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Human Encounters

Introduction to Intercultural Communication

Oyvind Dahl

This book gives a comprehensive introduction to intercultural communication. The reader is introduced to essential concepts in the field, different theories and methods of analysing communication, the importance of verbal and nonverbal languages for bringing about mutual understanding and, finally, the ethical challenges that arise.

The volume also has a practical aspect. The author discusses subjects such as handling encounters with people using foreign languages; incorporating different life styles and world views; the use of interpreters, non-familiar bodylanguage; different understandings of time; relocation in new settings; the use of power and how to deal with cultural conflicts generally.

Published as a general textbook in English for the first time following a very successful original edition in Norwegian, also translated to Russian and French, this richly-illustrated book offers a refreshing and engaging introduction to intercultural understanding

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CHAPTER 1 Understanding in a Global World


A pharmaceutical company wants to launch their brand of headache pills on the North African market, and the company marketing team was certain that the comic strip in Figure 1 would adequately communicate the effectiveness of the pills. The first image shows a man suffering from a headache. In the next, he takes the pills. In the final image he feels wonderful and no longer has a headache.

Figure 1The comic strip that caused a headache!

It seemed that the marketing scheme would have every reason to succeed and large posters were designed, printed and distributed. However, the company had forgotten one detail. The written culture was Arabic, a language that is read from right to left. And this also applies to comic strips!

This example illustrates how badly things can go when we have not taken the time to familiarize ourselves with how people with different cultural frames of reference interpret images and signs. It is also worth noting that such interpretation is usually carried out unconsciously. Those ←1 | 2→with an Arab perspective will automatically read from right to left, with the same immediacy that a European reader would read from left to right. Through our upbringing, education and training in a particular society, we are equipped with a number of assumptions and interpretive keys that we take for granted. As a rule we don’t think about them and thus use them on a daily basis to understand and make...

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