Forum Level of Nice-ness. Cultureshock.

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Stephan
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Post by Stephan » January 29th, 2006, 1:10 am

I just wrote a friendly and well elaborate advice.
I got a comment again - it was too blunt.

Stephans bluntness again? No way! This is a forum and a cultural issue - Not mine. Oh well, i sincerely hope that its not just ME ME ME again, and i sincerely hope i speak for others as well.

I greet, i am excited, i commend and laud, i am mild and friendly, i point out the positive, i motivate, put issues moderatly, i explain...But its not enough.

I am really loosing interest to post at all here. Really. You can�t put something simply and friendly here but have to triple-size a post with motivational and praising babble everytime. Any good advice has to be packed into a gazzilion of soothing compliments, or you get an answer to please but it more tactfull. Any real meaningfull compliments are watered down in the librivox forum by an inflation of neatnesses.

This can�t be going on like that. I can�t talk like a normal person here. This is hysterical. I want to be able to talk here like i talk to friends, which i dearly consider you are. I want this to go away. I want to talk to you, but it isn't working.

I know this is part of the american way. We often talk about it in germany and make fun of it, how everything "IS JUST GREAT! ITS REALLY AWESOME!" but for real it couln't possibly be meant that way. The same way you make fun of Sauerkraut. Your level of niceness is higher...and we eat more Sauerkraut. Well, there is some truth in it. It's culture.

I could just leave and you�d have your peace in seventh heaven. But there's got to be a compromise between cultures since this is not an all-american thing anymore, is it? I don�t want to leave because of cultural differences, that�d be awkward. I want to be able to contribute.

I have adjusted to the culture in the forum a lot already. But i am not going to praise and compliment and laud more than i really mean. Else it's a sham.
So, how do we overcome cultural differences?

Maybe i am a misanthrope, maybe i just never leanred to socialize, but the forum smells hyped to me.
Last edited by Stephan on January 29th, 2006, 2:44 am, edited 2 times in total.
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LibraryLady
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Post by LibraryLady » January 29th, 2006, 2:07 am

Stephan, I don't know what to tell you. I'm sorry you are so frustrated and I really hope you don't leave.

I would never expect you to inflate posts with praise and compliments that you don't mean. I certainly never do that myself. Any praise or compliments I give are given sincerely and I won't apologize for my own enthusiasm and desire to keep the forum welcoming to new people.

What I do expect of people on the forum is to not be rude. The post you are referring to gave me an impression of general rudeness, even though I know that is probably not what you intended.

Please just give newbies some time to adjust to the forums. Use PMs if you want to give personal advice on posting or some similar matter. Or if you think something is really problematic, refer it to some of the moderators and let them handle it.

I'm curious if other people who are not American or whose first language is not English feel the same way as Stephan. If this is a problem then we really do need to address it. So, let's have this be a constructive thread so we can figure out what we need to do to make the forums work for everybody.
Last edited by LibraryLady on January 29th, 2006, 2:09 am, edited 1 time in total.
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LibraryLady
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Post by LibraryLady » January 29th, 2006, 2:14 am

I'm a moderator, Stephan, guiding and correcting people is part of the job. I'm sorry you interpret others' enthusiasm as hysteria.

Edit to add: Hmm, the post to which this reply was intended seems to have disappeared...
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Stephan
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Post by Stephan » January 29th, 2006, 2:22 am

Yep, i deleted a message, because all is said above, and i gotta cool down.
I am not nice at the moment.

(dear annie, this all is not about you, i like you soo much! Its just i am concerned about what is asked of people here. Asked to be nice to a level that feels icky and untrue. I am not saying your enthusiasm is untrue!)
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Stephan
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Post by Stephan » January 29th, 2006, 2:31 am

Parts language, parts culture, parts person.
All together in a bad mix - i can?t communicate nice here - i am rude.

Won?t adapt more to the forum culture, drives me crazy. Gotta learn english. Gotta shut up.

I?ll do my recordings - but no more chat, advice, input.
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Gesine
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Post by Gesine » January 29th, 2006, 3:25 am

Hmmm. Culture is a tricky thing, isn't it... I've worked a lot with cross-cultural teams in international organisations, and communication is always the number one barrier. The Americans get upset at the Germans because they're too blunt, the British get upset at the French because... well, because they're French ;), the Germans get upset at the British because they never seem to say what they really mean, and everyone gets upset at the Japanese because they never seem to be able to commit to everything without a long internal debate. I'm exaggerating. I tend to find such cultural stereotypes offensive, although of course there is some truth in them and this has been the topic of much academic research.

So yes, of course we're going to have cultural clashes in this forum. Partly because people don't understand certain references (therefore always good practise to put a smiley to make sure everyone 'gets' the joke), partly because some of us are not communicating in our native language, and partly just because things are done differently in different countries/cultures.

My partner, who is British but lived in Germany for 14 years, says "In Germany, you're expected to know what you're doing." I think this is very true. There are a lot of rules and guidelines and established procedures for many things. As a culture, it is very prescriptive - one is always expected to be told things. If someone appears not to know something, then it is explained - patiently and with good humour at first, less patiently the second time. Again, I am of course generalising. But just look at the number of traffic signs in Germany, and how the legal system works. It's all about breaking rules down to bite-sized chunks so everyone can follow them.

In other countries, this is different. In the UK, where I have lived for some years (I'm originally from Germany), there is much more freedom to learn things in your own way. You're also expected to abide by certain laws, but they're not pointed out at every opportunity. If one breaks a law, or custom, one is pitied as a socially inapt person, rather than have things explained to one. As a newcomer to that culture, one really has to pester people in order to have them explain things - it's just not done. One is expected to learn by experience and by observation.

In Malta, where I live now, to the casual observer there seem to be no rules at all. This is of course not true, it's just that most things are solved privately - it's a very relationship-based culture. Here, they delight in explaining things. :)

Stephan, the post you are referring to was of course well-meant. You were trying to give genuine advice to someone who is new. No quibbles with that - but, as Annie has pointed out, it was perhaps premature (after ten such posts from the person, a PM with your explanation might have been a good idea). Also, the poster had already achieved his purpose - his post had been read by someone who was dealing with his matter. Everyone else could read his long post, or not.

I suspect that one of the reasons you posted was because the original poster said this was his first forum post. You wanted to give some helpful tips right at the start. Annie's instinct was that this might discourage him, rather than help. She thought he might misunderstand and find you rude. We won't know now what was the right thing to do, but in any case these 'behavioural' or style things are better done in PMs.

Please don't stop posting. That would be very sad. Instead, perhaps try to hold back a little on posts that could be culturally misinterpreted, or that just comment on the ways people do things. There is more than one way to achieve one's goal. Posting is partly an expression of one's personality, and we're all different. Think of it like our recordings. Some people read slowly, other quickly. Some people like to listen to the former better than to the latter.

Personally, I don't mind long post. I'm making a point by writing a very long one! :) I have a long attention span. Others do, too, and while I agree with you that the internet caters to browsing and seeing things at first glance, I think the long posts will always be read by someone. :)
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Gesine
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Post by Gesine » January 29th, 2006, 3:45 am

One more thing.

You say you want to speak to people here like they are your friends. We all feel the same. I've only been here a month and a half and already feel like I've known some people for ages. On the other hand, remember that we don't really 'know' each other. You get to know people very differently when you see them speak. You understand some things instinctively by the way they move and smile etc. You're meeting these friends here blindfolded and with ears blocked - usually the two most important ways of figuring out what someone means.

When I email my 'real' friends (the ones I know face to face), I 'talk' to them slightly differently in the email or chat than I would in a personal meeting. The better one knows someone, the less this becomes necessary. We've all only known each other for a couple of month, and we don't really 'know' each other at all. That's not enough, I'm afraid, to start talking to each other like we do with our other friends.

So yes, I am 'nicer' here than I would be in real life. In real life, I could just look at someone and say "Oh _come on_, that's not what she meant and you know it" and by my expression and the way I said it, it woud be neither offensive nor too blunt, and everything would be understood. Instead, when I'm here, I take the time to explain myself properly, and I make sure I'm not misinterpreted.

Doesn't always work - made two blunders myself in this very forum on Friday. You're not the only one; it happens. :) Then we talk about it, we fix it, and we move on. That's how we learn things, and that's how we'll all improve our communication.
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Stephan
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Post by Stephan » January 29th, 2006, 4:39 am

Yes we are talking polite and with restraint and gentle, and friendly and positive and unaggressive. We greet, we commend. We explain stuff carefully and detailed. Just like we talk to someone in a public forum.

I do that. And i like to do that. It's a good culture.
Gesine, you are saying the same, like i started my post. We agree. :D
I agree with you too that you have to be "nicer" here, just to be on the safe side
BUT
Again and again i write polite, gentle, friendly, positive, and even a bit "nicer", just like you would talk to a stranger - it just isn't enough around here.
The level of nice-ness asked has gone unreal.
This forum is hyped and i won?t adapt to this culture any further.

We are all "nicer" and get used to it and the next moment we have to be even "nicer" and we get used to it and then again its asked even "nicer".
Already the forum has achieved a utopian fluffly tuffy level of niceness that is icky.
Can?t talk freely - the nice-police will get you.
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Gesine
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Post by Gesine » January 29th, 2006, 5:25 am

I don't know. I hope we're not a 'nice police.' We need to discuss that. I think people generally find the forum friendly. I don't know about 'icky friendly' - I'm never so friendly that I detest myself and feel I need to go and wash the slime off my hands. :) I'm not sure what to say to that, without specific examples.

A word about the culture of this particular forum. Yes, you're right, it is predominantly US-American. Many of the most prolific and regular posters are from the US. Therefore, the culture is of course like that. I think we 'foreigners' do need to adapt a little to that - and you already have done, there was such a marked difference in your posts these last weeks. I wasn't aware that you had more problems.

Having said that, it would be nice if 'the American contingent' sometimes made more of an effort to understand that there are other cultures. This is tricky - the US is huge and not that many people have travelled abroad; it's not like in Europe. A lot of English native speakers don't speak another language - at least not very well - and therefore find it hard to understand what is involved in trying to communicate in another language.

I'm not being patronising. If I had grown up in the US, or it Britain, I would probably be the same. It's hard to be constantly thinking 'oh, she's from a different culture/language, better make sure I really understand what she means before I post angrily' when you're not very used to dealing with other cultures.

This is a very good thread, and I'm glad you've brought it up, although I'm sorry you've been driven to it by frustration. Perhaps we should have discussed it earlier. Cultural differences can only be overcome if they're talked about openly. Again and again. It's always painful - culture is so ingrained in us, we don't think about it, just like we cannot explain our native language to someone else (unless we've looked into it).

Stephan, we need people like you, to bring up these cultural differences, and to make us think. You're just the only one posting - there will be others who feel the same way - if not now, then later as more people join the forum.

This will be a more interesting discussion when some other timezones have woken up! :)
"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world." Albert Einstein

Stephan
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Post by Stephan » January 29th, 2006, 6:09 am

Thanks a lot gesine. Feels good to be understood.

I am sure many international forums have cultural clashes. I guess they just accept a little quarrel here, some ignorance there, and look over cultural differences, let the flame-wars rise and extinguish themselfs.
But i know we are even so civilized that we can talk about this and try to find a solution for it.

I would like to ask the US-Americans to accept more bluntness. Gimme some slack! :D Germans are heartily but direct, i think i may generalise. And we are pretty un-hierarchical which might come across as :"He doesn?t know his place."
I ask you to think of this, when you read a german postor.
(especially if you read me ;) )
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LibraryLady
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Post by LibraryLady » January 29th, 2006, 9:35 am

Hmm, where to begin...

Gesine, your posts are very insightful and helpful. Thank you for being our cultural-gap bridger, so to speak. :) I agree that the best way to deal with this issue is to discuss it openly.

Stephan, I honestly like you very much too and I really enjoy what you bring to the forum. Please don't leave Librivox, as Gesine said we need people like you here. Let's keep talking and figure this thing out.
Annie Coleman Rothenberg
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Post by hugh » January 29th, 2006, 9:47 am

My perspective: without volunteers being happy to come to LV forums, the project cannot survive. If a volunteers comes here and gets what they think is an attack or a rude comment then they say "I'm leaving, I don't want to contribute." Maybe that's soft skin, maybe its too-sensitive, but it doesn't matter. And I'm much happier to have 100 too-sensitive people recording texts than not to have anyone.

I must say I've been on some forums on the net, and thought just that: why contribute if I'll be attacked? for instance, see my post here and the first response:
http://www.freeinfosociety.com/wforum/viewtopic.php?p=21922#21922

The first response, I thought to myself, what a wanker. and now i'm not really interested in doing anything with them (though I did post again to explain LV).

The same will be true here. And the point is this: we veterans (all of us) must be very mindful of making new volunteers welcome. Not (just) because we are too polite or too nice, or because everything haas to be AWESOME!! but because it's in the interest of the the success of the project (also because we are nice peolpe generally). I hate to be so pragmatic about things, but there it is: being nice helps make this project a success.

I know this is a long and excruciating(!) debate we are having about politeness and niceness. Kind of exhausting actually. But as with every problem between 2 people or groups, there's somewhere in the middle to be met. Someone's too sensitive and someone's too blunt. Both are true, so what to you do? How do you solve it? Who has the power to solve it? Who is most able to provide the solution? The too-sensitive? Or the too-blunt?

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Post by RobertG » January 29th, 2006, 10:33 am

Stephan, if you leave LibriVox then I will have no choice but to buy Eugene a plane ticket and send him over to Germany to convince you to come back. :) Besides, he finds bluntness refreshing!

As I read through the responses, I found them all great and informative. Hugh's link to the response he got in another forum reminded me of why I almost didn't join up with LibriVox. When I saw that it ran in a forum format, I almost immediately starting drifting my mouse toward the Back button. I have tried forums before and they almost always end in disaster. There is plenty of aggravation to be found right outside my front door, I don't feel the need to go looking for it on the Internet.

But I stayed because I felt there was something worthwhile going on here. If this were all Americans, I probably would have stayed anyway. And I'm certainly happy about the strong Northwest US representation here. But it is the distinct international flavor of this that I find most thrilling.

I've traveled pretty extensively abroad, including several trips into Germany. When I would travel, I never stayed where Americans stayed. This was because I wanted to experience the culture without that filter or even my own preconceptions. I've seen good and bad everywhere. We're humans, after all. In all those years of flying around the globe, I never saw a line drawn on the earth that marked a border as I looked out the airplane window.

Born and raised in the United States, I will say that I don't particularly think of my fellow Americans as being any nicer than any other nationality. In some ways, we are not very nice at all. We can be violent and cruel. We can easily refuse to understand another's point of view. Perhaps (even most likely) this board is not very representatiive of that. The literate, educated and kinder of our society have congregated here.

Or maybe effusive over-kindness is a reaction to the ever-growing lack of kindness and tolerance we see outside of our own American front doors.

So please stay, Stephan. And be as blunt as you wish!
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Stephan
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Post by Stephan » January 29th, 2006, 11:02 am

@ hugh
Whats really excrutiating is that everybody got to be infinitly caressed and motivated. Any remarks, advice, and comments have to get packed into heaps of compliments and upper-talk, so everybody is happy and the advice doesn`t sound so bad. Thats exhausting.

I think i can safely say that i come from a culture where we spare with compliments to let them count in the right moment and to let the compliment be true and meaningfull then. And i think i can safely say that the culture here doesn't spare with compliments. Thats where cultures are clashing.

Further there is an inflation of nice-talk around here, to be even more motivating and to make everybody even happier - thats what you deliberatly aim for - you just said it yourself in a private mail to me, hugh - and thats what doesn't feel well - it overdrives expactations and "accelerates" and inflates the true values.

The examplary phrase "ITS GREAT ITS REALLY GREAT!" - You do truefully MEAN it in that moment earnestly. It's like you are raised and truely feel. And in another culture we find it crazy that you do mean it in so many moments, because we are raised differently. We perceive it as an inflation of compliments.
We sat at the rhine bank in d?sseldorf last summer, our whole students art class and our teacher, and we debated about this american way, because our teacher came back from new york, he just had an exhibition there. We all made fun about this with many a winking grin, about how americans raved about his art. "Its awesome. Brilliant! Its really great".

And i just use this as an example. I didnt hear anybody talk like that in any post here, but the "notion" is there. Heavily! Its the culture here.

And i can?t do it. And you can?t expect others cultures to talk like that. I want to be able to talk here, with my cultural background.

So this is a larger topic than your excruciating(!) :evil: debate, Hugh.
It's an issue about whether this is an international project or an all-american one.


Everybody knows whats polite and friendly and whats rude. We are all grown up and have culture. The forums happy-culture gets oppressing.

@ robert
Yeah! Call Eugene! I am sure he has something to tell about perception and cultural basis. :D
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Stephan
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Post by Stephan » January 29th, 2006, 12:00 pm

[too much...need to shut up]
Last edited by Stephan on January 29th, 2006, 12:24 pm, edited 9 times in total.
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