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I watched as the man “flipped-the-bird” at his six-year-old daughter. 

Instantly, I gasped and felt a surge of adrenaline.  What kind of father would do that to his own daughter?

The next moment, giggling, his little girl smiled broadly and flipped him right back! The two of them then laughed and hugged each other.

It dawned on me.  The kind of father who would do that and who would have a little girl who would happily do it too – would be ones who weren’t American and who were not taught specifically (like I was) that this gesture was obscene.

They’re Italian.  And they’re lovely.  The little girl is one of Lulu’s best friends and a kind, well-behaved little sweetie.  I know her parents too. Her mom and dad are loving, caring, and, yes, full of Italian playful spirit.

Unintentional or not?

Unintentional or not?

Obviously, for them, raising the middle finger to each other  was just a part of playful banter – not the supreme insult of which most six-year-olds wouldn’t even comprehend.

It was my personal point-of-view and frame-of-reference that caused me to gasp – not the reality of the situation or their intent.

Consider your listener’s unique point of view.

That startling moment served as another reminder to me about how important it is to try as best as possible, to consider the points of views of “the others” when you communicate.   Not only where your audience may be from regionally or culturally, but what is going on in their lives that may reframe or color whatever it is you are trying to get across.

Your experiences are not necessarily the same as your  audience.

Of course there are plenty of hand gestures in Italy and in other cultures that do pack a real wallop-worth of insult.  I’m not going to go into that now.  Just remember when you’re speaking to you next audience, that not every anecdote or moment that that speaks deeply to you, will do the same for your listeners.  Conversely, something you may take lightly, may deeply impact those around you.

I remember, for example, when I lived in Cairo – I learned a particularly colorful epithet from the man who guided Scotty and me on our tour through the Pyramids of Giza.  Directly – and  bit softly – translated, it means, “Kiss My Red Baboon’s Bottom!”  I thought it was hilarious.  But when I proudly (and naively?!) repeated it in Arabic for my Egyptian staff members  back at my office, they  were shocked.  No lady speaks like that.  It was offensive. Yet, to my non-Arabic speaking ears, it was as lilting as a string of nonsense words from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

Kiss my red baboon's ..yikes!

Kiss my red baboon’s ..yikes!

Search for the common ground.

Your anecdotes and language, therefore, must reach a higher level. One that you are sure will connect and not offend your audience.  Find someone with whom you can practice – and test out your stories or illustrations. Get feedback before you deliver your presentation or make your sales pitch.

It’s essential that every word counts and does not discount what you intend to say.cultural awareness

Author Elizabeth Gilbert in her best-selling book, Eat Pray Love recounts a moment in Naples when an eight-year-old girl in Naples shoots her the middle finger from the back of a Vespa all the while sporting a big smile.   Gilbert writes about a paragraph worth of imagined meaning from the gesture, because to her, as an American, that gesture carried a powerful impact.  But to the little girl in question, much like Lulu’s little friend, it probably meant hardly anything at all.

Ciao!

Here’s to your next presentation’s success!

Baci, Gina

Want to make your next presentation, powerful, dynamic and memorable – in a way that is NOT offensive?  Contact me here or through my website! 

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

 

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