It’s a Cultural Thing

March 3, 2012

We’re creating a presentation outline.

So start with this point and then follow with a slide about that point? All heads nod in agreement. And then what’s next? He inserts this, removes that. All heads nod in agreement.

But then he points to the beginning half already completed. “But this is like an essay! The organization doesn’t make any sense!” “Huh?” The Americans are utterly puzzled. Each number is one slide. What’s confusing about that!?

“It doesn’t flow. Where is the logic? The point from each slide must lead to the next slide.” To me, the logic is so clear I could cry.

Slowly, slowly, painfully, slowly, the outline comes together. Adjourned for the night, little left to do in the morning before our presentation.

Morning comes, quick review expected. But Chinese colleague has begun re-writing from scratch. Slides re-ordered, but he’s insisting it’s exactly the same meaning. “But we haven’t even written an outline,” he insists.”It’s an essay.”

Let me tell you: this is not an essay.

He begins drawing. A flowchart! Ohhhhh, so that’s what the boss wanted–a flowchart. We huddle around Google Translate. But tigang does mean outline. Americans scratch their heads, resisting exasperation. The Chinese colleague sags in his chair. “Hard to explain,” he says. “It’s a cultural thing. We have to write it with Chinese logic.”

I’m desperate to avoid repeating yesterday’s six-hour meeting, but I muster all remaining enthusiasm. Yes. Chinese logic. Ok. You draw, we will try to understand. He draws. “Ohhhhhh,” I say, “so that’s why the boss put it that way before.” I had taken great liberty in re-wording and re-organizing an earlier presentation meant for an American. This one was to be presented to a Chinese.

He draws, we get excited. So this slide matches that point of your flowchart…. So you’ll present what’s in the outline, but point to what’s on the flowchart…

All sides listen, all sides contribute, somehow, a little bit, all sides understand. Kinda.

And I am exhilarated. Language is nothing compared to this.

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