Sunday, March 29, 2015

SΩ7 - Culture Talks: Digi-Comm & Laughter

Drumroll, please…the winner is ‘Difference in Communication Between Cultures’! Thanks to all that voted. The main page poll had twice as many votes as the poll on ‘You: The Reader’. New poll coming soon and suggestions are welcome!

It’s my belief that learning about someone’s culture is key to understanding one another. To spark cross-cultural conversations, I offer insight of cultures most familiar to me: American, Swiss, Spanish, and Chinese. I’ll do my best to refrain from creating or supporting stereotypes.

I’ve been contemplating for a while, which differences to share. There is a wide scope of differences: from typical topics in each culture, body language, cultural habits/norms, and much more! For this post I will focus on just two: forms of socializing and humor. In future posts, I’ll discuss other differences.

Cell, Web, or Bar
The advancement of technology has given us many diverse forms to keep in touch. With just a smartphone one can socialize using any of the following: emails, calling, texting (SMS), and more. It’s been my experience that both American and Chinese have embraced digital communication, especially texting! Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say most people prefer talking in person.

When I returned to Switzerland, I was surprised how few Swiss used social networks, texting, and emails. In Switzerland friends generally meet for lunch or dinner to socialize. Calling is also fairly common.

On the other hand, in Spain meeting in a bar to socialize is the norm! If you walked for 2 minutes from almost anywhere in Barcelona, you’d find a bar. Spanish typically send text messages to arrange a meeting at a bar. I’ve found that Spanish rarely use social networks and emails.

Here’s a rough graphic to illustrate which form of communication is more common in each culture. If you find any factual evidence that disagrees with this, please tell me!

Sunshine & Laughter
We humans invented a nifty way to spice up talks, by using humor! When used correctly, it creates a warm vibe filled with laughter. If it fails, it can lead to misunderstandings and provoke unpleasant emotions. Through the evolution of humor, many types have emerged, such as: wit, play on words, double entendre, sarcasm, slapstick, ‘bathroom’ talk, and other forms. Due to this complexity humor rarely translates well.

Besides the differences in humor, I believe there is also a general difference in how much humor a culture uses on a daily basis. It’s my belief that this is loosely linked to climate. More exposure to sunlight induces higher level of serotonin, which in turn means a ‘happier’ mood. The following graph illustrates the mean annual sunlight in selected major cities from each country.

Regarding the style and topic differences of humor between cultures, some prefer more formal or informal humor. Enclosed is a graph illustrating this, the opposite ends of the spectrum are Spanish and Chinese humor. In Spain people are full of laugher and joke about every topic. I’ve even heard 10-year-old children make sex jokes with their parents! 

Chinese humor tends to play on the complexity of the language, how certain characters sound similar, but have different meanings. Also, due to the complexity of the language, I fathom humor is limited to prevent misunderstandings. Usually, jokes about sex, death/violence, and politics are uncommon.

American humor also tends to be informal. This is fairly evident in American TV shows. Although the topics are diverse, sexual and political jokes are rather popular. In my opinion American humor often has rather simple structure and content. This is perhaps why American TV shows are so international, since the humor can be easily translated. 

For me Swiss humor is the most difficult to understand. Many jokes rely heavily on German grammar, which requires a native understanding of the language. Although jokes can contain informal content, the topics shy away from controversial topics. 

There is one style of humor that seems fairly unique to English and German speakers: sarcasm. Perhaps due to my cultural background, I tend to use a lot of it! However, would recommend using it sparingly, especially with people from other cultures. It can be extremely easy to misunderstand and even worse be taken offensively. In my experience Chinese rarely understand English sarcasm.

As they say: ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ Just be aware of your audience, so they can share in the laughter! Also, lets all learn Chinese so we can understand their jokes as well! ;)

Your Turn!
This post only explores differences between four cultures. Would be great to learn more about other cultures. Feel free to share about your own culture! Also, I ask you to kindly correct me, if I’ve misspoken.


  1. That was a fun read!
    Well, you've experienced a little of Australian humour - no idea how it has evolved, but our cultural sense of humour is largely based around 'taking the piss' out of everything, and everyone, including ourselves. We seem to have a compulsion towards self-deprecation, and tearing others down, through light-hearted humour. I think this is quite unique to our sun-kissed land!

  2. Thanks for the enthusiasm and input! Be interesting to compare humor between English speaking countries (UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and the US). I especially like the wit used in British TV series and Irish people seem to have a stellar sense of humor. Hmm...I figure you have a fairly unique humor...will have to meet more Aussies, before passing judgement! ;)