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The paradox of the toothpaste tube

samedi 3 octobre 2009
Par Benjamin PELLETIER

toothpaste tubeI know a woman married to a Japanese man. In Japan, when he was washing his teeth, he was using a toothpaste tube with a cap connected to the top. In France the cap was disconnected, which means that he had to put it back on by himself when he finished using the toothpaste. During the first year, many times he forgot but his wife understood and she was used to put the cap back on the top. They talked about this issue and after sometimes he took the habit to put it back by himself. Sometimes he’s still forgetting but it is not a big deal for his wife.

Then I read that one of the main cause of divorce was this famous toothpaste tube (the cap issue or the way of squeezing the toothpaste). Many couples had the same problem as my friend but didn’t talk about it and years after years it became a major issue until they divorce…

My friend told me that she had a French boyfriend long time ago. He was never putting the top back on and after some time they separated. They didn’t talk about this issue because she was assuming that as French he should know what he had to do when living with someone.

What I mean is that we are more ready to understand some problems caused by someone far from your culture than the ones caused by someone from your own culture. And even more: sometimes we find charming from a foreigner what is irritating from a national!

This is what I call the paradox of the toothpaste tube. Regarding the cultural differences inside a company, I saw some employees and managers having two different perceptions of the same issue, whether it was caused by a national or a foreigner.

On one side, this cultural awareness may facilitate the communication and raise the level of acceptance and tolerance. On the other side, the risk is that paying too much attention to these differences may cause blindness and delusion regarding the real nature of the problem. Besides, it may cause within the same team a gap between the way of managing nationals and foreigners (see the example of cooperation between French and Italians  at the end of the article L’Italie, pays aux 6000 langues).

And the intercultural skill becomes a cause of conflicts…

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Un commentaire sur “The paradox of the toothpaste tube”

  1. Expat 21

    In America, the toothpaste-tube arguments are not usually about the cap, but about the way the tube is squeezed. For example, tubes (in my opinion) should be squeezed from the bottom, and not by a fist squeezed around the middle. I thought of this just a few days ago, when I noticed my Middle Eastern teenage daughter squeezing the tube in a way that would drive an American husband crazy…

    While the toothpaste tube has never caused a a big argument in our marriage, the solution we’ve come up with is that each PERSON has his or her own toothpaste tube!

    Your overall point here, however is well-taken. Sometimes people are more willing to overlook things someone from another culture does, but I find that is only applicable for a few years.

    However, in the Middle East, men seem to have two standards of behavior–one that foreign women are not chastised for, whereas they would judge a local woman by different, and much more strict standards.

    This is a very interesting topic you’ve brought up here.

    #7

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