Card Games and Cultural Communication

“I have two decks of cards if anyone wants to play…”

My new friends have learned quickly that I love to play card games. Fortunately for me, many of them like to play, too. We’ve spent a lot of time this past week teaching each other new games and laughing through multiple rounds of Mafia–including one auf Deutsch (in German).

More than one person usually knows how to play the same game, but as we’ve explained some, we’ve realized that we play by slightly different rules. After some discussion, we choose one set (or a creative combination) and continue playing.

Obviously, the rules are important. They control how we interact with each other during the game and ultimately decide who wins at the end. And as I like to extrapolate on things, this week I’ve observed how cultural expectations and traditions act as rules for our daily lives.

One of my classes is an intercultural communication course. We just started classes this week, so we haven’t delved very deeply into various theories or practical applications, but we have discussed the importance of understanding other cultures and some barriers that keep us from communicating effectively. Speaking different languages will almost certainly hinder communication, but cultural values or even the method of communication (tone of voice, nonverbal cues) can affect intercultural communication even more.

Our professor gave an example of a German company operating in America. Everyone in the company spoke excellent English, but the Germans and the Americans could not get along. They had different ideas and approaches toward the business, and merely speaking the same language did not solve their communication problems because they were interpreting it differently.

Overlooking Munich from the spire of St. Peter's Church
Overlooking Munich from the spire of St. Peter’s Church

Yesterday, I experienced a few differences myself. I was meeting with my conversation partner at a café, and after about 15 minutes, the server came by and brusquely asked us what we wanted to order. We both ordered our drinks (mineral water for Lisa, a cappuccino for me) and away she went without a smile. Now this is not exactly typisch Deutsch (meaning: typically German); servers are generally pleasant, but they do not fake niceties the way American servers sometimes do. If an American server is having a bad day, he or she will not reveal it (or try not to at least), but it is socially acceptable for a German server to show that he or she is in a bad mood. Had I not known this, I might have felt slighted or offended by my server, but her mood had nothing to do with me, and therefore had no effect.

An hour or so later, while Lisa and I were still talking (auf Deutsch), a woman came up and asked if she could sit at our four-person table because all of the other spots were full. We happily obliged and continued talking. About ten minutes passed and she entered into our conversation for a little bit before she left. I think Germans and Americans have different ideas of personal and public space, because in America, different parties generally share tables only when they are much longer and each group can have its own side.

Without knowing how other cultures typically behave, it’s easy to take offense. I’m looking forward to learning more about the differences between cultures and the various theories and analysis methods.

Lovely view of the Alps
Lovely view of the Alps

In addition to providing a cultural lens for me, card games have also helped to pass the time while traveling. Last Friday, 17 of us (plus the resident director of the JYM program, Hans-Peter Söder, the most typical Bavarian you will ever meet and a really cool guy) went hiking in Mittenwald, a small Alpine village on the border of Germany and Austria. It took us two hours to get there by train (plenty of time for cards!), and it has been one of my favorite adventures so far. The weather was gorgeous and warm, but there was still snow left over from the cold weather earlier that week, offering beautiful scenery and a cool contrast. The hike was pretty steep in some parts (especially the last bit, which was a good challenge), but it also plateaued for a little while as we passed by a lake and a meadow. At the end, we ate at a small restaurant at the summit and took the ski lift down, which (thankfully) was not a run-away ski lift and offered a beautiful view of the town and the Alps.

Taking the ski lift back to Mittenwald.
Taking the ski lift back to Mittenwald.
We hiked from Mittenwald to Hoher Kranzberg (the top middle, not very high compared to the rest of the peaks).
We hiked from Mittenwald to Hoher Kranzberg (the top middle, not very high compared to the rest of the peaks).
A house in Mittenwald
A house in Mittenwald

Now that classes have started, my much-appreciated three-week vacation has ended, but I’m excited to learn more about the German language, culture, and history. And also play more card games using our Denglisch mix in the English Garden (with sunscreen next time).

“Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.” —Voltaire

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