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midweek Connect: 5/12/21 ~ Plastic Teapots

Greetings and Happy Midweek,

It was great hearing from several of you for this first time in response to my invitation last week. And, it’s always a delight to hear about your cross-cultural experiences, and learn from your input as we interact here.

This week, as I prepare to help orient instructors for a summer African Languages program, I have been reviewing resources for language and culture learning including the “Cultural Practices and Products” components used in ACTFL’s proficiency guidelines (*). One key training objective for the instructors is to understand and convey to their learners, as they enter new cultures, the importance of exploring what they might view as common everyday things but which, in the new culture, might have very different uses and/or values.

Let’s consider, for example, something widely used in West Africa and referred to online as the “ubiquitous West African plastic tea kettle” (see the LINKs below for examples). From a ‘western’ cultural perspective, this item seems to represent a paradox - combining as it does its form (plastic) with one presumed cultural function (a teapot is to prepare hot tea). From this perspective, a reasonable deduction is “This is a worthless teapot!”.

However, moving cross-culturally to West Africa where these are in fact so popular, a different and equally valid use comes to us. It is of course not to boil water (that would not work!), but rather to conveniently store and dispense small amounts of water for personal needs (handwashing, prayer ablutions, etc) especially in places where there is no running water.

This entirely reasonable function, meeting several ‘ubiquitous’ needs in a different cultural context, brings me to reflect on how often we - in whatever cultural context we are - tend to make judgments and decisions from our perspective(s) which leads us not only to dismiss other perspectives or things, but to limit our ability to expand our horizons. So, for example, we end up relegating a plastic teapot to the ‘ridiculous’ list rather than understanding its value and maybe even benefiting from its function when we, with dirty hands and no faucet, look around and see - yes, a plastic tea pot!

How about you ~ have you run into an item with very different purposes cross-culturally?

Share about that with a friend or note it here.

And check out Global SKILLs LINKs below for more on the West African tea pot!

Until next week,


(*) in their proficiency guidelines, ACTFL (the American Council for Foreign Languages) uses “3 Ps” (Products, Practices, Perspectives); National Standards for Foreign Language Education Project. (1999). Standards for foreign language learning in the 21st century. Lawrence, KS: Allen Press, Inc.


An award winning British educational resource company’s take on plastic tea “kettles” - which, by the way, are some of their best selling items!

I’ll spare you the scientific research article on the danger of spreading microorganisms through the wide use of this type of kettle in public places...but know that it is being studied!

2021 ~ Celebrating 40 years of working in

intercultural communications and global community building

Connecting, Collaborating, Cultivating Community

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