Cross Cultured

Being in India it’s difficult not to comment on the ongoing cricket controversy involving Australia and India. We can learn a lesson or two in communication across cultures from the incident. Let’s reflect on what happened in Australia recently.

India was playing a ‘test’ match against Australia in Sydney. India’s Harbhajan Singh was batting. Harbhajan Singh is known for his short temper. After a particular over got done, Andrew Symonds from Australia muttered something to Harbhajan. Not the one to take things lying down, Harbhajan gave it back to Symonds. Now, it is alleged, by Symonds and other Australian players, that Harbhajan called Symonds a monkey.

Here’s a quick lowdown on what transpired between the two parties:
India was playing a ‘test’ match against Australia in Sydney. India’s Harbhajan Singh was batting. Harbhajan Singh is known for his short temper. After a particular over got done, Andrew Symonds from Australia muttered something to Harbhajan. Not the one to take things lying down, Harbhajan gave it back to Symonds. Now, it is alleged, by Symonds and other Australian players, that Harbhajan called Symonds a monkey.

This one word – ‘Monkey’ has been the keystone of the controversy. For the Indian, Harbhajan Singh, a monkey is just another name kids call each other by while teasing. But that’s the Indian culture. Distinctly different from the Australian. In Australia, calling an aboriginal (Symonds is an aboriginal) ‘monkey’ would be considered a racist slur (it’s as good, or rather as bad, as calling a black man ‘negro’). Symonds filed a complaint with the match official and Harbhajan was handed a three match ban.

Harbhajan and Symonds come from different cultures where the denotations of certain words, like monkey, are vastly different. We can learn an important lesson in communication – it’s imperative to keep in mind the sensitivities of your audience. You ought to know how your audience will soak in your communication.

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