major one in France.

First of all, it is a major aspect of French culture. France is well-known for its gastronomy, and French cuisine always has to come with the perfect wine to accompany it. It is much more than a sole alcoholic beverage: it is part of any proper meal – if not every day, at least on Sunday’s meals.
Traditionally, wine conveys a spirit of celebration, pleasure and sharing.

Many studies have also demonstrated the beneficial effects of red wine on the health when consumed in moderation (preventive effects against cardiovascular diseases, cancer and dementia).

It is also important to note that France is the world’s largest wine producer (before Italy and Spain) and the third exporter. There are 3,420 different wines produced in France.

Wine in supermarkets
Consumers can buy wine directly from the producer, through cooperatives or in liquor stores. Nevertheless, seven out of ten bottles are sold in supermarkets, where you usually find the cheapest wine. And it is also more accessible: when one is inviting friends or family over, he or she can choose the wine and buy the ingredients for the meal to prepare at the same time and place. It is a lot easier and faster for the consumer.

A commercial operation
This business concept is a success because supermarkets use a cultural tradition to highlight a product. This concept enables the expert consumers to buy good wines at interesting prices, helps the enlightened ones develop their knowledge about wine and discover new products, and teaches the basics of oenology to non-specialists.

Why wouldn’t this concept work in North America?

The concept would have to face great obstacles to impose itself in the United States or in Canada.

Legal Context
The first obstacle would be a legal one. In most states or provinces of both countries, selling alcohol is highly regulated. The 21st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution authorizes each State to regulate the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.
It is generally forbidden to sell alcohol in supermarkets: you can only buy it in specialized liquor stores that own a specific license. Therefore, organizing wine fairs in supermarkets would simply be impossible.

Read more about US Wine Shipping Laws

Cultural context
Gastronomy and wine are not an integrated part of the North American culture as it is in France: even though the consumption is growing fast, drinking wine is not yet a well-rooted habit in North America.

In 2010, the average consumption per person amounted to 9.6 liters in the US, 13.4 liters in Canada… and almost 50 liters in France!

In France, most parents allow their children to taste wine long before they are legally authorized to do so. By doing so, they are teaching them an aspect of their culture and history. This behavior is really rare in North America, where wine is just an alcoholic beverage among others and is generally drunk outside mealtimes as it is not associated to gastronomy.

The cultural context also explains why American consumers can find many types of containers: plastic bottles, tetra-bricks, glass bottles with stoppers that unscrew easily, etc. Those now exist in France but are far less numerous than the classic glass bottle with cork stoppers and it took consumers a long time to accept and buy them.

Economic context
From an economic point of view, wine fairs in North America would struggle to be profitable, even if the law was to authorize them.

Wine in the US

The distribution system in the United States  is very complex. The great number of intermediaries increases the wine market prices and therefore makes wine less accessible to the general public.
Although the United States is the world’s first consumer of wine  (because of the great number of potential consumers) and the fourth producer, the share of wine represents less than 10% of their total consumption of alcoholic beverages.

And even though individual consumption of wine has doubled in forty years in the US and increased by 66% over the last ten years in Canada  (!), it remains marginal in North America


In a word, supermarkets wine fairs today would probably not be successful in North America… unless this business concept is adapted to the context, turning them for instance into supermarkets beer fairs?

Some other links of interest about wine consumption in the US:


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Whether you are in a professional environment or on a trip abroad, you may need to communicate with people from different cultures. Throughout my education and my various immersions in foreign countries, I have experienced these situations and I would like to give you a few tips on how to handle them:

What you should do

  • Make sure you remain open-minded: stay away from clichés and stereotypes. Last summer I worked with a Russian girl who told me she was always asked about vodka, weapons and KGB, which she finds quite annoying!

  • Spending as much time as possible with the foreigners you meet is the best way to get to know and understand them.

  • At any rate, ask and read about the customs of the country that you are to visit: body language, for instance, can vary a lot from one country to another. In Cyprus, thanking a yielding driver with a wave is considered as an insult. In Thailand, eating your plate clean when you’re treated to dinner is offending – your host will think you haven’t been given enough food!

What you should not do

  • Don’t take it for granted that you will be understood: even though you speak the same language as the person you’re talking to, remember accents and expressions can vary a lot. When I lived in Britain, I shared a house with eleven other students from nine different countries such as Scotland, Ireland, Britain, the United States… They all spoke the same language and though I realized that sometimes they didn’t understand each other! “To be pissed”, for instance, means “to be upset” in American English whereas British people use it to say they are drunk, which led to some comical conversations between my housemates! Now imagine what a conversation between two non native English speakers could be like!

  • Don’t try to understand foreign cultural concepts based on the practices and customs of your own country. In Western countries, arranged marriages are usually considered pejorative and it is often thought that the bride has been obliged to get married. However, in some civilizations, it sounds completely normal.

  • Make sure you don’t ask stereotyped questions: it happened to me many times that foreign people having heard I’m French would ask me for tips to choose wine (the thing is, I know absolutely nothing about it!) and try to say something in French – something which, very often, didn’t mean anything!


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Culture and interculturality are part of our everyday’s life. Most of the time, we do not even realize its impact on our daily interpersonal exchanges.Why is it easier for Americans to go forward to other people (including superiors) than for French people ?
Why do we think that Eastern European people are colder at first sight consider it is not the case? All those questions that we ask ourselves, those situations that we experience, all of this is called interculturality.

So what’s the secret to get along with everyone? It is called “intercultural communication” which, let’s face it, is only to anticipate or deal with conflicts to be in the professional environment that might be related to cultural differences. Of course, it can also be used to have a better communication and understanding without  “conflict” as square one.

Sometimes, those differences so appreciated by nationalists and patriots can be at the source of funny situations.
Let’s take an example: the “The adventures of Tintin : The Secret of the Unicorn” poster.

A family member saw the poster in the Parisian subway and sent me a text message: “Is Steven Spielberg dead.. ?”

Panic on board. WHAT ? How ?! I haven’t heard anything ! I rush on the Internet, have a look at a few websites and pages that might enlighten me but no, nothing. No one is mentioning it.

I dont understand. I ask around and a friend tells me that last Tuesday evening, she was at the movie’s preview next to the Grand Rex, that she saw him and that he looked fine… not really a living dead.

I did some research and resolved the mystery. I happen to be from Poland, and in my country, when the name of someone is in a square on a movie poster (which is the case for Steven Spielberg here), it means that the movie has been released after this person died! It is a posthum tribute and no a simple way to enhance Spielberg’s name on the movie poster.

I was relieved. But then I had to explain to the person who texted me that in France, putting someone’s name in a square did not mean one joined Steve Jobs in paradise… French graphists surely wouldn’t take that Polish cultural detail into account when creating movie posters meant for a largerly French audience. No on’s going to stumble on a square over here.


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Finding an answer to the question “What is intercultural communication?” doesn’t seem very difficult: it’s the communication between different cultures. But what is culture exactly? And how can it be defined?

Culture is seen as something abstract and inaccessible by a lot of people. Instinctively, we all know what culture is, but when we are asked to describe it, we block. However, a certain insight into the concept of culture is essential to understand the meaning of intercultural communication. In the following paragraphs, I’ll try to describe culture and make it a bit more concrete.

Culture can be defined as the total of beliefs, values, attitudes and ways of thinking and acting shared by a certain group of people. Or, as the anthropologist Clifford Geertz stated: “Culture is a set of control mechanisms – plans, recipes, rules, instructions – for the governing of behavior”. The Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede defined culture as “the collective mental programming of the people in an environment”.

When asked, people often say that a culture is shared by those who speak the same language, or those who have the same nationality. Still, the term ‘culture’ doesn’t only apply to national or ethnic groups. It also applies to groups within a society, at different levels. People from the same age can share a culture, just as people with the same profession or the same belief and people who work for the same company. The variety of cultures is enormous: national culture, corporate culture, age culture…

That variety of cultures implies that intercultural communication is a very large domain. It doesn’t only imply communication between people who don’t speak the same language, but it also implies communication between people of different ages or between two companies with a completely different corporate culture. Welcome to the fascinating and continuously expanding world of intercultural communication!


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