Tag Archives: culture

Review: Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation

Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation
Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation by Michael H. Agar
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Michael Agar shows in his book “Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation” the interaction between language, culture and daily behaviour for insiders and outsiders. Insiders know implicit (and explicit) the meaning behind words and sentences that outsiders with only knowledge of a language may not be aware of. He shares his open mind for several environments/cultures wherein he has lived. He makes a strong plea for open mindedness to a foreign cultures otherwise unknown/uncommon behaviour may be regarded as a defect in another culture resulting in rejection or worse.

Michael uses a organic/lingering style with many personal examples. This style has its merits and its shortcomings.

Conclusion: recommended – a readable introduction to foreign combination of language/culture and way of living

View all my reviews


Carla Drift – Behaviour 1

The recovery of my tropical disease took a long time. I noticed with my body that a European was not created for the tropics. I received good medical care and the residual effects of the disease disappeared after a recovery of many, many months.

These months I used to write my report of my first study trip. In the second part of this report, I described my findings about the influence of individual behaviour of offenders, rulers and opinion leaders on genocide [1].

Sreaming drill sergeant [2]

To date, genocide was never committed by an individual. An individual had not been capable to do so. This will change in the future, because the weapons of mass destruction [3] have acquired an apocalyptic destruction and operation of these weapons can take place by an individual or a small group of people operating together. Several films already give a forecast of this possibility [4].

Hiroshima Nakajima area [5]

Hiroshima Nakajima area in ruins [6]

In Central Africa few heavy weapons are present. A good deployable air force is lacking. The few available tanks are poorly maintained and there is a lack of personnel for operating this weaponry. Usually these weapons have only a symbolic value for enhancing the status of the owner/ruler.

On the other hand, there are many automatic rifles and machine guns available in this area. These weapons can afflict great slaughter among the local people when used by a limited group of soldiers, by revolutionaries, by armed gangs and by raiders. A larger group can also afflict genocide with hand weapons such as machetes.

Based on my findings I concluded in my report that in Central Africa sufficient resources – small arms, light and medium automatic rifles and machine guns – were present for a genocide. These weapons were delivered by several rich nations to perpetuate or enhance their position by supporting local groups. These weapons raise – just like the possession of spears in the past – the respect of a warrior/soldier. In reality, these weapons are usually used for deterrence or threat against opponents.

The first providers of the light and medium automatic rifles and machine guns are often countries outside Africa who want to enhance or perpetuate their influence in the politics. The first recipients are often local leaders or groups who distribute the weapons to settle or defend their influence. The individual receivers are often young men who want to establish their position within the group as a warrior or soldier: the need to receive respect in the pyramid of Maslow [7]. This respect gives next to a position in the group also opportunities for female partner choice and eventually self-respect. Sometimes older men want to defend their interests: the need to safety in the Maslow’s pyramid.

Individual people are or become part of a group. Through initiation rites [8] they are accepted in a group. Warriors often may carry a weapon after their initiation rites – they become part of their warriors group or army. The group gives the individual an identity and the mutual relationships between the individuals give a group/army an identity and a culture. In peacetime, groups of warriors should be kept busy. Traditional activities for groups of warriors in peacetime are: maintenance of equipment and skills, hunting and conquests far away from home.

Congolese soldiers with automatic weapons [9]

Most of the time the people of Central Africa coexist as good neighbours. They practise a comprehensive form of hospitality that exceeds the habits in Netherlands. People take their time to have mutual contact. For most people the material prosperity is rather low. Much attention is given to clothing, appearance and eating; other forms of prosperity are scarce. Just like in many societies and large corporations, the top layer of the society usurps the most of the limited material prosperity. This top layer has control over the distribution of food and prosperity over the entire group. If the groups are in balance internally and externally, then there still is a great inequality within and between groups, but possible tensions are dampened or smothered in many ways. Everything and everyone lives together in a more or less pleasant way.

Ashanti Yam Ceremony 1812 [10]

Literature and the findings during my research show that during internal conflicts and in conflicts between tribes, neighbours perceive each other in a radically different way. Within a fraction of a second, people distinguish between foreigners and members of their own group. When tensions arise, the own good qualities are exaggerated and the own bad characteristics are overlooked. In strangers, the bad qualities are seen a characteristic for the group and the good characteristics are neglected. The group pressure is often so great that the opinions are compulsorily imposed to the group members – otherwise forms of exclusion will follow [11].

In one of his works [12] Jean Paul Sartre described how an individual/stranger is robbed from her/his innocence and freedom of action by two mechanisms. By the mechanism of the “bad faith”, group members will reduce a stranger to an object with a very limited number of qualities – the stranger is robbed from all her/his other qualities. In line with the “bad faith”, Jean Paul Sartre describes the theory of “look” – Prof. Dr. W. Luijpen called this the “look of hate” [13]. The actions of a stranger are captured in a stigmatising look. Hereby the stranger is deprived from her/his ability to change and from his humanity; she/he is reduced to a thing.

[1] See for genocide: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide en http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide
[2] Source image: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Drill_sergeant_screams.jpg
[3] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kernwapen en http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapon
[4] E.g.: Dr. Strangelove by Stanley Kubrick – see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Strangelove
[5] Source image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HiroshimaNakajimaArea.jpg.
[6] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HiroshimaNakajimaAreaInRuins.jpg
[7] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs
[8] See brief overview in: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Initiation
[9] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Congo_War
[10] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yam_(vegetable)
[11] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment
[12] Sartre, Jean-Paul, Being and Nothingness. New York: Washington square press: 1977 – See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Being_and_Nothingness
[13] Luijpen, W., Nieuwe inleiding tot de existentiële fenomenologie. Utrecht: Het Spectrum, 1976 p. 284 – 285

Carla Drift – Culture

Via a reliable airport – where I bought a ticket on my temporary passport – I left Central Africa. I took a scheduled flight to North Africa. In North Africa, I travelled by public transport to Alexandria. I recollected my normal passport at friends. I stayed a week with them; we talked about the events in our lives.

Alexandria street view [1]

In the Alexandrian library, I carried out a small part of my desk research on sources for the reporting of this study trip on the causes and consequences of genocide in Central Africa. It was honour for me to perform this research in the Alexandrian library. The predecessor of this modern library was destroyed in classical antiquity by several fires. Many classic books from the Greek and Roman antiquity were forever lost in these fires. Research on my sources had amongst others the aim to give the lost lives by genocide in Central Africa a place in history.

Alexandrian Library [2]

I entered South Europe with a ferry. A train journey of more than a day took me back to the Netherlands. Here I could write my report during my recovery of a tropical disease.

Through my game of hide-and-seek during my stay in Central Africa and by my very causious return to Europe, no-one could easily link me to my research. I am still glad that I took these precautions, because one cannot be too careful with helpers of dictators, with arms dealers and secret services of various countries.

During this long trip, I organised the many impressions that I gained in Central Africa. Obviously I have already sorted out my research data, but in the plane, on the boat and in the train, the mainlines for the reporting of the study tour took a clear shape.

I decided to split the reporting of the events in four parts. The first part focused on culture or the behaviour of groups – perpetrators or victims – that were directly involved in the genocide. The second part covered the influence of individual behaviour of offenders, rulers and opinion leaders on the genocide. The third part described the influences on the excesses caused by organisations, bodies and countries outside Central Africa. This third part is confidential: it contains my findings on the impact of arms deliveries by traders and countries with political interests in Central Africa, on secret services with their sometimes obscure matters and the inability/negligence of international bodies. The last part of my report covered the potential legal liability of individual parties for their part in the genocide. During criminal investigation into the genocide, excavations were carried out and further research took place on the basis of my report.

Peace Palace in The Hague [3]

Before this study trip in Central Africa, I had looked upon cultures as a way whereby groups of people – including its individuals – live together en behave together. A culture was a “Modus Vivendi” of a coherent group of people. Obviously a culture changed over time, for example by changed circumstances or by migration of outsiders. But I had not linked culture with a living organization that – just like any living creature – was engaged in a “Survival of the Fittest”, as described by Darwin in “The Origin of Species”.

Origin of Species Darwin [4]

In the unfamiliar surroundings of Central Africa and on the basis of conversations with residents, I started to see more and more clearly that a culture can be compared to a living being that is always busy with survival. During the development of this idea, I noticed parallels in the history of the Western world.

In the first part of my report, I described that culture is endemically present in an individual, within a family, a village community, a tribe/group/people living in a coherent area. In Central Africa, the Nations as legal body were still in its infancy: the national culture was hardly developed. Cultures are a way of living together – a Modus Vivendi –, which provides stability and confidence. On the other hand, cultures struggle for survival and try to impose a certain behaviour to insiders; outsiders are convinced of the right attitude of a culture and – either temporarily or permanently – included in the culture or they are excluded.

Cultures are not static, they change over time as a language changes with the change of its speakers. A well-known and familiar mother tongue from a hundred years ago sounds strange/familiar to us similar as the way of living of people from a hundred years ago appear strange/familiar. Many of these changes gradually take place by assimilation or by organic growth.

A culture is not homogeneous and uniform. Within a somewhat extensive culture there is almost always a layering or stratification present. A culture also has internal tensions between mutual subcultures.

Sometimes, for example, by major changes – by a population explosion or by an important  development – or by very small coincidences during potential turning points – bifurcation points within the chaos theory – shifts can unexpectedly take place within a culture [5]. This rapid growth can cause stigmatisation, exclusion or destruction of dissenters within the own culture.

The discharge of the tensions can also take place by excesses against other (sub-) cultures. Usually cultures live in reasonable co-existence as good neighbours. Occasionally, there are differences of view that are made bearable by diplomacy, festivities, words, case law and treaties. Sometimes the tensions between cultures lead to eruption. The cause can be: a strong change in mutual relationships, a smouldering injustice from the past that manifests itself in a conflicts caused by a sudden incident. These eruptions can lead to violent outbursts. The Pax Romana around 400 a.d. in the area of the Danube is an example from the history with an ill-fated end. In Danube area, the Romans conducted a policy of divide and emperor where the favours were unequally divided between the separate cultures so that the mutual envy was greater than the tension with the Roman imperator. Once per generation, a culture was violently stripped of its wealth by the Romans and several of its allies. In general it took a generation before the culture could recover from this blow.

Around 400 a.d., the Visigoths were seeking protection close to the border of the Roman Empire near the Danube against the advancing Huns. the Romans did not allow the Visigoths to cross the Danube while another tribe was awarded this extra protection. The Visigoths seized this injustice as a reason to directly attack the weakened Roman Empire [6]. By the weakened position of the Romans – by, inter alia, internal divisions – the Visigoths were able to roam for many years in Italy and even to advance to the gates of Rome. In 408 a.d., Pope Innocent I was able to prevent an incursion in Rome by negotiation and a transfer of a large ransom [7]. Around 416 a.d. the Visigoths established themselves in the former Gaul.

Visigoths San Pedro Nave [8]

In Central Africa, the tensions within and between cultures were raised by internal tensions, changes in the relationships between cultures, elimination of the influence of the colonisers, artificial borders, population growth and decline and regular recurring drought. The new international order did not possess the power to intervene effectively.

This mixture of tension was in itself enough for the emergence of excesses. An unfortunate football match or an unfortunate election were sufficient for a violent eruption. But external influences enhanced the tensions and led to a catalyst for excesses.

[1] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandria
[2] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibliotheek_van_Alexandri%C3%AB
[3] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vredespaleis
[4] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Darwin
[5] See also: Ginneken, Jaap van, Brein-bevingen – Snelle omslagen in opinie en communicatie.
[6] Source: See also: Heather, Peter, Empires and Barbarians – Migration ,Development and the Birth of Europe. London: Panbooks, 2010, p. 197
[7] Source: Norwich, John Julius, The Popes, A History, London: Chatto & Windos, 2011 p. 19
[8] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visigoten

Carla Drift – Study Humanities 2

In line with psychology and history, I studied the history of legislation and the limited role of language in the field of emotions, culture and character.

I studied the history of Law to receive a better understanding in the organisation of the society and the relations between individuals themselves. Long ago, everything was private and group law. In birds, the occupant of a territory has just a little better chance than an intruder – usually the intruder disappears unless the occupant is careless or is unable to defend his territory. The occupier needs the  territory to have sufficient food for the young birds.

A similar mechanism plays a role when people assert right on an area. In addition, people have developed customary law and hospitality for visitors. This hospitality is sometimes confined in guest law [2] – often exchanges of gifts as “objects in the middle” take place to achieve and consolidate confidence between inhabitants and visitors.

A long time ago, rulers already used law to show who had the say – was the boss [4] – in a given area. One of the oldest laws is the codex of Hamurabi [5]. With the dissemination of this Codex in cuneiform on pillars within his empire, Hamurabi showed who had control over the habits and the order within his reign. This codex of Hamurabi was a long list of penalties for infringements – most sentences had characteristics of “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Almost all penalties could be bought off with an “object in the middle” to restore confidence – the penalty on accidentally wounding the neighbour at work could be bought off with transfer of cattle to restore mutual confidence.


In addition to the right between people, there was also law that was aimed at the general interest. A part of this public law was included in treaties between kings and rulers themselves. The difference between these kings and rulers and the contemporary warlords is in many cases only gradual. The difference shows in the degree of cruelty and tyranny; occasionally the rulers and kings are wise and moderate. These treaties usually start with a recital that included the order and the habits already established between the parents or ancestors of the rulers; after the recital followed the agreements built on the former order and finally the provisions for non-compliance were mentioned in the Treaty. These sentences ranged from war statements to full eradication of family and populations.

Another form of public law was the law of war in which the habits for war and sieges were determined. A few examples. A city may usually prevent siege and looting by handing over a ransom until the time came when the city was completely surrounded; then only a complete surrender was acceptable. The looting of the city after the surrender or sacking took a set time of usually a few days. After that time the booty was distributed among the conquerors; after the conquest the inhabitants of the city were usually without rights for a certain time – sometimes they fell into slavery.

In addition to these forms of public law, there was also Community law – for example the use of common pasturage. By the end of my studies I read a study about old Irish law [7]; It is surprising how common this legal form – with many forms of mutual duties of care – still is. Much attention was given to preserving the general interest. Recently in our world, the Community law also includes the right of education, development and deployment for betterment of society. In the interest of the community, punishments such as “eye for an eye” are often changed in, inter alia, education and social reintegration.

In the field of language I studied how language reflected the relationship between people and how the world view is reflected in language. Later on our Odyssey we will encounter many examples.

Erich Fromm [8] has stated in one of his studies that we have lost the language for intensity and association. During my studies I noticed that our language is also very limited for expressing emotions, culture and character. In our contemporary society we cannot express ourselves adequately on emotions, love and culture. We do not discus much about these topics – language was not an adequate means for communication about deeper emotions between my great love and I. We always could communicate our emotions much better by using behaviour, movements and body language. The important decisions between my great love and I were always made intuitively – our underbelly was far more important than our thoughts and words. I once read that when French ask “Comment ça va?”, this “ça” relates to the lower abdomen – a beautiful thought. Probably we communicate in the field of emotions, culture and character more by behaviour such as body language and hospitality, openness and acceptance on the one hand, and ignoring, excluding and aggression on the other hand. In Holland until about 30 years through the pillarisation, the inhabitants were absolute masters in living next to each other with complete different religions. Nowadays ignoring between children is seen as a form of bullying – maybe this modus vivendi in Holland prevented far worse actions.

In my job I kept myself busy with statistics and correlations between results of investigations; staff and students in the Humanities could use some help in this area. As a limited intellectual challenge, I followed the developments of population mathematics; later I used this knowledge in different studies about crimes against humanity. This intellectual challenge I kept for myself – it seemed to me a good idea to play hide and seek at this point, because this form of mathematics was not included in the curriculum for humanities.

The next post is more about my daily life in Amsterdam – also a kind of hide-and-seek.
[1] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vogels
[2] See also: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gastrecht
[3] Source image: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gastfreundschaft
[4] Man Leben would have remarked that “bhâsh” has the meaning “to speak, to name” in Sanskrit.
[5] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Hammurabi
[6] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi
[7] See also: Kelly, Fergus, A Guide to Early Irish Law. Dublin: Duldalgan Press, 2005 (first edition in 1988)