Category Archives: Cross Cultural

Oversize America

Lindt_overzidedEver since Nespresso figured out that they couldn’t shove small Ristrettos down the American general public’s throat and gave in to extra big coffee capsules to satisfy big gulp size coffee portions, their US business has taken off. Chocolatier Lindt has a duty free store at Zurich airport and for the first time last week I saw oversized Lindt truffle balls, oversized Easter bunnies and oversized chocolate bars. When I say oversized, I mean soccer ball sized Lindt truffle packaging (not the regular pack with about 12 quarter of a golf ball sized truffles), bunnies 1.5 feet tall and the chocolate bars must have weight tenfold the regular bars. Yieks.

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Our Future

Last week I went for a swim in Pontresina, Switzerland, a decent size village in the Swiss Alps, big enough to have a lovely public pool. It was off-season, mid-day and nary a tourist in sight. I enjoyed a lap lane to myself. As I took my breaths I checked out the lovely and very overseeable pool as there where no fellow swimmers to contend with.

Bellavista Erlebnisbad in Pontresina

Bellavista Erlebnisbad in Pontresina

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Yesterday I met Andrew. It was evident from the first second l laid eyes in him that he was different, even as we engaged in the same activity. Being as I am, I chatted him up at the first stoplight we shared.  If he was from Canada.  Yes, he was. Earlier he had passed me on a hill, not noteworthy in itself as it seems everybody passes me on the hills.  Correction, everybody passes me on hills, but noteworthy because he was towering above me, was riding with sneakers and had four panniers strapped to his bike and a huge knapsack in his back; with a Canadian flag sewn onto it. Hence my question.

Where was he going, I asked? To JFK was the answer – this was in New Jersey on a popular biking route 9W. Mmm. Then after a pause: to fly to Madrid, across the Iberian Peninsula and then through Asia. Mmm. I figured he knew that there was a slight gap between Spain and Asia. I asked him how many miles he had already ridden: 5,000, from Vancouver.  It was my turn to be silent for a moment while my brain scanned my inner map of North America looking for Vancouver and not finding it on the East coast.  Dang.  Of course, you don’t rack up 5,000 miles on the East coast unless you have a very, very rotten sense of direction.  Even so, he must have made some detours (Google map, by bike from Vancouver to my house: 3,220 miles).

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Zurich Meets New York! #ZHNY

zhnyIf you’re from Switzerland, you’ve probably heard of the festival  Zürich Meets New York: A Festival of Swiss Ingenuity, which will start tomorrow, May 16 and run through the 23rd.  The festival highlights the contemporary relevance of visionary movements and ideas born in Zurich and their impact on American culture. Building on the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Dada movement and Zurich’s role as a 21st-century hub for artistic and scientific innovation, the festival features 25 events at venues across the city, and is presented by the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York, the City of Zurich, ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich.

I’ve been lucky enough (I think) to be asked to be an official ambassadrice of the event.  And yes, there seems to be a female version of Ambassador; and being that it comes from the Consulate General’s offices here in New York and the current Ambassador is from the French speaking part of Switzerland I will not question it.  What that really means?  I’m not sure, but I have been Tweeting and liking and writing a bit about the festival and I must say, the 25 events sound amazing and I’m very curious as to the quality of content – and yes, you guessed it, I will be writing about it – less about the film events (they collide with ‘other’ commitments) but I am very excited about three events in particular I’ve signed up for:  Continue reading

Digital Citizen

I became an American citizen a few years ago and I feel very comfortable being an American.  Actually I should say, being a New Yorker.  The rest of the country can be a bit more challenging, then again: I don’t think that’s an issue of being American or not American, but merely goes to show that New Yorkers are a breed of their own.
About being a ‘digital citizen’ I feel similar. I’m definitely not a native, I was born in the wrong place on the time line, but I feel totally comfortable moving around in the digital arena. My job and my personal curiosity have made it a necessity and have given me the drive to learn ‘digital’ as much as I have learned and continue to learn being American.

As much as I teach corporate transfers between the US and Switzerland how to conduct business successfully in either culture by understanding the underlying motivations from each culture and using those to their advantage, I find myself talking to fellow producers and filmmakers as well as clients who are not comfortable in the digital world how to transition into a digital environment at a pace and an intensity that makes them feel comfortable.
You need to know enough to ask the right questions and have an idea of what you do not know… make sense? My mantra: “I know enough to be dangerous and what I don’t know is a phone call (oops) I mean a web query away”.
Cultural differences can be as much geographical as they can be analog versus digital, or economic for that matter. The most important thing to remember is, that although we all speak the ‘same’ language (English presumably) we don’t.  English does not equal English. Smallest cultural differences can make or break a deal or a negation. Not being ‘interested’ in other cultures (geographical, generational or economic) is not an option, especially as the digital world is breaking down the barriers of our physical world!

The Culture Code

There’s a book with that title I wish I had read after a year or so of living in the States.  The Culture Code found me in 2006, the year it was published and it was a veritable “aha” experience.  Clotaire Rapaille, cultural anthropologist and marketing expert (not without controversies), originally from France takes an advertising approach of distilling each experience, i.e. cultural differentiator into one word.  He gives the example of car advertisement in The Culture Code. 

What would the one word be that comes to mind when advertising cars to Americans?  It would be “freedom” – look at the truck commercials in particular – the car in the wild-wild west scaling some desert mountain, or roaming freely deserted down town streets:  it screams freedom to move around as you please.  How would you sell a car to Germans?  “Precision” – Germans want to know their car is of highest quality precision engineering possible.  No “over-engineered” Mercedes would ever come out of Detroit.

Rapaille takes this premise into all sorts of different directions from how British, American, French or German men see their women (or not).  How the French savor their wine and how American vernacular treats alcohol with words like “sloshed”, “drunk”, “plastered” and “hammered” and how indicative that is of Americans relationship to Alcohol, or should I say booze?   In short The Culture Code explains how we are raised in our cultures to behave in a certain way that makes us distinctly Japanese, or American, or Swiss.

But there is also a cross-generational Culture Code; as there is a socio-economic one. For now I would like to concentrate on the generational differences.  If we look at Millennials (generation Y) and the following generation, Digital Natives, or generation X, there is a paradigm shift in cultural behavior from Baby Boomers and generation X to those generations.

My generation (X) was born into a world without computers and cell phones, let alone a world wide web.  We were young enough to make a quick move to understand computers and the internet, but we are not native speakers.  Millennials and Digital Natives listen to my stories of standing at the public phone booth with rolls of quarters on shoot days to conduct my business as production coordinator with a look of bewilderment and “whatever”, making me feel VERY old (it’s still a great story – especially the guy who was running his “business” from the same phone booth, who nearly punched me in the face because I had hawked “his” phone for a week during the filming of a low-budget feature on his block.)

If I were to attempt to give today’s generations a one word label (and this from my Swiss-born and raised, but 25 year native of New York City point of view), it would be:

          “monochrome” for the silent generation (1925 – 1942, great depression and WW ll)
          “frugal” for baby boomers  (post war generation)
          “enabled” or better “liberated” for generation X – (1965 – early 1980ies)
          “entitled” or “co-creators” for generation Y, aka Millennials – (early 1980ies – 2000)
          “digital natives” for generation Z, aka Digital Natives (sic!) (early 2000 to today) 
Befittingly generation Y has also been called the “me” generation and as much as there is talk about the entitlement, the arrogance and the self-involvement of that generation there is also a strong current of young people who counter that sentiment and use the power of the digital connectedness to work in non-profit, to make a change in the world and to reach out and demand co-creation; from politics, to activism, to creativity and consumerism.  I think as the Millennials grow up and deal with baby diapers, mortgage payments and aging parents, they will hopefully emerge from their sense of entitlement to see the bigger picture.
This is to say: the people who will run this country, will run the companies and will make the decisions are now Millennials and soon Digital Natives.  We, the geezers, cannot afford not engage digitally – it’s just not an option.  If we do not want to get lost in translation we need to engage and fully so, no short cuts.  It’s no longer a griping of the loss of “proper language” and the demise of morals, it’s a whole entire new way of communicating, period.  And the sooner we latch on the better, because it’s going to keep moving exponentially. 
My mother’s good friend Elisabeth who’s in her early eighties, told me that her children told her if she wanted to know what was going on in her seven grandchildren’s lives to go on Facebook – and she did. Good for her. 
Where do you see the biggest challenges between the generations and the digital age?

Zwei Spie-gel-ei-er, Bitte – sunny side up!

My name sake, Nina Stoessinger posted a wonderful story on cultural mis-understandings.  It’s in German and if you are reading it make sure to catch the comments too.

And since you are on the “other” Nina’s Blog – browse a bit it’s worth it – the other entries are all in English. I met Nina in New York, not as one would think because we share a name or are both Swiss, but volunteering at the New York City Marathon only weeks after 9/11.

I’ve been watching Nina’s graphic work and one day, I hope, there will be an opportunity for collaboration. We share a love for words – hers laid out and presented, mine spoken and heard, but I could switch any old day if only I had the skill set.

I am thrilled to see that we also share the joy of the written word and musings about cross-cultural differences.


Giving and Volunteering

You Loot We Shoot...

You Loot We Shoot…

This weekend I volunteered for the disaster recovery of Sandy, and I’ll be brutally honest (when am I not): I did it because I felt survivor’s guilt, I wanted to see what devastation looked like other than on TV and yes, I wanted to help as much as I could.  The bottom line is: why you volunteer is irrelevant as long as you do.

Spending a waaaay long time in various buses to and from the Far Rockaway’s I had two very interesting conversations about disasters, giving and cultural differences.

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Links and Plain Old Plagiarism

Sometimes an opportunity or a trend just hits you over the head every which way.  You guessed it: time for a blog entry on the topic of plagiarism, or maybe we call it links, pingback, copy and borrowed. 

(As an aside: plagiarize is one of my favorite English words. I learned it as a teenager listening to Tom Lehrer songs and was mighty proud to know such a difficult word – the song in question is on YouTube.  If you don’t know Tom Lehrer – you must! Harvard mathematics professor fired for singing political songs back in the 50ies and 60ies; darkly funny, cynical and on the money with his social observations.)

To the point: I met with a serial entrepreneur last week. We were connected through an acquaintance. I had looked at his LinkedIn profile, looked at his newest venture and figured he’d be interesting enough to meet.  We met and turns out he’s a twenty something. I went back to his bio on LinkedIn and looked at the dates more carefully.  It seems this young man has achieved more since high school than most of us will in a live time. He told me that he didn’t want to waste his time with University he had too many ideas of what he wanted to do so he DID them. 

I visited his blog and found a profoundly funny and interesting infographic on getting things done (I’m a fan of that; getting things done I mean), some of the infographic. I do not agree with but that’s beside the point.  On a second visit to his blog, now with a bit more time on hand to read further I see that the infographic is linked to a different source. Totally legit, but still, I felt a tiny bit put off, because for that 12-or so hour span in-between I thought he was beyond brilliant – which I’m sure he is, but not THAT brilliant – as in coming up with THAT infographic.  I was wondering if I’m just too naïve, or if I missed the point somehow.  

I subscribe to the wildly popular Swiss Miss blog, not only because I know Tina (she designed the first Clock Wise Website back in the 90ies), but also because her blog is a collection of all things design – and her taste is towards the clutter-free, clean, minimal, fun and very sophisticated.  Through her blog posts I found another design blog that I liked enough to subscribe to it as well, only to find out that I looked at the same content every once in a while. Are there enough readers or subscribers for both to duplicate? It seems so.  Do they copy from each other, or do the same people submit their ideas to both. I guess the latter. 

It begs the question however, where does link end and plagiarize start? Is this a cultural phenomenon or a generational one?  Are we faster to read a visual image and to ‘link’ it to the publisher without paying attention much to its true origin?  Why do the links on Swiss Miss not bother me and why was I bothered with the infographic on the serial entrepreneur’s blog?

It’s all about trust and context.  Today’s hyperlinks are the footnotes of yesteryear.  The difference is that formats of delivery and context change from blog to blog.  With the overflow of information I choose a few blogs and newsletter to deliver information (of whatever kind) and with that I curate content and I do so by choosing trusted sources (see earlier blog entry on trust agents).  Swiss Miss is a trusted agent and her blog is set within the context of: “I show you the design world through my eyes”. Naturally that means she goes out and curates for me, the reader, and I know that I’m looking at other people’s work (be it jewelry, art, design elements or furniture). On the other hand the young serial entrepreneur is not a trust agent (yet) and so with I was missing context. 

But there is also the cultural versus the generational phenomenon.  Americans are much more at ease in passing along a great idea without much concern about, or burden of crediting the source.  A Swiss person would much more so be reluctant to pass an idea along without making sure it was clear that they really aren’t the brilliant ones to come up with the idea in the first place – this modesty also creates a buffer of “not my idea originally” when it falls flat. 

As for the generational difference: stuff gets shared and if possible for free, this holds true for my generation to a big degree, but even more so for a younger generation of millennia, irrespective of culture. Not only geographical boundaries are taken down by the World Wide Web (sic), but also intellectual property rights are fuzzy at best, and I’m not talking about the major film studios, record labels and publishers. Context is important and ‘knowing’ your source.    

The moral of the story:  make the context of your blog entries crystal clear, hyperlink diligently and only plagiarize when you’re sure the idea is beyond brilliant and you WANT to be credited for it (oh, and take some error and omissions insurance out).

What If?

What if my birthday were on February 29th? I could claim to be three quarters younger than I actually am. That in itself is a very scary idea; imagine having to go THERE again. And if you wonder what “there” is, divide your age into four and remember how that felt. 

Most likely that was a time when you hated your parents, actually all grownups pretty much. You couldn’t WAIT to be grown up and make your OWN decisions and not follow those STUPID rules. Needless to say, taxes, rent, college tuition (your own or your kids), and (talking of which) kids, spouses, pets, errands, leaky pipes, bosses, deadlines and the whole lot seemed so lovely (if you knew of them at all) and certainly better than the BS you were dealing with right then: OK, I’ll turn the music down – say what? I can’t year you – speak up.

In reality of course, I’d still be mpf-old, but I would have only had mpf divided into four birthdays. That would SUCK. I love birthdays – if you have ever have been fortunate enough to be invited to one of my birthday parties you’ll know what I’m talking about. 

Here in New York we often go out to a restaurant to celebrate a birthday and the bill gets split up such that the “birthdayee” is invited.  I tried that a few times myself, but always felt bad for my less economically fit friends. 

And I must confess that once or twice I bailed on a friend’s birthday because I knew there would be some big spenders and it was an expensive restaurant. I have not taste for paying for someone else’s three cocktails, entrecote, desert and port wine – although I pull my weight in the wine category.  I find it awkward at best. 

So, I celebrate my birthday the Swiss way. I invite my friends to my house. I bake my own cake, buy the booze, prepare all the food and in general go pretty much nuts to have a great party for my friends. Not me, because after all I want everything to be perfect.  So really, it’s not a birthday party as much as it is my annual thank you to friends for being just that.  It just happens to be around my birthday.  The cake baking is up for grabs by the way… hint.

In Switzerland kids bring a cake to class on the day of their birthday to share with the others.  I think it makes an awful lot of sense, because the kids (their mom most likely) are not going to forget their birthday and so with a cake each time there’s a birthday is guaranteed – unless you’re one of the super unlucky ones to have a birthday during vacation time.  And that’s worse than having a birthday only every four years!