The Complications of Gender

Today, I experienced the uncomfortableness of cross-cultural communication between sexes.

Typically, I shuttle refugee families to and from Social Security appointments and medical screenings.  A few times, I’ve driven just mothers and children.

Today, I drove four single men who varied in age from 19-37 to a Social Security appointment.

I struggled.

The families always seem kind, deferential, close-knit, quiet – sweet and gentle.  With many, there’s an air of peace about them.  These young men seemed like any other young men, albeit ones who were communicating across a language barrier.  There was some flirtation on this trip.

Part of me wanted to be just as friendly and open with these young men as I am with the families and mothers.  But another part was vividly aware of the cultural boundaries and implications; my friendliness and openness could be construed differently when directed towards single, young men rather than towards families.

Frankly, I’m not sure how to deal with these sort of situations.  We laughed, tried to communicate and teach each other words in the others’ language, and turned on the radio – actions I take with all of my clients.  But I always felt a bit awkward because the car-ride didn’t feel as professional; it felt a bit flirtatious and bold.

I plan to ask some of my female Chin friends about the encounter tomorrow; perhaps they can shed some light on how I should behave in a similar setting – communicating across a cultural divide complicated by gender.

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