What is a global mindset?
A global mindset is the ability to integrate everything you’ve learned about culture into your attitude and behaviors reflexively. Having the ability to read non verbal cues and interpreting and understanding the behavior allows you to effectively interact with people of different backgrounds from all around the world.
Let’s start with greetings. As we’ve discussed, there are different levels communication including indirect and direct as well as high and low context. In the U.S. it is very common to smile and say “hello” to passerbys. Here, this is not the case; but why is that? Take the example of peach cultures and coconut cultures. The peach will represent the U.S. and the coconut, Italy. A peach has a very soft outer shell with the seed in the middle. This represents the very friendly attitude of the U.S but at the same time their individualistic side; you may have a long conversation with your new neighbor, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are friends. Where as in Italy they have their tough outer shell, but once you establish a relationship it is a long lasting relationship. They see no reason to greet people if they do not already have an established relationship. Therefore eye contact and greetings insinuate that you want to have a conversation or that you are being flirtatious. In the U.S. eye contact and smiling is just a way of being polite.
Also discussed earlier, is time orientation; American time versus Italian time. Italian time is laid back and not clearly defined, whereas American time is controlled and precise. In Italy, stores open later and close in the afternoon for a ‘siesta’ and then stay open much later in the evening. In the U.S. stores are open every day of the week from 9am to 9pm and most every holiday of the year. This does not mean that either view of time is better, just that it is different. In the U.S. you may be able to accomplish tasks quicker and fit more into a day. In Italy, you might get the chance to enjoy the last of the foam in your coffee or find your principe azzurro sulla pizza (prince charming). Neither view of time is better, they just hold different values.
Having a global mindset does not mean that you have to lose your values, just that you are learning from others. As girls we pay a lot of attention to fashion, and one of the things we recognized right away was that Italians are always dressed nicely no matter what time of day or where they are going. At home, we are all used to seeing and dressing in sweats for school or running errands and just not being overly concerned with what we are wearing. In the U.S. people may value other things over their appearance such as the kind of car they drive or the amount of things they can fit into a day. In Italy, however, life is a stage and your appearance is judged and appreciated by everyone. This stage idea is a cultural attitude that has been around since Pompeii. As a sign of wealth, Pompeian’s would have gardens that were visible from the street in their houses. If they were not that wealthy, they would often times paint a very realistic version of a garden that could be seen from the streets as a way to allude that they were wealthier than they were.
Keep in mind that in times of stress, we revert back to our traditional styles. For example, after a busy day in Naples, where we saw the New York side of Italy, we came back to Syrenuse (our breakfast bar) and ordered coffees/drinks that we practically inhaled as soon as they came. Italians take their time eating and drinking, so eating this quickly was a very American thing to do. We also ordered items that we were more familiar with, such as iced coffees (which are pretty unusual drinks for Italians). We had a long day in Napoli and we were all tired at the end of it which resulted in our reversion to our fast eating habits. Understanding that you revert to your traditional styles under stress, can help you adapt to cultural situations.
However, a global mindset isn’t only about people interaction, it’s about the entire culture. Take for example the difference in water. In Denver, we are all used to water being available everywhere for a very low price. In restaurants water is free. Bottled water is filtered and always fresh. In Italy though, this is not the case. You have to ask for acqua della fontana (tap water) otherwise they will charge you a fee for bottled water. There tap water is also higher in calcium. The fountains themselves are in large contrast to the U.S. We have basic water fountains that are purely for the use of drinking whereas in Italy, water fountains are art forms that have a long history and story behind them. This cultural difference in water is one example of how you can learn from the history of a culture to better understand their behaviors today.
A global mindset isn’t about changing your cultural values, but about embracing others. Being in Italy has given me the opportunity to reflect on my own values of time, appearance, relationships, and communication styles. Understanding your own values helps you to understand other cultures’ values and recognize and adapt to these cultural values and signals.
Once you begin to have a global mindset, you are better able to work with a global team. A global team is working with together with a group of people of different backgrounds on a common project across cultures and time zones for extended periods of time. Here in Italy we have collaborated with a variety of people from our drivers and tour guides, our Italian hosts and teachers, to our non English speaking housekeeper and handyman. Working with these different people has been challenging and exciting all at the same time.
While in Italy, we were lucky to have the chance to take an introductory course of Italian language. Our skills are still minimal, but engaging with the people of Italia with even our small understanding of Italian has been an experience in itself; which brings in to play the importance of face-to-face interaction. As mentioned above, Italians hold a high value for relationships and for those relationships to work there needs to be a level of trust. One way to gain this trust is through face-to-face interaction. For example, while shopping I went into an Italian leather store (dangerous in itself) and found the cutest pink and brown cross body bag. The price was a little higher than I liked and I also noticed a very small scratch near the zipper. When I went up to the register I pointed out the scratch and after the signorina unsuccessfully got the scratch out, I pretended to be less interested in it and asked if there could be a sconto or discount. I was only able negotiate a couple of Euros off of it, but I would still call that a success! This example shows the importance of non-verbals and face-to-face interaction. My non-verbals in this situation helped me get a discount that in the U.S. would not have been given because stores there are chain and do not hold the same importance of individual sales. In Italy, due to the high value of relationships, face-to-face interaction is extremely important. Using the few words we know in Italian helps immensely with our face-to-face interaction.
Another thing that really stands out in Italy is the importance of family and friends. Italy is full of family owned shops which are in contrast to the chain stores that you will see in the United States. It is very obvious that people put their relationship, especially family ones, first. This is a strong value for the Italian people and it helps to put into perspective their attitude towards time, hierarchy, and communication patterns. Relationships are valued over time, power within a family is hierarchal, and communication is often indirect in order to save face.
In Italy there is this idea of bella figura where you ignore certain situations as a way of saving face. For example instead of saying ‘expensive’ you would say ‘exclusive’ or instead of owning up to a mistake you would place blame on someone or something else. In the States we are much more blunt and direct with our communication and if there is a problem you can be sure that we will address it. While to us this is a norm, to other cultures it is considered extremely rude.
While in Naples we had lunch at a small pizzeria that we found up a local side street. As we enjoyed our authentic pizzas we watched a group of young kids playing games in the middle of the street. They all spoke in rapid Italian and their body language was so fun to watch. These were visibly the kind of kids that you don’t mess with. They walked with swag and looked out for one another. While one group played what appeared to be a version of volleyball, a younger age group ran around playing tag. Running away from a boy, a little girl ran towards where we were sitting, tripped and scraped her knee. In an American way I nearly stood up to go make sure she was ok, but she immediately looked around, stood right back up, and brushed herself off. She did not want to let anyone see her ‘lose face’. This was a perfect example of the bella figura. It is a concept that is a part of the Italian culture from a very young age. Understanding that this is a part of their culture and attitude, it will allow you to better understand how to work together.
La nostra squadra di cuore….
Although we initially have had a large language barrier in Italy, we have also been lucky to work with so many amazing bilingual people. Together we have learned to adapt our behaviors and attitudes to work together as a team, sometimes as a familia, sometimes as a squadra, and always as amici and campioni della comunicazione interculturale!
About the Author:
My name is Brooke Evans, I am a senior studying communications at the University of Colorado Denver. When I found out about this Maymester study abroad in Italy, I was absolutely thrilled. Italy has been at the top of my list for as long as I can remember and having the opportunity to study there was a dream come true. I expected Italy to be beautiful and full of amazing history, but the reality of it surpassed my expectations by far. I have fallen in love with Italy and their culture; the romantic language, the slower paced atmosphere, the coffee, and of course the food! This course gave me the opportunity to experience Italy in a way I could not have on my own. I have learned how to embrace other cultures and submerse myself in their lifestyles. This was a trip of a lifetime; I have broadened my global mindset, gained a new famiglia, and discovered a piece of heaven. If you have the opportunity to go, do not pass it up!!
Special acknowledgements to our host school, Sorrento Lingue Institute, The University of Colorado – Denver Department of Communications, department chair Dr. Stephen J. Hartnett and our instructor Dr. Julia Khrebtan