Our culture has caused most Americans to assume not only that our language is universal but that the gestures we use are understood by everyone. We do not realize that waving good-bye is the way to summon a person from the Philippines to one's side, or that in Italy and some Latin-American countries, curling the finger to oneself is a sign of farewell.
Those private citizens who sent packages to our troops occupying Germany after World War II and marked them GIFT to escape duty payments did not bother to find out that "Gift" means poison in German. Moreover, we like to think of ourselves as friendly, yet we prefer to be at least 3 feet or an arm's length away from others. Latins and Middle Easterners like to come closer and touch, which makes Americans uncomfortable.
Our linguistic and cultural blindness and the casualness with which we take notice of the developed tastes, gestures, customs and languages of other countries, are losing us friends, business and respect in the world.
Even here in the United States, we make few concessions to the needs of foreign visitors. There are no information signs in four languages on our public buildings or monuments; we do not have multilingual guided tours. Very few restaurant menus have translations, and multilingual waiters, bank clerks and policemen are rare. Our transportation systems have maps in English only and often we ourselves have difficulty understanding them.
When we go abroad, we tend to cluster in hotels and restaurants where English is spoken. The attitudes and information we pick up are conditioned by those natives - usually the richer - who speak English. Our business dealings, as well as the nation's diplomacy, are conducted through interpreters.
For many years, America and Americans could get by with cultural blindness and linguistic ignorance. After all, America was the most powerful country of the free world, the distributor of needed funds and goods.But all that is past. American dollars no longer buy all good things, and we are slowly beginning to realize that our proper role in the world is changing. A 1979 Harris poll reported that 55 percent of Americans want this country to play a more significant role in world affairs; we want to have a hand in the important decisions of the next century, even though it may not always be the upper hand.
41. For the Philippines,
42. In Germany,
43. In Italy,
44. For Latins,
45. In United States,