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Social Clash: Culture and Directness
Answers to the question: Can you play the piano?

How direct can you be in your culture?  Cultural differences have been a life-long source of fascination for me. Anglophile that I am, I have of late stood in continual bewilderment at my cultural clashes with my Russian friends. Nuance seems to go them by; my being considerate is taken for insincerity and my social niceties are taken as dishonesty. I, in turn, fear not their lies, but the brutality of their honesty. My Afrikaans friends are again direct in a different sort of way. They call a spade a spade, but seem to reserve a modicum of personal shyness underneath it all.

Cultures have differing degrees of tolerance for boastfulness, openness, how seriously you take yourself, the degree of cynicism, the thickness of skin, taboos, the level of irony if any etc. For example, many people find English culture and social habits strange, including the English themselves. Anthropologist Kate Fox, herself English, analyses the nature of being English in her book ‘Watching the English – the Hidden Rules of English Behaviour”. Fox’s study makes for delightful reading and exposes English manners and foibles in a entertaining, humorous way.  The English are so unlike the Americans, or for that matter the Scots, Irish or Welsh right on their doorstep.

Back to my current culture clashes with my Russian and Afrikaans friends: To illustrate the situation, I am giving you a grid with the socially acceptable answers in five cultures to the simple question ‘Do you play the piano?’ .  The question is assumed to be asked of people with the same degree of pianistic competence in each culture each time, from beginner to concert pianist level.  The (probable) answers given are the answers I have compiled from my experience with English, Russian and Afrikaans cultures. I have also appended the answers given by Germans and Italian friends.  Of the five, I feel my answers in the English column are closer to the mark. Your opinion may of course differ.

What would the answers be in your culture?  Please comment, especially if you disagree or are of a different cultural background.

Question: Can you play the Piano?
Culture-specific acceptable answers given the pianist’s experience:

Pianist Experience:  1. Playing for TWO years
English Answer:   “Not at All.”
Russian Anwer: “Da, Yes, I play for 2 years!”
Afrikaans Answer: “So-so, I have just started playing.”
German Answer: “I have been playing for two years.”
Italian Answer: ” No, I can do very little .”

Pianist’s Experience:  2. Playing for FIVE years
English Answer:   “No, not really, I’ve started tinkling.”
Russian Anwer: “Of course, I play very well!”
Afrikaans Answer: “Yes, I’m getting on nicely and in fact enjoy it a lot.”
German Answer: “I have been playing for five years.”
Italian Answer: ” Yes! I am playing a bit but I’m not good yet .”

Pianist’s Experience:  3. Playing for TEN years (just post Grade 8 or so)
English Answer:   “Um, I fool around on it, I’m hopeless, really.”
Russian Anwer: “Of course, what do you think, I’m excellent!”
Afrikaans Answer: “Yes, I’m playing fairly well already, nogal.”
German Answer: “I’ve been playing for ten years.”
Italian Answer: ” Some people say I’m OK.”

Pianist’s Experience:  4. International Piano Competition Winner
English Answer:   “Oh, I play a bit.”
Russian Anwer: “Of course! I’m international competition winner! The best!”
Afrikaans Answer: “Yes, I was lucky to win an international competition.”
German Answer: “I have won an international piano competition.”
Italian Answer: “Yes! I can play alright.”

Pianist’s Experience
:  5. World-famous Concert Pianist
English Answer:   “I play a little.”
Russian Anwer: (Why am I talking to this person?) “Please don’t joke. You know I’m world famous concert pianist.”
Afrikaans Answer: “Yes, they tell me I’m actually quite good.”
German Answer: “Actually, I’m an international concert pianist.”
Italian Answer: “Yes! I play the piano very well.”

Answers from your culture?