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A Québecoise’s Intercultural Journey to India in POETRY

Julie Roberge January 8, 2012


Royal Roads University


A Québecoise’s Intercultural Journey to India in POETRY This auto-ethnographic project is an exploration of my poetry written during a fieldwork experience in India. During four weeks, I wrote poetry which reflected how I felt and reacted to this intense cultural experience. In my desire to learn about new cultures and understand my own better, poetry helped me to reflect on small somatic experiences which provided insight into this new cultural environment. How one reacts to situations and experiences in a different culture is directly related to ones own cultural norms and values. Using Professor Geert Hofstede’s dimensions of culture, I compared the scores between my culture (Quebec) and India to see if my reaction was in line with the Quebec scores, and then I matched the poems under each dimension. Even though, Quebec is not a country, Hofstede provided scores for Quebec under the analysis for Canada. He noted: While the above descriptions apply to Canadian culture overall, one will likely find subtle differences between Anglophone Canadians and Francophone Canadians (the Province of Quebec.)   Compared with their Anglophone counterparts, FrenchCanadians can be more formal, hierarchical, moderately relationship focused, and more emotionally expressive. Source:


Hofstede’s Dimensions of Culture “Culture is the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others.” Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. He analyzed a large database of employee values scores collected by IBM between 1967 and 1973 in more than 70 countries. He looked only at the 40 largest and then afterwards extended the analysis to 50 countries and 3 regions.

PDI: Power distance IDV: Individualism MAS: Masculinity UIA: Uncertainty avoidance Source:

Subsequent studies validating the earlier results have included commercial airline pilots and students in 23 countries, civil service managers in 14 counties, 'up-market' consumers in 15 countries and 'elites' in 19 countries.


Power Distance - PDI INDIA - score 77 QUEBEC - score 54

At 77, INDIA sits in the higher rankings of PDI – i.e. a society that believes that inequalities amongst people are acceptable. The subordinate-superior relationship tends to be polarized and there is no defence against power abuse by superiors. Individuals are influenced by formal authority. QUEBEC sits in the middle high ranking of PDI at 54. In this society status should be underlined. However, appearance is very important: the (dark) attire or sober tailleur, the valuable watch, the expensive hotel, these elements allow inferring about power and facilitate the entrée into this society. My perception of inequalities in India was guided by my cultural belief that every human life is important and should be protected. I also believe that everyone is equal and has the same opportunity to succeed. In Quebec, the cultural value system is based on a horizontal hierarchical system of management where the subordinate-superior relationship is much closer than in India. However, in Quebec, the image you portray in society is directly related to your social status. If you look poor, you are poor and vice versa! The following poems reflect the internal conflict I experienced when seeing injustices and inequalities from my cultural point of view...

I have. You don’t. Why? I wonder. Lottery of life. No fairness. No justice.


In the same look, A woman shovels sand in a bucket on a donkey... and a group of young men sits on their bikes dressed in brand name clothing. In the same look, A little girl dressed like a princess stands next to a little girl wearing rags. In the same look, Happiness and pain share the same space. Such is the reality and honesty of India, all there for you to witness If you wish to pay any attention.


Your teachings have inspired the world. Peace and non-violence for all. Who is listening? Right against Might. The Fight against Might. Who is right and for whose rights? The light, the plight, the fright. Gandhi was right. Melt the heart of your opponents. This is the only way to really win the Fight.

Feeding the kids Fragile, poor, naive yet so strong. Dirty, dusty, snotty yet so clean. Small, fragile, innocent yet so knowledgeable. Chapatti, smily and happy belly until tomorrow. A short enjoyable memory in their daily street life. A life changing experience in ours.

Versaille - Taj Mahal. Gold - Diamonds. Crystals - Marble. King - Sultan. Revolution. Independence.


Individualism - IDV

INDIA - score 48 QUEBEC - score 73 INDIA is a collectivist society and sits in the low rankings of IDV - i.e. a society that believes that inequalities amongst people are acceptable. People act in the interests of the group and not necessarily of themselves. In-group considerations affect hiring and promotions with closer in-groups (such as family) are getting preferential treatment. QUEBEC scores 73 on this dimension (its highest dimension score) and can be characterized as an individualistic culture. Similar to anglophone Canadians, this translates into a looselyknit society in which the expectation is that people look after themselves and their immediate families. Similarly, in the business world, employees are expected to be self-reliant and display initiative.  I knew before leaving Canada that India was a collectivist society and somewhat understood what that meant. However, it was still fascinating to see and hear it in ‘action’. In most places in India, men don’t have a choice: It is their duty to carry on the family traditions and workmanship following in the footsteps of their fathers and grand fathers...and even further down the family line. According to one of our tour guides, arranged marriages account for 85% of all unions and child marriage is a common practice in many villages and tribes. Parents choose the husband and wives for their children even as early as 9 years old. This was difficult to understand and even accept from an Individualistic perspective.

The Puppet Show

The puppet show, musical and rhythmic. Of Joyous songs and dancing marionettes telling the stories of India. Of love and death, of Queens and Kings from Rajasthan as far as Bangladesh. The puppet man, artist and performer. Of joyous songs and dancing marionettes at the hotel for the last 300 years. My father, my grandfather. This is my family job.


Delhi’s bride She walks sadly to her fate, leaving behind her family. She walks sadly into the future, arranged to be given to them. She walks sadly, heavy steps into a life of servitude and devotion. Beautifully decorated, culturally proud and stuck, with no choice of turning back. Her fate decided thousands of years ago by her faith. No is a dead end.

MARAG (Maldhari Rural Action Group) The moon is smiling. The sheep are sleeping. The pastoralists are resting, eating, singing. MARAG is watching!

Remembrance Day

I remember those who died for us. Everyday I remember. They follow me where I go, support me when I am weak. I gain strength in my resolve for their sacrifice.

THE GANGES They burn to eternal life. Their flames as vibrant as their lives were. Their smoke is reaching the stars. Their families are mourning the fate that awaits them. The Ganges is flowing, remembering.

Eating in India Mmmmm hot, mmmm, Curry, mmmm what?! mmmm Mint...mmmm, or mmmm Saffron..mmmm what? Paneer is cheese? mmmm so good, mmmm, oh, Naan, mmmm butter Naan...mmmmmmmm.


Masculinity - MAS

INDIA - score 52 QUEBEC - score 45 INDIA sits in the middle high with a score of 52 on this dimension, so it can be considered as a masculine society. In masculine societies people “live in order to work”, managers are expected to be decisive and assertive, the emphasis is on equity, competition and performance and conflicts are resolved by fighting them out. QUEBEC scores 45 on this dimension and is thus considered a feminine society. In feminine countries the focus is on “working in order to live”, managers strive for consensus, people value equality, solidarity and quality in their working lives. Conflicts are resolved by compromise and negotiation. Incentives such as free time and flexibility are favoured. An effective manager is a supportive one, and decision making is achieved through involvement. My reaction to the plight of women in countries such as India is always one of sadness. Quebec is a ‘feminine’ society which recognizes justice and equality, and so my poems reflect my internal struggle with the blatant visual inequalities that surrounded me on a daily basis. I was raised to be independent and strong and was always taught that I could do anything I wanted to. It is personally challenging to grasp the magnitude and commonality in the lack of freedom and choice men and women face in India. The more I travel overseas, the more I realize that my situation is not the global norm; I am the lucky one.

The Elephants Bleed

In the scorching sun of Jaipur city, the elephants bleed. To make the tourist happy. To get more rupees. The elephants bleed. Flapping their ears. Climbing the hills. The elephants bleed. In the scorching sun of Jaipur city.

Spiritual India

Every stone voice a prayer. Hindu, Muslim, Christians, Sikh. Every dog is fed to bring good luck and health. Too many dogs in the streets. I pray for them. Your temple surrounds me, i am taken aback by your beauty and spirituality! Ganesh, son of Shiva, protect the world!

We are students. Students of the world. All here, all there, everywhere. On this planet so little and so needy. We are all in this together. The Might, the Fight, the Right.

Fatigue Sensory overload. Templed out. Tired of moving. Tired of people wanting money. Feel like a poutine in the land of curry. Enough all around.

Indian Lunch Humour replaces fatigue. Flavours explode in my mouth. Spices like gold and diamonds. So many wars waged over them.


Uncertainty Avoidance - UIA INDIA - score 40 QUEBEC - score 60

At 40 INDIA has a low score on uncertainty avoidance. Truth may be relative though in the immediate social circles there is concern for Truth with a capital T and rules (but not necessarily laws) abound. Indian people are comfortable with ambiguity. They are adaptable and entrepreneurial. QUEBEC scores 60 on this dimension and thus has a high preference for avoiding uncertainty. Societies exhibiting high uncertainty avoidance maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviour and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. In these cultures there is an emotional need for rules (even if the rules never seem to work) time is money, people have an inner urge to be busy and work hard, precision and punctuality are the norm, innovation may be resisted, security is an important element in individual motivation. Characteristically, I like to know where I am going. India was confusing and overwhelming on many occasions. For example, driving in traffic was a completely insane experience until you got used to the flow and rhythm in the streets. The food was also so uniquely different and flavourful compared to what I am accustomed. The overwhelming diversity and complexity that surrounded every instant filled me with ongoing unanswered questions . As I figured out one thing, something else would happen to confuse me again. It was as exciting as exhausting and left me ungrounded and often feeling lost.

HEAVY The weight, the negotiation, the porters ...the anguish not to be late... The weight, the busyness, the train station, the rush to catch the train... The weight, the porters, our bags, the weight, the steps... The stress, the tightness, the train, the little boy. The weight, the pencil -- not edible -- for the little boy. The weight, the running, the porters, the cabin... The weight OFF, four of US, Cognac, PEACE.


Cultures hit you in the face: the colours, the flavours and mysteries. Immersed into its fabric and texture. Overloaded by its scents and spices. Its people as diversified as a garden of wild flowers. Its history filled with epic stories, wars, magic carpets, precious stones, kings and religions. Its women sparkly dressed like Asian princesses and queens. Its food as flavourful as fireworks enlightening the sky.

INDIA: You are incredibly


Driving in India Good breaks! Good horn! Good luck!

I would add: Good heart!

A night in Delhi The night is dark. The horns are loud. In the dark alleys of Delhi. Lie a monster. The men are out. The dogs are roaming. I become a white prey. In the dark alleys of Delhi.

Walking the streets of Jaipur City during the day instead of driving, made me see the light. India under a new light. The smiles, the merchants in their stores, the produce. No more garbage and begging children at the car window. Walking slowly to feel, smell, see and hear. To be human. Slowing life down to enjoy a new India.

New Light

Sustainable DEVELOPMENT Communication. Industrial DEVELOPMENT pollution. Construction DEVELOPMENT Slumps. Green DEVELOPMENT Human.

Chai here, Chai there, Chai here, there and everywhere.

My friends, How sad is the hotel, without your cheery presence. How sad is the pool, without your warm welcome. I feel the loneliness of our departure. You have touched my fibre. Created a new collective. That I will cherish forever.


You have confused me, as much as you have endeared me. The poorest of the poor. The richest of the rich. Precious stones adorn your women. Dirt and dust cover your children. Palaces look down on your slumps. Democracy of the haves. Dictatorship of the have nots. Your beauty is equal to your ugliness.

Feedback Session


This presentation was given to 5 of my closest friends. Three are originally from Québec, one originally from Syria (but has lived in Canada for 20 years now) and one from Vancouver. They all had a good grasp of the English language. My intent was to introduce them to the field of Intercultural Communication and present the personal discoveries I made during my time in India. How/Why did your work affect them? There were 2 women and 3 men. They first were interested since they were my friends. The men’s perspectives were more cerebral: They had to re-read the poems many times to try to find the message or the meaning of it. The women had a tendency to just read, feel the poems and enjoy them. My friend from Syria has travelled extensively in India for business and thought that my poems were interesting but not always a true representation of reality. As I learned to navigate in this new cultural environment, things that bothered me at first, became easy to grasp at the end....such as driving in traffic. What they found interesting and why? My guests from Quebec were interested in the findings/scores from Hofstede about Quebec. As I expected and felt myself as well, his definition of Masculinity created a lively conversation on what it means to be ‘feminine’. However, I calmed everyone down by explaining that the findings were general in nature and did not apply to each individual in a society. They were also happy to see the photos since most of the selected photos captured the situations which inspired the poems presented. My friends who work with me also agreed that Quebecois fitted the description of Hofstede’s findings. Why is your work important to them? Because they are friends of Martin and me, they are all connected to the military somehow, either in uniform or as a civilian, and they all understand that it is crucial that we at National Defence had a better understanding the diverse cultures that surround us in Canada and around the world. My presentation launched excellent conversations about our military training system and its failure to integrate ‘new’ Canadians, and how we could improve it. What did they argue against/didn’t find valuable and why? I didn’t want to impose my analysis of my poetry on them. I wanted them to read and feel the poems and tell me how they felt about them. They were surprised that I was not the one talking all the time, that I wanted them to be the ones sharing how they felt about my poems and India. I truly enjoyed the experience of sharing my work with my friends. I was a little uncomfortable at first since my friends didn’t know me as the creative ‘poem’ writing individual but they realized that “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover”. Thank you! Julie Roberge 8 January 2012

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Photography and Poetry: Julie Roberge Music: Sapne Saloney Hai Sach by Sohail Sen Source:

A Quebecoise's Intercultural Journey to India  

An exploration of my emotions as a Quebecoise travelling in India using Hofstede's Dimensions of Culture and my poetry.