Everyone has heard of a language barrier, but there is also a type of fun I like to call a culture barrier. A culture barrier keeps two people from effective communication, even if they speak the same language. When two people of the same culture speak to each other, their shared cultural consciousness provides a common understanding of the world and how it works. Many things can be left unsaid because it’s assumed both parties already know these things are implied.
Being American, I do not share in the Japanese cultural consciousness and therefore am not privy to Japanese cultural assumptions.
This conversation I had with Hinata-sensei, a Japanese English teacher at my middle school, illustrates nicely. Everything was exacerbated by the fact that Hinata-sensei didn’t understand why I wasn’t understanding. He was speaking my language, after all. Please use your imagination to insert long, awkward pauses where I am just staring at Hinata-sensei, trying to figure out what he’s talking about. It probably took fifteen minutes to resolve this conversation.
Hinata: Ah! Mackensie! The teachers will have a party after work. Are you coming?
Hinata: Good! Do you want cake?
Me, confused: … What?
Hinata: Do you want cake?
Me, to myself: Is this a trick question?
Me, to Hinata: What do you mean?
Hinata, to himself: Is this a trick question?
Hinata, to me: Well, at after-work parties, some of the teachers have cake. Do you want some?
Me: I don’t understand.
Me: Well, who else is having cake?
Hinata: Maybe some of the women teachers will have cake.
Me: Only the women teachers?
Me: Why do only women teachers have cake?
Hinata: Maybe because they don’t drink as much as the men.
Me: So some of the women won’t drink as much alcohol, so they eat cake instead?
Hinata: Yes, to make the cost of the party more equal.
Me, understanding: Ahh! I see!
Hinata: So, do you want cake?
Me, to Hinata: No, thank you.
Me, to myself: I think I’ll need the alcohol.