My base of operations is in the U. I knew even then that I would encounter cultural differences and misunderstandings, but they popped up when I least expected it. On my first day, I went to a restaurant, and I ordered a cup of green tea with sugar. After a pause, the waiter said, "One does not put sugar in green tea.

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My base of operations is in the U. I knew even then that I would encounter cultural differences and misunderstandings, but they popped up when I least expected it. On my first day, I went to a restaurant, and I ordered a cup of green tea with sugar.

After a pause, the waiter said, "One does not put sugar in green tea. But I really like my tea sweet. Pretty soon, a lengthy discussion ensued, and finally the manager came over to me and said, "I am very sorry. We do not have sugar. Resting on the saucer were two packets of sugar. My failure to procure myself a cup of sweet, green tea was not due to a simple misunderstanding. This was due to a fundamental difference in our ideas about choice. From my American perspective, when a paying customer makes a reasonable request based on her preferences, she has every right to have that request met.

The American way, to quote Burger King, is to "have it your way," because, as Starbucks says, "happiness is in your choices. They think that choice, as seen through the American lens best fulfills an innate and universal desire for choice in all humans.

First assumption: if a choice affects you, then you should be the one to make it. This is the only way to ensure that your preferences and interests will be most fully accounted for. It is essential for success.

In America, the primary locus of choice is the individual. People must choose for themselves, sometimes sticking to their guns, regardless of what other people want or recommend. Mark Lepper and I did a series of studies in which we sought the answer to this very question. In one study, which we ran in Japantown, San Francisco, we brought seven- to nine-year-old Anglo- and Asian-American children into the laboratory, and we divided them up into three groups.

The first group came in, and they were greeted by Miss Smith, who showed them six big piles of anagram puzzles. The kids got to choose which pile of anagrams they would like to do, and they even got to choose which marker they would write their answers with.

When the second group of children came in, they were brought to the same room, shown the same anagrams, but this time Miss Smith told them which anagrams to do and which markers to write their answers with.

Now when the third group came in, they were told that their anagrams and their markers had been chosen by their mothers. Laughter In reality, the kids who were told what to do, whether by Miss Smith or their mothers, were actually given the very same activity, which their counterparts in the first group had freely chosen. With this procedure, we were able to ensure that the kids across the three groups all did the same activity, making it easier for us to compare performance. Such small differences in the way we administered the activity yielded striking differences in how well they performed.

Anglo-Americans, they did two and a half times more anagrams when they got to choose them, as compared to when it was chosen for them by Miss Smith or their mothers. In fact, some of the kids were visibly embarrassed when they were told that their mothers had been consulted. Laughter One girl named Mary said, "You asked my mother? A girl named Natsumi even approached Miss Smith as she was leaving the room and tugged on her skirt and asked, "Could you please tell my mommy I did it just like she said?

For them, choice was not just a way of defining and asserting their individuality, but a way to create community and harmony by deferring to the choices of people whom they trusted and respected. The assumption then that we do best when the individual self chooses only holds when that self is clearly divided from others. To insist that they choose independently might actually compromise both their performance and their relationships.

Yet that is exactly what the American paradigm demands. It leaves little room for interdependence or an acknowledgment of individual fallibility. It requires that everyone treat choice as a private and self-defining act. People that have grown up in such a paradigm might find it motivating, but it is a mistake to assume that everyone thrives under the pressure of choosing alone. The second assumption which informs the American view of choice goes something like this.

The more choices you have, the more likely you are to make the best choice. So bring it on, Walmart, with , different products, and Amazon, with 27 million books and Match. You will surely find the perfect match. Here, I interviewed people who were residents of formerly communist countries, who had all faced the challenge of transitioning to a more democratic and capitalistic society.

One of the most interesting revelations came not from an answer to a question, but from a simple gesture of hospitality. When the participants arrived for their interview, I offered them a set of drinks: Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite — seven, to be exact. During the very first session, which was run in Russia, one of the participants made a comment that really caught me off guard.

When I put out juice and water in addition to these seven sodas, now they perceived it as only three choices — juice, water and soda. Compare this to the die-hard devotion of many Americans, not just to a particular flavor of soda, but to a particular brand. Of course, you and I know that Coke is the better choice. Laughter For modern Americans who are exposed to more options and more ads associated with options than anyone else in the world, choice is just as much about who they are as it is about what the product is.

Combine this with the assumption that more choices are always better, and you have a group of people for whom every little difference matters and so every choice matters. But for Eastern Europeans, the sudden availability of all these consumer products on the marketplace was a deluge. When asked, "What words and images do you associate with choice? There are some dilemmas you see.

I am used to no choice. We do not need everything that is there. They were never given a chance to learn how to react. The value of choice depends on our ability to perceive differences between the options.

Americans train their whole lives to play "spot the difference. Instead of making better choices, we become overwhelmed by choice, sometimes even afraid of it. Choice no longer offers opportunities, but imposes constraints. In other words, choice can develop into the very opposite of everything it represents in America when it is thrust upon those who are insufficiently prepared for it.

But it is not only other people in other places that are feeling the pressure of ever-increasing choice. Americans themselves are discovering that unlimited choice seems more attractive in theory than in practice.

We all have physical, mental and emotional Laughter limitations that make it impossible for us to process every single choice we encounter, even in the grocery store, let alone over the course of our entire lives.

Yet still, many of us believe that we should make all our own choices and seek out even more of them. This brings me to the third, and perhaps most problematic, assumption: "You must never say no to choice. Right outside Chicago, a young couple, Susan and Daniel Mitchell, were about to have their first baby.

One night, when Susan was seven months pregnant, she started to experience contractions and was rushed to the emergency room.

The baby was delivered through a C-section, but Barbara suffered cerebral anoxia, a loss of oxygen to the brain. Unable to breathe on her own, she was put on a ventilator. Two days later, the doctors gave the Mitchells a choice: They could either remove Barbara off the life support, in which case she would die within a matter of hours, or they could keep her on life support, in which case she might still die within a matter of days.

If she survived, she would remain in a permanent vegetative state, never able to walk, talk or interact with others. What do they do? What do any parent do? They had all suffered the same tragedy. In all cases, the life support was removed, and the infants had died.

But there was a big difference. In France, the doctors decided whether and when the life support would be removed, while in the United States, the final decision rested with the parents. We wondered: does this have an effect on how the parents cope with the loss of their loved one? We found that it did. Even up to a year later, American parents were more likely to express negative emotions, as compared to their French counterparts. French parents were more likely to say things like, "Noah was here for so little time, but he taught us so much.

He gave us a new perspective on life. What if? How did they get me to do that? In a number of cases they were even clinically depressed. These parents could not contemplate giving up the choice, because to do so would have gone contrary to everything they had been taught and everything they had come to believe about the power and purpose of choice.

We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the idea with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria, which is our actual experience.

This narrative promises so much: freedom, happiness, success. It lays the world at your feet and says, "You can have anything, everything. But when you take a close look, you start to see the holes, and you start to see that the story can be told in many other ways. Americans have so often tried to disseminate their ideas of choice, believing that they will be, or ought to be, welcomed with open hearts and minds. The phantasmagoria, the actual experience that we try to understand and organize through narrative, varies from place to place.

No single narrative serves the needs of everyone everywhere. Moreover, Americans themselves could benefit from incorporating new perspectives into their own narrative, which has been driving their choices for so long. Robert Frost once said that, "It is poetry that is lost in translation. But Joseph Brodsky said that, "It is poetry that is gained in translation," suggesting that translation can be a creative, transformative act.


The Art of Choosing

Others make us think. The best do both. BUY NOW We may think we know our own minds, but the forces that influence our choices are many, varied, and often surprising. Most of those forces affect us without our knowledge, and they do not necessarily operate in our best interests. How can we minimize the influence of such powerful factors, including bias and culture?


Sheena Iyengar

Iyengar presents a rather overwhelming amount of information on her enormous and fascinating topic, mostly in the form of psychology experiments about how people choose things and make decisions both trivial and life or death So much material was presented on so many aspects of choice that I felt its significance continually slipping from my grasp. Because of the sheer scope of the topic, and the sometimes contradictory conclusions that the studies showed, it was tricky as a non-psychologist to synthesize the material into a coherent outline. In this way it felt like a timely book to read when every street corner in my town is plastered with Credit Suisse adverts proclaiming "Erfolg ist die Summe richtige Entscheidungen" Success is the summation of a series of correct decisions. Iyengar points out in her own way that this is sometimes the case and sometimes not.


Big Questions


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