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I am a localization manager/translator and intercultural consultant living in Berlin (Germany), passionate about languages, cultures, diversity management, body art, dancing, self-empowerment, coaching, effective communication and, last but not least, vegan gluten-free food and good movies.

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Singleness made in Berlin - #3. Or four questions one should better think about, while flirting in another language

Online and offline, but above all online, one can read almost everywhere that content is king. Sean D'Souza gets usually a little bit further and says that the content is king, but the packaging is Emperor. In my humble opinion, he is right.
Something is even more important than content and packaging, though, and it's... feedback.

[Packaging is... emperor and it can be very classy too:
luxury Purple packaging design from Betc Design
for My Cointreaupolitan Box by Dita von Teese]

Seth Godin is sure that "Criticism is easy to do, but rarely worth listening to, mostly because it's so easy to do". This is sadly true, and yet constructive criticism and honest feedback are absolutely worth listening since they are useful not only for the person receiving it but also for the one providing it.

People criticize only when they care. While people still care about you or your business, you have the opportunity to do something better, to do something differently, to change their minds--or to just meet in the middle.
Apathy is much, much worse.
Jeff Haden

The person providing the feedback is forced to analyze carefully and deeply a situation, a problem or specific events or behaviors, in order to provide insightful feedback and to make himself/herself clear about her ideas and opinions. And sometimes also about her reasons for giving the feedback in the first place.

The person receiving the feedback is lucky enough to get a new perspective about something or priceless suggestions about what one could improve, change or see with different eyes regarding a matter, where he/she probably would not be able to do the same alone even if he/she could be an expert on the subject.

[Cute and yet very effective "bother scale" on a scale of 1 to 10
about how positive/negative feedback can be]

While writing this blog, feedback from friends, readers, and new visitors is gold and helps me to stay focused, to enhance my communication style and last but not least to improve the blog day after day. It also helps me to notice mistakes or errors I would otherwise have missed or to explain better concepts that are very clear in my mind and that maybe because of it could result taken for granted for someone else.
I am always happy to hear from you and to discover what you think about the blog at large or about this or that blog post.

After reading this blog post about flirting in another language, a couple of readers pointed out that they partially disagree with me and that they don't consider flirting in another language a challenging experience requiring them to quit their comfort zone.

I still think that flirting in another language can be very stressful and sometimes frustrating, even if it can be for sure at the same time at least as rewarding, sexy and intriguing, if not even more than this. Let's try to clear a couple of issues about this matter, with some questions:

#1. How fluent is someone in the foreign language spoken while flirting?
In the mentioned post we were talking about flirting in German, but this question would apply to practically every foreign language one has/wants to speak while flirting with a native speaker of that language and therefore I believe that the grade of comfort or discomfort would be strongly related to the proficiency of the person in that language, among other factors.

[According to the CEFR/CEF 
(Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: 
Learning, Teaching, Assessment), 
while speaking a foreign language
there are six reference levels of proficiency
Image source: Japan Foundation NYC]

Flirting in English would be for sure relatively easy or not so complicated for most expats coming from Westerner countries that probably studied English at school for at least five years or even longer and for people coming from other countries that spent at least a couple of years in some English-speaking country or went to university/are working abroad in an international environment where English is used as lingua franca for facilitating workflows and human interactions between people from different countries.

But how about flirting in Swedish or French or Japanese, while having only intermediate or even basic language skills in the areas of listening, writing and speaking?
Would one feel comfortable or witty or sexy and attractive, while speaking a language the potential romantic counterpart knows way much better and doing a lot of mistakes or sometimes not being able to get jokes or to explain/tell something in an elegant way?

[Flirting in Japanese: are you in?
Are you able to "read the air" and get every social nuance?]

#2. How strongly related are, from a linguistic perspective, the mother tongue of the person and the foreign language one is speaking, while flirting?
Even if in most countries people are proud or happy or just used to repeat again and again that their mother tongue is among the most difficult to learn or they tend to consider it like a unicum, languages are actually almost never islands.
They are part of bigger families, with other languages related to them while having common roots, or different levels of reciprocity and influences, and connections with further less related languages as well, due to historical events, wars, socio-economic factors and so on.

[The Indo-European Language Family Tree,
illustration prepared by Jack Lynch]

Flirting in German and getting the right nuance or sexual innuendo style could be easier for expats coming from most English-speaking or Scandinavian countries or from the Netherlands than it could be for expats coming from Greece or Iran, for example.
As you can see in the image above, English, Dutch and most Scandinavian languages are all part of the Germanic language family, just like German, while Greek and Persian are part of other language families.

#3. How big is the cultural divide between the main culture of the country in which the person grew up and the main culture of the country in which the foreign language used for flirting is spoken?
In intercultural communication and other social sciences people talk about cultural divide, for explaining how near or far away from each other two specific main national cultures are, depending on elements like geographical proximity, mutual influences, shared traditions, historical events, religion, spoken language, arts and literature, accepted gender roles, mentality, etc.

[How different could flirting expectations be, 
while coming from a mainly individualistic or collectivistic culture?]

Most Europeans expect for example to have no or only very little cultural/linguistic problems while visiting another European country or an English or Spanish speaking country all around the world, but they would consider normal to experience a little bit more frustration or more misunderstandings while visiting countries like China, Tibet or Malawi, for example, even if it's possible to spend time in those countries as a tourist or in other settings as well.
So in our example about flirting in German, expats coming from Denmark or Belgium could have fewer doubts than an expat coming from Morocco or Saudi Arabia, just to name two "exotic" countries.

[Dealing and flirting with people with narcissistic personality
can be veeery difficult in every culture and language...]

And yet, expecting no differences at all because "we are all European, after all" is the best way to experience a bigger amount of problems, while considering implicit that the other person will always understand what we want, what we think and what we are expecting from him or her.
Flirting is already tricky even without having to fight against linguistic and cultural barriers, right? It could be worth to remember that the other person has maybe other expectations or ideas about how the flirting thing could or should work.

[Not even Ryan Gosling would be sexy
while saying "Mal sehen" too often]

One of my favorite examples is the short German sentence "Mal sehen", that means "We will see".
While flirting it can be used while meaning exactly "No idea right now, we will see", but it can also be used while meaning "I don't want to tell you that clearly, you will discover it. I am teasing you... and you will like it".
How can one know which is the right meaning? A very interesting flirting Russian roulette, indeed.

#4. How is someone flirting in a foreign language? Face-to-face, by phone, via e-mail, while texting or via Skype?
According to the so-called 7%-38%-55% Rule, promoted by Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, and explained in different studies about human interaction and communication, words, tone of voice and nonverbal behavior (body language, facial expressions, gesticulation, posture, etc.) play a different role in conveying messages.
While practicing personal communication and talking about feelings, emotions, and attitudes, words (7%) would then be way less important than tone of voice (38%) and nonverbal behavior (55%) and if people have the impression that someone's communication style is not consistent (saying something rude while smiling and displaying relaxed body language, or saying something nice while looking grumpy and displaying aggressive body language), people would instinctively pay more attention to tone of voice and nonverbal behavior and way less attention to what someone is actually saying.

[The so called 7%-38%-55% Rule is very useful 
in personal communication with friends, family members etc,
but less effective for lessons, conferences, lectures etc]

It can be true that if one is flirting in another language face to face, body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice should be enough to decode someone's intentions and grade of interest, even if one is not so proficient in the foreign language. And yet we are more and more used to flirt virtually, spending time in front of a monitor or a display instead of being around that special person one would love to seduce. 
How easily can one flirt in another language, while just writing or reading an e-mail or being texted or chatting via Skype? How to deal with flirting in another language without having a chance to rely on one's skills of reading the other's body language or without hearing his/her voice? Is the person smiling, while writing that ironic e-mail? Or is that already sarcastic?!

[If flirting with someone in a foreign language via SMS or chat 
would be as clear as reading binary code, life would be that easy...
or maybe just terribly boring?]

Such tricky situations, perfect for generating awkward misunderstandings and causing emotional stress, can be very present in our 2.0 hyper-connected reality, and they usually become recipe for disaster without one or both people involved in the flirt being aware of this.

What do you think?
In which foreign language would you like to flirt, and how comfortable would the situation be, for you?

This one is for Pablo. Thanks for the precious input.

Tags: Singleness, Love, Relationships, Dating, Flirting, Intercultural communication, Foreign language, Learning a language