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On October 27th, 2012, I had a wonderful Culture Bump at the University of Houston football stadium. I was sitting near the stairs enjoying watching the Cougars winning the game, when I suddenly saw the President of The University of Houston. I was shocked because in my country presidents have a VIP Place. They never sit with students. Then I was even more shocked when I asked her to take a picture and she accepted! I couldn’t believe she wanted to take a picture with me. It was so exciting to have met her. So much so that I can say I have never seen a nicer person than her.

What an amazing culture bump!

While it is tempting to merely accept Raed’s experience as a positive cross-cultural encounter, a closer examination reveals that we are left with a sense of how different American and Saudi cultures are. The Culture Bump Approach takes this simple incident and reveals (1) the source of our different behaviors and (2) two different levels of our common humanity. One of the common threads in this incident is concerned with how leaders attempt to connect with those that they lead – whether it is a university, a country or a company. And Americans might be interested to learn that this occurs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also in various ways.

Sociologist Mary Archer writes about her experience in Saudi Arabia saying, ” In 1962, I had the pleasure of visiting Emira Iffat, the wife of King Faisal….When the visit was over, the Emira invited us to see the King’s reception hall. We walked to the far end opposite the front doors. The golden oak doors going into the room were at least 12 feet high, and they swung open to reveal a room over 150 feet long decorated with red, Persian carpets and glistening crystal chandeliers. Brocaded couches and chairs were clustered around coffee tables in small conversational groupings. It was here, we were told that the King greeted any citizen who wanted to come each evening. The citizens could bring complaints and problems, and the King and his ministers would hear them, and then a minister would be assigned to help the citizen with his problem. It is a form of democracy that comes from the Koran.”

Another level of commonality embedded in Raed’s positive culture bump (not all culture bumps are positive!) might involve a discussion about incidents that make us feel “special” – or what types of things we do to make others “feel special.” These conversations with “Others” about our common shared experiences provide a lasting foundation for relationships.

In addition to examining the ways that we humans are similar, the Culture Bump Approach provides an explanation of the origin for our different behaviors. In the Toolkit for Culture and Communication, Dr. Pierre Casse’s Model of the Staircase and Roller Coaster provides one explanation of why we humans are different while Hoopes’ list of cultural values provides the foundation for the values clarification game, Walking through the Valley of Values.

The Culture Bump Approach to understanding cultural differences trains the mind to consciously understand the processes involved in either connecting or separating from those different from ourselves. As a result, we can create countless conversations for connecting both with others and with our own innermost selves.

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