Cultural Miscommunication

Ozzie and Michaela

Skit One:

Hamza Yumza and James Baker, two teenage boys, have just finished playing basketball at the local park in Ridgewood, NJ. Hamza asks James to join him for dinner at his house as his mom has cooked up a feast full of traditional Pakistani dishes. James has never tried Pakistani food, so he readily agrees to join Hamza and his family for dinner. Hamza moved from Pakistan to New Jersey this summer, so he is eager to make new friends. Later that evening, James is sitting alongside Hamza and his family at the kitchen table, when he notices that there are no eating utensils next to his plate.


“James, do you need something? Eat up man.”


“Nah, I’m good Hamza. Just deciding what I should eat with the rice.”

Watches Hamza and his family eat with their hands, and then follows suit. 

Hamza’s Dad:

“James would you like a fork? You seem to be having some trouble over there.”


Repeatedly spills food over the table and himself

“No, I’m good Mr. Yumza. Thanks for asking though.”

Hamza’s sister brings eating utensils to the table, and everyone starts eating with forks and knives. 


“Hahaha thank you guys. I didn’t know if I should ask for a fork or not.”


“Sorry James, I forgot that you eat dinner with forks and knives. Now please, eat up!”

Analysis: James, born and raised in the U.S., comes from a low uncertainty avoidance and individualistic society. However, as Pakistanis, Hamza and his family are a part of high uncertainty avoidance and collectivist culture. At first, James is a little surprised that there are no eating utensils at the table, but he is not afraid of eating the Pakistani food with his hands, even if he does make a fool of himself. In addition, as an individualist, James believes he must solve his own problems and eat with his hands rather than ask Hamza for a fork. Conversely, Hamza and his family sense that James feels uncomfortable, and they cannot eat their meals peacefully until they allay James’ worries. In addition, the Yumza’s are uncomfortable with the fact that their guest is eating very sloppily, and by giving James a fork they can ensure that he eats in a civilized and courteous manner. Hamza’s sister then proceeds to give everyone else a fork because the Yumza’s do not want to make James feel awkward by being the only one who uses an eating utensil.

Skit Two:

Omair and Harold, two young coworkers at Citi Bank, decide to go out to eat after work one Friday evening. They go to a Mexican restaurant and eat quesadillas and empanadas. After devouring their meals, Omair and Harold now wait patiently for the waiter to bring them their check.


Checks pockets for wallet when he realizes he left it at his office locker

“Hey Harold, do you mind spotting me for today’s meal. I just realized I left my wallet at home. I’ll pay next time.”


“Bro, are you serious? You don’t have any cash on you? Check your suit coat.”


“Nah man, all my cards and cash are in my wallet, and I left it in my office locker. Don’t worry man, I’ll just pay next time.”


Takes a deep breath and sternly looks at Omair

“Ok I’ll spot you, but just pay me back on Monday. No need to “cover the next tab”.  Just remember to pay me back on Monday, alright?”


“Ok man, I understand loud and clear.”

Proceeds to roll eyes in disgust 


“How could you forget your wallet though? If I forgot my wallet then we’d be screwed right now.”


“I know Harold, I know. You’re a savior, man.”

Analysis: Harold, who is from the United States, comes from an individualistic society where people think of themselves first and foremost, and they often distrust others. Omair, on the other hand, comes from a collectivist culture where people trust one another and often put the needs of others before their own. Harold does not think Omair will pay him back soon enough or at all, as they may not go out to eat again for quite some time. Also, Harold may suspect that, even if they go out to eat again, they will go to a cheaper restaurant and Omair will have paid less for Harold than he did for Omair. However, Omair believes Harold is being stingy and rude as Harold does not want to “spot him”. Omair wouldn’t mind spotting Harold if he were in his shoes, so he does not understand why Harold does not trust that he will pay for the following bill. Due to cultural differences, Harold thinks Omair is a “free rider” and a “mooch”, while Omair thinks his coworker is parsimonious and mean.

Skit Three:

Nadia and her mom, Tania, are at the shopping mall buying clothes for Nadia during winter break. Nadia and her mom meet at the front of the Macy’s department store to show each other what articles of clothing they have picked out.


“Look at this Ralph Lauren sweater mom. It’s beautiful, and I got it from the clearance rack!”


“How much is it Nadia? I found this Bolo sweater, and it’s just as nice. Only $15 too!”


“Mom I don’t wear Bolo. The Polo sweater is $85, but its worth the price. It will last longer than the Bolo sweater too.”


“Nadia you don’t need the designer brand. You just need some sweaters to keep you warm during the winter. You should be grateful that you’re fortunate enough to have all the nice clothes I buy you.”


Angrily throws Ralph Lauren sweater at shirt rack


I know kids in your school wear Ralph Lauren. But these are just material possessions Nadia, remember that. There are more important things to spend your money on.”

Analysis: Nadia grew up in an American culture where people give in to their desires and impulses. The U.S. has a consumerist economy where Americans engage in self-indulgence, and Nadia has adopted this consumerist attitude. Nadia’s mother, however, comes from Pakistan, a culture where people refrain from fulfilling their worldly desires. Nadia lives in a materialistic society, so she desperately wants the sweater with the brand name. Nadia’s mother, on the other hand, is not as fond of buying brand name clothes because it is more expensive and she wants Nadia to learn to resist her worldly temptations. Additionally, Nadia’s mom comes from a culture that values long term orientation as she want to save money for more important expenses like college tuition.


About Ozzie Vehra

Osman Vehra is a student at Bucknell University, where he intends on majoring in financial management and accounting. Mr. Vehra grew up in Ridgewood, NJ and has a working proficiency in three languages: English, Urdu and Hindi. He also has an elementary proficiency in Spanish.
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2 Responses to Cultural Miscommunication

  1. Reed Widdoes says:

    Ozzie, I was really impressed by your dialogues. They were insanely detailed and you used the detail to really imssistrate accurate and believable cultural miscommunications. Your analysis is detailed and explanatory, and picks out every dimension I could think of. Overall I must say very well done.

  2. Katie Faull says:

    Excellent dialogues, Ozzie! You bring out all the nuances of the problems with cross cultural dialogue! Your analyses are also spot on!

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