19 June 2011

1, 2 oder 3...

...is the name of a TV quiz show for kids, which I loved dearly as a child glued to the tube. In the programme, kids from Germany, Austria and Switzerland have to answer questions by quickly selecting one of three possible responses. The ones making the right choice are instantly rewarded as the corresponding answer's light goes on and they get the appreciation they sought. The others face awkward questions by the quizmaster.

One, two or three remains a tricky question in this grown-up's culturally transposed life. This week, in rapid succession, I went from one to two and three, not without the odd misstep here or there. And sure enough, I got the awkward questions in return. For this is a sensitive area with no margin for error. It is literally a touchy subject, where even small mistakes can suddenly imply much bigger intentions. More can sometimes mean less, but the opposite is also possible. As Facebook would put it, it's complicated.

In Chile, one is the generally appropriate, and very widely applied, answer. And one is to the left. The Canadians, trying to please both sides, opt for two. Yet they are much more selective. All good things seem to be three for the Swiss, but with a clear bias to the left, despite their professed neutrality. And with the gradual latinization of their urban culture, they have become much more forthcoming, sometimes to the surprise of older generations.

Coming to Canada from a culture of three, and then to Chile from a culture of two, I repeatedly produced moments of consternation by going for that one extra one - was I really looking for more? This week however, heading the other way, I kept several friends hanging on, lagging as I was one culture behind my current location. Friends in Montréal and Zurich raised their eyebrows - had they done something to offend me?

Ah, finding the right number is not always easy, but it is clearly worth the effort of trying. After all, what more touching could a friend give you than a gentle hug?

Letzte Chance, vorbei!

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