Thursday, 4 October 2012

Evaluating Intercultural Behavior

Intercultural Scenario

I arrived in Singapore more than a year ago. It was not my first time but a lot of things had changed since the last time I visited Singapore. After unpacking endless stuffs that I brought, my mother and I decided to go for a grocery shopping. It was around 6 PM and a bunch of people in formal attires were rushing to squeeze themselves into packed trains and buses. When we were going to cross the street, we saw a bus was moving at a high speed. We decided to stand on the sidewalk and wait for the bus to pass but suddenly the bus screeched and stopped right before the zebra cross.

I had no idea what was going on. Did we do something wrong? Did the driver think we wanted to board the bus? However, there was no nearby bus stop and we were practically just standing and staring at the road. We did not send any signals to stop the bus.
The bus driver looked a bit grumpy and waved his hand impatiently, signaling us to cross the street. My mother and I quickly crossed the street, feeling bad for the bus driver.


In Indonesia, zebra crosses are usually not of much use to pedestrians and jaywalking is a commonly observed habit. Most of the time, pedestrians have to wave their hand to slow down the drivers before crossing the street whereas in Singapore, most drivers readily give way for pedestrians when approaching zebra crosses even when there was no signal. To sum up, in this case, the fundamental difference between Singapore and Indonesia cultures lies on the obedience to some specific traffic rules.
Furthermore, miscommunication might arise in the presence of such a difference. In this case, failure to decode each other’s non-verbal cues (waiting on the sidewalk to let the bus pass and stopping the bus to let the pedestrians cross the street) is the root of the ineffective communication.


Eunice Koh said...
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Eunice Koh said...

Hi Teresa!

Your post reminds me of Indonesia, and how long I have been away! It is quite surprising how similar and yet different Indonesia is to Cambodia and Thailand in terms of road usage.

Indeed, one of the most immediate contrasts to Singapore that I felt when I went to Thailand and Cambodia was the use of roads. At first, I was convinced that Singapore’s roads are very much safer, since there are established rules to guide both drivers' and pedestrians' road usage. However, after learning how to jaywalk in Thailand and Cambodia, I gradually realized that these rules also contribute to restricting pedestrians to the "correct" places on motorways, such as at zebra crossings, or "green man" lights. In other words, if one wants to jaywalk at any other point besides these "correct" locations, one has to expect getting (angrily) honked at by the drivers if one does not cross the road fast enough.

In contrast, Thailand and Cambodia hardly have any "green man" or zebra crossing rules (at least at the places where I visited). So the standing rule for a pedestrian is to "Just Cross". During my first visit, I was really afraid of crossing the roads. I did not believe in the existence of the “Just Cross” rule, because I was used to crossing the road only when there are no cars in the way. Gradually, however, I learned the rules: look to the left and right to avoid the fast-travelling vehicles nearest to you, then begin taking small steps onto the motorway to signal your intention to cross. As soon as you see vehicles slowing down to let you pass (this happens almost automatically, without any angry honking), cross quickly. Do not attempt to make eye contact with the drivers. Doing so will get the drivers confused as to whether you are attempting to ask for help, or to cross the road.

I realize that such attitudes of "sharing" motorways with other users (including bikers, dogs, birds, tuk-tuks, small children, and many others) might actually help to make motorways safe, because in raising the status of non-motorists as valid motor-road users, motorists' awareness of the presence and movements of non-motor users are also necessarily increased. The result is that motorists tend to travel slower at busy junctures, as a matter of course. Meanwhile, this communal approach to road usage helps to establish a "motorway language", which facilitates clearer communication between motorists and non-motorists, for the benefit of both.

Maple Lai said...

Hi Teresa!

Reading your post reminded me of the recent trip to Ho Chin Minh City in Vietnam. Can I just say that the traffic there is madness? There was no order, no proper signalling like we have in Singapore. The way to cross the roads there is: Don't think, just cross.

Growing up in Singapore, we were taught since young to stop and look out for the traffic before crossing, even at the zebra-crossing. I thought it would be the same everywhere, that zebra-crossing means pedestrians get the right of way. Apparently, it was not the case in HCMC, because the no matter how long you wait, the vehicles will not stop for you! All you have to do is just cross and let the vehicles avoid you.

I guess in many countries, locals have come up with practices for everything and in this case, 'traffic etiquette'. What we have in one country cannot be applied in another. As we grow older and increasingly get exposed to things outside our comfort zone, we learn from such differences.

Thank you for sharing your experience and its a pleasure to read your post! It's always nice to see the different perspectives of Singapore, because living for 21 years here has turned everything into a norm for me!

Cheers and all the best for your peer-teaching tomorrow! (If i did not remember wrongly!)

Maxime Fugel said...

Hi Teresa!

It is a nice story! I like the fact that you put some pictures on your post! These pictures enliven your story!

Furthermore, I agree with you: there is a strict traffic rule in Singapore! Last week, I was in Bali and we can say that in Bali there is NO rules! I had never seen everything like that. Maybe it is the same thing in Indonesia.
In France, there are crossing rules but a lot of people don't care about that (if there is no danger of course!). Here, it seems to be different. People cross the road just when the fellow is green. In France, if there is no cars, doesn't matter if the fellow is red or green!

My conclusion will be almost the same that the conclusion that I draw in the other posts. When you are new in a country, you have to understand the rules of this country and the behavior of the inhabitants. If you manage to do this, I am sure that your integration will be successful!

Thank you for sharing this story and good luck for your Peer Teaching!

Guillaume Ubaldi said...

Teresa dear,

I like your story because it reminds me the same thing when I arrived in Singapore - as Maxime said. Drivers feel obliged to stop when you're about to cross the road, even if you're staring at your mobile phone or anything else. That's a habit - or a rule.

Actually I wonder if drivers could be caught and take a fine if they do not yield to pedestrians. I won't be surprised if they could :)
And the reaction of the bus driver does sound like he was actually forced to give way and get probably irritated that you didn't do so earlier.

In this case, you just have to experience this type of situation to do it right the next time, as it's not very serious.

See you later girl.

Teresa Widodo said...

Hi Eunice!

When was the last time you visit Indonesia? Anyway, thanks for sharing! It's fascinating how they give way even for dogs! Do they have strict traffic regulations? Or is it just their habits?

Teresa Widodo said...

Hi Maple!

Thanks!!! :D yes, today is my peer teaching and I hope you guys will enjoy it! And thanks for sharing. It's interesting to observe how different cultures (in this case, traffic etiquette) among neighboring countries.

Teresa Widodo said...

Hi Maxime!

Thanks! Hope you guys will enjoy today's peer teaching :) yes, that's true for most part in Indonesia. Even if you cross on zebra cross, you have to make sure the street is quite empty. Thanks for sharing! Do you have strict traffic regulations in France (like costly fines, etc.)?

Teresa Widodo said...

Hi Guillaume!

Yes, after that I rarely stop before crossing on zebra crosses. I believe so, the driver was irritated since it took me so long to cross the road. :D See you around!

Dhanya said...

Hi Teresa,

Thanks for sharing this! Coming from India, I was not used to crossing at zebra crossings. We did have them at signalized junctions but not at other non-signalized junctions. We have to cross when there is no vehicle, thats all. I have been to Indonesia and I was hugely surprised when people crossed even when the vehicles were coming but just made no eye-contact.

This was a simple, well-thought-of example of how cultural differences seep into everyday life. I realized a huge part of this particular example is also about the law and order in the said country!

Teresa Widodo said...

Hi Dhanya!

Thank you for sharing :) Yes, I believe that culture, habit and law affect each other.

Brad Blackstone said...

This is a very interesting scenario description, Teresa. You clearly and concisely zoom in on a cultural trait that is apparent in Singapore, the meaning of a zebra crossing, and you accurately contrast that with what your own perceptions had been -- shaped as they were by your life and experience in Indonesia.

I also appreciate how you formulate an interpretation.

Thanks for the effort!

Brad Blackstone said...

p.s. Love the Beatles' photo!

Teresa Widodo said...

Hi Brad!

Thank you so much! Glad that you like it :)

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