Posted in cross-cultural, Culture

Onions, backpacks and glass domes

Red_onions_(cross-sections)What do an onion, a backpack and glass domes have in common?  And a kaleidoscope?  A shadow?

They are all metaphors of cultures, believe it or not!  In a course on Cross-Cultural Communication I am taking, this week we were asked to comment on different metaphors of cultures, as well as come up with some of our own.

A metaphor I have often used in talking about culture is that of an onion.

There are several reasons for that.   One of them being that as we engage with cultures, as we peel away layer after layer, there are bound to be tears. Unless we study culture in a purely academic context, being confronted with another culture (and in the process, our own), is guaranteed to lead to a few emotions!

More importantly, though, I like the metaphor of an onion precisely because it expresses something of the complexity of culture. Similar to the iceberg metaphor, initially we see only the outer layer, the behaviour. But it is so important not to get stuck there, but to dig deeper, to peel away layer after layer. Starting to understand attitudes, values, world view – those things that are below the surface – takes time and hard work (and probably a few tears!) but boy is it crucial if we’re ever going to make sense of a culture and truly engage with it.

Looking through what other people came up with, a couple of them caught my eye. A kaleidoscope – fluid, always changing. And together creating beautiful patterns. And a shadow. Not always visible but always with us. We can’t hide it or escape from it.

As I was reflecting on some of the metaphors mentioned, it struck me that (probably inevitably) each of them communicates some aspects of culture better than others. For example, the metaphors of “islands in the ocean” and “glass domes” are strong at showing the distinctiveness of cultures but weaker at showing interconnectedness. On the other hand, the “backpack” metaphor, while showing that it is entirely possible to surmount cultural barriers, seems to ignore the fact that cultural convictions run deep and that moving from one framework to another is not as easy as putting on a different backpack. Both the “iceberg” metaphor and my own “onion” one look at culture a bit more in isolation, i.e. not so much at how one culture relates to another.

Not easy to pin down, this culture thing!

This is the course I am taking:

Posted in Photography, Weekly Photo Challenge

Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist

10325345_10152354778891445_8995714388448385218_nCertainly plenty of twists here!

In an added twist, this boat used to belong to the East German navy and is now (after a stint as a tourist boat) being transformed into a home and a place of counselling and “soul care” (!

Posted in Art, Culture


10310657_650801698303093_5095080523172767115_n(Sculpture by Bruno Catalano)


(Welsh, noun) A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

Sculptures don’t often “speak” to me.  I’m more of a words kind of girl…  Yet when I saw these pictures, they didn’t just speak, they struck a very deep chord. Suitcase in hand, off to new horizons.  Somehow I don’t think he is off on his summer holidays.  This looks more serious.  Maybe he is emigrating, all his possesions in one suitcase.  Unlike me, shipping boxes and boxes full of stuff from my old home to the new one.

Either way, the travelling, the good-byes have left their mark.  He leaves part of himself behind.  The people, the places, that made that season of his life special. He can take his memories with him but there will always be the aching, the longing, the hiraeth.

“A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return”.  These days, travel is easy. Many of us are able to return to the places we have left behind.  Those are special times. And yet…  It is never truly returning home. Places change, people leave or pass away, we ourselves change.  Relationships will never be the same again.

In the leaving, there is great excitement and hope. There is also the first inkling of hiraeth, of leaving behind a part of yourself that can never be retrieved. So often the joy and the richness of discovering a new place, new relationships, and the painful longing for the old, “for the lost places of your past”, go hand in hand.

Refugees, emigrants of old, people who know, who knew, that a physical return will be nigh on impossible – how much more deeply must they feel, have felt that “hiraeth”.

Hiraeth bears considerable similarities with the Portuguese concept of saudade (a key theme in Fado music), Galician morriña and Romanian dor (

For a beautiful piece on “saudade” look here:

Another post inpired by these scupltures (and a bit more information about the artist):

This is where I first came across the sculptures and the quote:


Posted in Photography, Weekly Photo Challenge

Weekly Photo Challenge: On The Move

10300810_10152345872036445_9181357384113652617_nSnapped on the move: having just arrived back from a trip to Hamburg (the Central Bus Station is just out of view), now waiting for the S Bahn to take me home.  Cars whizzing past on the Autobahn next to the train tracks. Looking at the “Internationales Congress Centrum Berlin (ICC Berlin)” and the Funkturm (former radio tower).  People on the move, messages on the move.

Posted in Reviews

Hannas Reise

HR2Hanna is your stereotypical business student: smartly dressed, hugely ambitious, career plan mapped out and willing to do whatever it takes.  It turns out that “what it takes” to get the job she is after is to show a willingness to be involved with people in need, to volunteer.  Not having anything like that on her CV so far, Hanna is hoping her mother would help her out.

Now mother and daughter couldn’t really be more different and don’t have a good relationship at all. Where Hanna is thoroughly 21st century, her mother appears to be stuck somewhere in the 1970s.  Where Hanna is career minded, her mother works for a charity that organises volunteer work in Israel.

Needless to say, her mother refuses to give to Hanna a paper saying she’d volunteered with them but instead sends her off to Israel for a few weeks to work at a home for people with disabilities. On one level, the story is somewhat predictable.  Confronted with situations and people that she doesn’t really know how to cope with, Hanna re-evaluates a lot of her values and the choices she has made in life. She also discovers things about her mother’s background that help her understand her better.

What makes the film special, though, is that all the characters are multi-faceted. It would have been very easy to portray them as stereotypes: the ambitious German who wants to leave history behind; the slightly cynical Israeli; the Holocaust survivor. And yet it never does that.  Just like in real life, the characters are more complex and complicated then that and you feel like you are just beginning to understand a little bit more of the situation in Israel and how it affects ordinary people and their lives.

The film is full of moments that make you laugh, some that make you cry and lots to think about.

And yes, there is a love story as well 🙂


Posted in Culture


I am anything but a dedicated follower of fashion but this is a fun look at how tastes have changed over the last 100 years.  I bet those guys had a great time filming this!  Some decades do have a lot to answer for, though…

Doesn’t it just make you want to jump in and do a bit of time travel, to see what the life was like that went with the fashion?


Posted in cross-cultural, Culture, Uncategorized

What we see

“I wonder what different people see as they watch this?” That was the question in my mind as this Guiness advert was making the rounds on Facebook on St Patrick’s Day. Do we all see the same thing?

There is the obvious story.  Rather silly, but endearing and fun.  A dog herding a bunch of guys into a pub for a Guiness.

What about all the sub-plots, though?  How many outside the UK will have heard of “One Man and His Dog“? Already the plot is slightly less random.

And the Indian restaurant.  Not just any restaurant, but an Indian one.  Couldn’t really be anything else.  “Going for a curry“.  So much part of British life.  It implies a night out with friends.  Not really significant in the advert but still there.  But lost to many who lack the background.

Silly, I know.  What does it matter whether or not we get these things.  But.

How often does that happen in the stories we tell each other?  Stories about ourselves?  Phrases we use, little references – all are significant.  But the other likely will miss those.  And we feel misunderstood, not really known.

Even when we share a lot of the same frame of reference that happens.  How much more between different cultures!  It is so easy to think we understand and then to pass judgement.  Yet we only hear what’s on the surface and so easily miss what’s behind, the real meaning.

What we see, what we hear, can be so wrong, so far from what is meant.

Oh for the wisdom to hold my tongue, to listen, to seek understanding!