Often my husband surprises me with just how much he knows about U.S. pop culture.
He said he watched a lot of U.S. movies before he came here and used them as “study aids” to learn more about the culture.
Regardless of how that makes you feel (I shudder when I think of some movies), it’s true that pop culture has permeated much of the world.
Go to any corner of the globe and mention Britney Spears’ name. Most likely one person, at least, in your immediate vicinity knows who you’re talking about.
Even so, until recently my husband hadn’t heard John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
On the other hand, he knows a ton of international soccer players that I’ve only begun to wrap my head around. There’s also a wealth of oral proverbs and history from his native culture that has made me realize how much I have to learn!
How do you deal across cultures when you don’t share the ‘pop culture links’ that often spark conversations? From what I’ve learned:
- Don’t assume ignorance. You’d probably be surprised, as I have, by how much people from other countries already know about us. On the flip side …
- Don’t assume prior knowledge. Just because international visitors have heard of Elvis, they may not necessarily know “Wooden Heart.” Movie quotes, I’ve noticed, can fall especially flat with a foreign audience.
- Skip the details. It’s less than ideal to talk for ages about a TV show in front of someone who’s never seen it and can’t expect to contribute. Instead of explaining Star Trek: First Contact in minute detail to a person who can’t tell a Vulcan from a Klingon, you might say, “I like an old TV science fiction show about space and aliens. What’s a TV show you like?”
- Find common interests. One of the beauties of interracial dialogue is that you’ll discover, under all the surface differences, that you probably have a lot in common. (Hence the success of plays like Les Miserables, Hamlet and others in a variety of languages.) Maybe it’s food, fashion, sports or cinema. And who knows, you may just acquire new points of interest in the process!
Want to add to the list? Feel free to share more tips in the comments below …