Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Using Key Words as Windows to Other Cultures

Author Says "Cultural Code Words"
Help Understand Other People

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

It has become painfully obvious that defining people by their race while virtually ignoring their ethnicity is both dumb and dangerous, and the importance of understanding cultures is a new mantra for business leaders as well as diplomats and politicians.

For most people, however, understanding the cultures of others is a process that requires long periods of living in and personally experiencing the cultures, often preceded or combined with extensive studies of research by anthropologists and sociologists.

But there is an easier and faster way of getting into and understanding the mindset of people--a way that I use in my “cultural insight” books on Japan, Korea, China and Mexico.

While working in Asia as a trade journalist in the 1950s and 60s I learned that the attitudes and behavior of the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans were summed up in a relatively small number of key words in their languages—words that explained why they thought and behaved the way they did.

I first became aware of the role that these key words played in the mindset and behavior of the Japanese in my attempts to explain their way of thinking and doing things to American importers who began flocking to Japan in the early 1950s.

I made use of this approach in my first book, Japanese Etiquette & Ethics in Business, published in 1959, introducing such terms as wa/wah (harmony), nemawashi/nay-mah-wah-she (behind the scenes consensus-building), tatemae/tah-tay-my (a facade or front) and honne/hone-nay (real intentions, real meaning) to the international business community.

The more I got into the Japanese, Korean and Chinese way of thinking and doing things the more obvious it became that they were culturally programmed and controlled by key words in their languages, and that these words provided a short-cut to understanding them.

I then went on to write a series of “cultural and business code word” books on China, Korea and Japan, and eventually added Mexico as well.

People in all societies, especially older societies, are in fact primarily programmed by their languages--and learning the meaning and everyday use of key words in their languages is far more effective than any psychological testing.

My books that are based on this “cultural code word” concept include Japan’s Cultural Code Words, China’s Cultural Code Words, Korea’s Business and Cultural Code Words, and Mexican Cultural Code Words.
All of these titles, except for the Korean book, are also available in paperback editions under different titles, including The Japanese Have a Word for It, There’s a Word for It in Mexico, and The Chinese Have a Word for It.
[As a result of my trade reporting experience in early post-World War II Japan I was the first to introduce the now popular Japanese words kaizen (kie-zen), meaning continuous improvement, and kanban (kahn-bahn), just in time parts delivery, to the international business community.]

My latest book using the "cultural code word" approach is Elements of Japanese Design--Guidelines for Understanding & Using Japan’s Classic Sabi-Wabi-Shibui Concepts. In it I identify and explain the concepts and principles that are the foundation of the design of Japan’s arts, crafts and modern-day products, and are having a profound influence on designers around the world.

These ancient Japanese concepts and principles, all expressed in key words, are rapidly becoming the universal standard for well-designed products.
Copyright © 2007 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente.

[A list of my 60-plus books, with descriptions of each title, is available on my personal website at www.phoenixbookspublishers.com. All of them are available from Amazon.com, other online booksellers, and major bookstores around the world.]