Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures
Joe Lurie (Kenya 1967–70)
$12.95 (paperback), $7.99 (Kindle)
Reviewed by Patricia S. Taylor Edmisten (Peru 1962–64)
After completing my Peace Corps years in Peru and earning a graduate degree, I married, left my home-town of Milwaukee for New York City, and took up residence in a dinky studio apartment at Columbia University’s International House. My then husband, also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru, was pursuing his doctorate while serving as resident advisor.
Author Joe Lurie is executive director emeritus of International House (I House) at the University of California, Berkeley, which opened in 1930. “It is one of the largest, most diverse residential cultural program centers in the U.S., second only to the International House in New York City,” according to the introduction of Chapter Two.
Lurie is especially equipped to write about the erroneous perceptions we concoct about people different from ourselves and the deceptions we inflict on ourselves and others as a result. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya and has vast cross-cultural experience, including his years at I House and his work as a cross-cultural communication trainer and teacher. He has also directed programs in France, Kenya, and Ghana for the School for International Training and served as Vice President for the American Field Service Intercultural Program in the U.S. Today he is an intercultural trainer, speaker and trainer.
Active and returned Peace Corps Volunteers will be familiar with many of the linguistic and culturally embarrassing scenarios that Lurie documents. The book is packed with anecdotes about missed opportunities, unintended offenses, embarrassments, and humiliations caused as a result of cultural ignorance.
We who make these glaring or not so glaring mistakes are not stupid, but we lack the knowledge to locate people’s behavior in terms of their own languages and cultures. Lurie uses this quote from Anais Nin to represent this idea: “We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.” This quote may also explain the current social, economic and political division in the United States. None of us reading this review stands on toilet seats to go the bathroom, as is common in countries where sitting seems an unsanitary, almost barbarous behavior, but our response to, say, followers of The Donald, is often as severe as if we had seen them straddling toilet seats, leaving their footprints in the process.
If I were teaching a course in cross-cultural understanding, I would use this book as one of my primary texts. It is perfect for generating discussion and role-playing. The country-specific gaffes are generally categorized by the nature of the faux pas, such as dating, dining, sexual orientation, toileting, money, privacy, modesty, attitudes toward age, time, etc. Lurie gracefully links the misperceptions that cause the problems and provides the context in which to understand them.
We North Americans are generally imbued with the conceit that our way of living — our spirit of individualism — is the way. We are surprised when people from other cultures consider us rude, bombastic, selfish, crass, and uncaring of our elders. Toward the end of Perception and Deception, Joe Lurie disabuses us of these notions, even those of us who consider ourselves to be culturally sensitive. He brings to life the quote by Henry-Louis Bergson: “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”
Patricia Edmisten is retired from the University of West Florida, where she was director of International Education and Program. She is the author of Nicaragua Divided: La Prensa and the Chamorro Legacy, and wrote the introduction to, and translation of, The Autobiography of Maria Elena Moyano, the Life and Death of a Peruvian Activist. Her Peace Corps service in Peru inspired her novel, The Mourning of Angels. In 2007 her book of poetry, Wild Women with Tender Hearts won the Peace Corps Writers Award. Her most recent books include A Longing for Wisdom: One Woman’s Conscience and her Church, and Water Skiing on the Amazon: A Memoir for My Grandchildren. www.patriciaedmistenbooks.com
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