Review — PERCEPTION AND DECEPTION by Joe Lurie (Kenya 1967-70)

perceptions-deceptions-140Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures
Joe Lurie (Kenya 1967–70)
Cultural Detective
180 pages
2015
$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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  • Patricia Edmisten’s review of Joe Lurie’s “Perceptions and Deceptions” inspires me to read it and to encourage others who wish to understand cross-cultural issues to read it, as well. Her greatest accolade is that she would use this book if she were teaching a course in cross-cultural understanding. Knowing how deeply involved she is in global matters, and what a talented writer she is, I think you found the perfect reviewer for this astute and compelling work.

  • I recall how transformitive and imaginative the TRANSFORMER toys appeared 30 years ago ( me then 50 years old) and how now ‘dis-formative’ the times became. I wonder if those kids so engaged with their toys then were unconsciously preparing themselves for the psychic disruptions that have issued forth with the formerly submerged theocracies that snapped-back to ride new hells that I, bumping at 80, think my age a coward’s way out because I know that I must fight the good fight for the future that while seeming so bleak may by my feeble efforts and those of my contemporary peeps could turn the tide if only I have hope & press on regardless. As a youth I believed in peace (and so the Peace Corps attracted me). Now I turn to unremitting resistance shouting for that peace. .

  • The kind of youth I was came from many antecedents — meaning “I didn’t get it off the grass” to quote a Dublin-born grandmother, Margaret Powers Mycue — and here is a rough little sketch written 5 yrs back. I’d guess that others of my time had much the same kind of varied mix of history.

    MYCUE FAMILY HISTORY (a sketch from 13 May 2009)
    (On May 13, 2009 at 7:59pm edward mycue wrote: when is a blog not a blog, when a post?)
    i start telling about cars:
    cars those old muscle cars and dogs in them cars with rumble seats the mid 1940’s they were old then and
    guys back from world war II had them cheaper then and old old. we loved them. you could duck down under
    and into the space inside if it got to windy or cold or you were afraid –or my dad and the guys were worried
    abt us as we bounced over potholes and bumps heading down to the river. but I don’t remember what river i
    remember 2 guys lived down there after/back from the war and the one had a leg off and he used to grab me up
    haul me over obstructions blondhaired hunk with the missing leg but some replacement that kinda worked (my first crush on a guy) maybe in his 20’s who my dad used to play baseball with and the other guy
    was my dad’s buddy from boy scout days or from the tuscarora reservation or both where dad was half raised
    by those old indians when his dad william oliver mycue had left –well booted out by margaret powers mycue his wife my dad’s mom who from ireland came down the erie canal to buffalo/niagara falls and somehow met
    grandpop william oliver mycue in his shop where he made cars and invented and innovated. later called mycue autoparts and repairs. that my grandmother took over. she ran it with the girls, my dad’s 4 sisters while
    my dad and uncle harold worked in back. until dad became the salesman outside. margaret powers mycue didn’t trust men at all and to her william oliver was a
    dirty damn protestant, drunk, whore monger (he’s been discovered keeping a woman in the apt over the repair shop on pine street). and so margaret powers (my dad’s name full is john powers mycue–being the second son
    just as i am edward delehant mycue, second son also, named after my mother ruth taylor delehant’s father and
    just as my nephew is john mycue mcgaha, second son of agnes second of my sisters) found william oliver
    drunk, kept him drunk for 3 weeks confined by her and her older daughters possibly marguerite and evelyn
    until she got a church separation through her priest and papers signed that the business was then hers and then william oliver mycue was history: my dad was 7 then.
    william oliver mycue back from mille lacs, minnesota
    area in 1946 when i was 9 when i got to know him. he would buy me a coke after school if i wandered that way to the crystal cafe where he was with his cronies. he’d spin me stories about the mycued past–not the
    getting dumped part–new france quebec city and its dispersal into the new england usa and then in 1863 w/a land grant (signed by abraham lincoln HIMSELF who signed all that stuff in those days) to an area known as
    “lake vivian” in east central minnesota. my greatgreat grandfather and his son age 12 who became william oliver mycue’s dad went there to the parcel next to the harmon’s and who married the harmon girl the mom of
    my grandfather william oliver (and not telling me the story of who died this mom in nebraska where she’d fled to her sister–and when he heard this great grandfather went behind the barn blaming himself for something lost in the mists of the past shot himself: and: that is why the family dispersed so that when
    william oliver came back, 18 or 19, from spanish-american war in late 1890’s with the family scattered)
    and that he went onto buffalo and set up an engineering/car making and repairing shop. he told me tales of way back to the sixteenth century, of intermarriage with indians and it seemed like one of
    those jeff chandler movies of rapine and violence and the adoption of the boy in the tree surviving the indian
    raid that itself was a response to the white people’s murders and boys love these stories, i know i did how’d this start’s a thread unbroken to this day as i tell my brother dave the historian (who i don’t think ever listened to grandpop) and have told to
    my late brother pete and my sisters margo and agnes and jane and gerarda–who have poopood these stories.
    maybe some truth. my cousin richard mycue san antonio architect, grandson of lester my grandfather’s
    brother (who went to texas with his son roger about the same time as us–1948–we not knowing of them until dad on his brake-lining salesman travels heard that in seguin south of san antonio some mycues were there).
    Richard found another story and a name “mique” who was architect of quebec and son of the french king’s architect. from there over a couple of centuries mycues moved into new england and the land grant in 1863.
    Grandpa’s stories to me had them coming from near toulouse near yquem (thus the mycue eventually after the french & indian wars when the english won and we were by then still yquems but the conquering officer
    reassigning land said there was no name that started w/a y and that we half breeds were ignorant and illiterate –
    which we may have been in the conquerer’s language and culture, but grandpa said that they our ancestors
    could sign their own name but in the end accepted the new spelling along with title to our rightful land.
    grandpa say the french king henri of navarre , who’s mom marguerite had been queen of Navarre when it
    was a country half in modern france and half in modern spain; & when he became the big king of france and took the roman catholic religion as a condition of that sent as many of his old protestant cavalier supporters to
    the new world in early 17th century i think partly to get them out of his hair and not interfere with henri’s medici wife and partly to save them from her; they went as explorers—protestant one and not the catholic jesuit
    ones they make all the noise about in schools—and that
    these men {insert the 2 bottom lines here} is more. but this is not a blog.
    it is a story of sorts i call ‘cars’ to begin with and ‘i fled him’ here at this close.
    something sprung from francis thompson’s “the hound of heaven” & langston hughes’ “dreams”.
    © Edward Mycue 2009
    {married with american indian women and thus were halfbreeds, and a good thing.
    and there}
    Edward Mycue

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